By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 11, 2018
On January 29, 2011 after the People’s Partnership government was elected, I participated in a conference on multiculturalism that was sponsored by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Trinidad and Tobago. Kamla and Sat were thick as thieves then and Kamla’s government decided that multiculturalism would be T&T’s cultural policy.
I argued: “Any society that aspires to be a cohesive national entity must be willing to accept all of its history; not just parts of it. And herein lies the problem that no policy of multiculturalism can fix: a proper estimation of Dr. Eric Williams in our national development. It is precisely the inability of most of our Indian population to accept the totality of our history and the heterogeneous nature of our origins that prevent them from acknowledging Dr. Williams’ status as the father of the nation.”
“We may question aspects of his stewardship but we cannot contest the fact that he was there at the beginning and led us during the first thirty years of our national existence….It was so for George Washington as it was for Jawaharlal Nehru. This is why Dr. Williams was indebted to Nehru (Tagore and Gandhi) for so much intellectually and politically. Washington and Nehru were not the fathers of their respective nations because they were white or Indian, but because they were there at the crucial moment when their nations were born and were responsible for nurturing their societies at that formative moment.” (See “The Limitations of Multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago,” trincenter.com and “Eric Williams: Man of Culture” in Colin Palmer, The Legacy of Dr. Eric Williams.).
On Tuesday I traveled to Philippine to get Kamla’s take on my thesis, particularly in light of her statement about “No more Mother India,” etc. She welcomed me to her home with her characteristic grace and said she always believed in and accepted Williams’ status as the Father of the Nation but wanted to qualify my statement. She felt I did not acknowledge the contributions the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), under the leadership of Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, made in shaping our national constitution.
Kamla pointed out that Section Four of our constitution, “The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms,” came as a direct result of DLP’s intervention and Capildeo’s insistence that minority rights be enshrined in our constitution. Williams, she emphasized, was “ably aided and abetted by the members of the Opposition in crafting that document which made it an all-inclusive.”
While Kamla recognized Williams as the Father of the Nation, she believed it necessary to modify the adoration embodied in that encomium to include the contributions that Indo-Trinbagonians made to that sacred document. I could live with this necessary addendum, which places the strength of our constitution into its larger national context.
Kamla was troubled by my second proposition about “the inability of most of our Indian population to accept the totality of our history.” She cringed a bit when I read those words.
“Why specify the Indians?” she queried. “What about the Africans?”
I explained to her I was speaking at a conference that was sponsored by an organization that is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of Indians in the diaspora and India. Therefore, my discussion was about Indians in T&T and GOPIO’s stated goal to rectify the advantages that seemingly redounded to Africans in the land.
Regaining her momentarily disturbed stolidity, Kamla indicated that the patriotism that I ascribed to Africans, by inference, was not as unwavering as I made it out to be, and at that period of national beginnings each group was groping in the dark seeking the best route to nationhood.
Kamla seemed to suggest that while Africans in the urban areas were more assertive about their nationalism, rural Indians may have been less vocal but were equally committed to the national enterprise. She conceded that over the last 25 years Indo-Trinbagonians feel (or are feeling) a greater sense of belonging and possession of the land, “a greater sense of oneness with their fellow Trinbagonians” as she puts it.
As I listened to Kamla’s rumination, I could not help but think of a passage from Derek Walcott’s Nobel Lecture. On seeing a memorable performance of the Ramleela in Felicity, he remarked: “I had recently adapted the Odyssey for a theatre in England, presuming that the audience knew the trials of Odysseus, hero of another Asia Minor epic, while nobody in Trinidad knew any more than I did about Rama, Kali, Shiva, and Vishnu, apart from the Indians, a phrase I use pervertedly because that is the kind of remark you can still hear in Trinidad: ‘apart from the Indians.'”
As I left Kamla, I wasn’t sure if Kamla was thinking of the passage quoted above or two other lines of Walcott’s poetry, “Farewell, green fields,/Farewell, ye happy groves” (“Ruins of a Great House.”)
I remain confident that the challenge of the present generation of politicians is to chart a future that says, “Together with the Indians,” and the determination to proclaim this truth loudly. Kamla said it best at the St. Joseph Presbyterian Church: “Strength is in unity. We live together as brothers, or perish as fools” (Express, May 28).