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At home or abroad, we celebrate
The Government and the people of Trinidad and Tobago have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Independence from British colonial rule. Friday, August 31, was set aside to remember the many struggles our fathers and grandparents underwent as a subjected people.
Whereas we have in our midst many descendants of European colonisers, the majority of our population are peoples who came as slaves and others who came as indentured labourers from India. In our search for roots many of us have ended up in the city of Calcutta, India, and solemnly stood at the port of Howrah trying to imagine the scene that would have been in 1845. The first contingent of Indian indentured labourers left the Indian sub-continent for a land they only knew as “Chinidad.” Chini was the Hindi word for sugar.
The sailing ship SS Fatal Razack left the Calcutta port with approximately 237 of our grandparents who were to arrive in Trinidad three months later at Port-of-Spain. They were quarantined on Nelson Island before being distributed to different sugar estates across Trinidad.
When we viewed the blockbuster film Gandhi, we saw the Gandhian fight to remove the pass law in South Africa. Indentured labourers could not leave the plantation to which they were assigned without a pass to move. The same applied to our ancestors in Trinidad. The jails were crowded with those who dared to break this inhumane law.
Our parents and grandparents suffered many a disability as they worked their way to complete five years of bonded labour; having to live in barrack-style primitive conditions with no running water and only communal toilets that were formally opened when the cocks crowed at 4 o’clock in the morning. It is a miracle that our ancestors survived for any period of time. Data is not available, but we are informed that “life expectancy” was as low as 35.
Among our ancestors there was a huge gender gap. Only a small percentage of immigrants were female and we are not surprised when we read of “honour killings.” We have been told by some of the older folks that because of the shortage of womenfolk, jealousy was rampant and the cutlass was the weapon of choice. Many of our female ancestors lost their lives because of this colonial policy of limiting the number of female indentured labourers.
As we celebrated our 50th anniversary of the State of Trinidad and Tobago, we must recall that after 1956, when Eric Williams and the PNM took power through a “deal” struck between the British colonial authority, we the descendants of the indentures suffered many deprivations. In fact, we describe ourselves as a sub-class of Trinbagonian. A number of pejoratives were used to describe and humiliate the descendants.
To flee a hostile Trinidad, thousands of our descendants fled to other lands. Even under the National Alliance for Reconstruction, we had thousands of our citizens applying in the United States and Canada for refugee status. If today we are able to display a greater sense of belonging, it is thanks to the efforts of no one except us, ourselves, the descendants of the indentures.
In the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, there are tens of thousands of Hindus who are linking back to us to re-establish Hindu religious cultural and social contacts. In Miami, there are thousands of Hindus who have made that city and the state of Florida their home. They have built scores of Hindu temples and annually invite the pundits of Trinidad to fly across to perform pujas, weddings and even funerals.
New York City has a sizeable presence of Trinidad Hindus who have built their own temples and even encouraged many of our pundits to go across and be recommended for green cards so that they can live in New York and provide the same religious support as if devotees were in Trinidad. Toronto in Canada also has a heavy presence of Trinidad Hindus and their families. They have erected massive Hindu temple complexes and are as active as we Hindus in Trinidad.
The Indo politician of Trinidad and Guyana rely on these overseas citizens for financial support during election time. Just as the PNM politicians do in areas like Washington and New York, the same applies with the Indo-Trini politician. Another major city to which many Hindus and Indo-Trinidadians escaped is London. Tens of thousands of our citizens today reside in the United Kingdom and have become well-educated and productive British subjects.
Our Hindu families overseas hanker for their old country, Trinidad and Tobago. Through social networking they keep in touch with activities in T&T on a daily basis and it is our experience that through the Maha Sabha radio station, Radio Jaagriti, they keep abreast of not only the religious and cultural activities, but also the politics of T&T. It is our experience that all our citizens who had to flee Trinidad and Tobago because of discrimination are still in love with our beautiful land. As we celebrate locally, our offspring overseas also celebrate our anniversary.
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