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Indentureship through Indian eyes
Divine coincidence. This is how author Gerad Tikasingh described the timing of the launch of his book, Trinidad During the 19th Century: The Indian Experience.
The launch took place in May, which is often referred to as Indian Heritage Month and culminates with the Indian Arrival Day celebrations.
On Wednesday night, Tikasingh, 73, originally of San Fernando, who now lives in Beltsville, Maryland, formally launched his book at the St Andrew’s Theological College, Paradise Hill, San Fernando.
Tikasingh explained that his brother was planning to launch the book last November.
“The timing was purely coincidental. It was just one of those kinds of amazing things. It is just how things worked out. My brother was planning it for last year November and it was from one thing to a next. It just happened. It just goes to show that it is really amazing how God brings all these things together,” Tikasingh said.
The Indian Experience is based on Tikasingh’s 1976 PhD thesis. He was doing research for a biography on his father last year when he came across a “treasure trove” of documents in a college archive in Canada.
It was that discovery, he said, that led him to augment his thesis and produce the book.
Tikasingh, a retired lecturer who taught at Morgan State University and Bowie State University, said he wanted to break misconceptions about East Indian Indentures.
“The misconceptions of who the Indians were, where they came from—those misconceptions are still here. That is the primary reason that I wrote it in such a way. We tend to think that Indians were some sort of slave and that is simply not true: they were not slaves, they did not behave like slaves, they acted like anybody else,” he said.
Tikasingh said he wrote the book with the average person in mind.
“It was not written for academia, so the language is a little different. I tried to write in a way that the average person will be encouraged to read,” he said.
The East Indians had different motivations for coming to Trinidad, he pointed out: “One person, for example, said he wanted to come because he heard Trinidad was the land of promise.”
He said some indenturers were Indian soldiers who wanted to escape India because they participated in the mutiny at that time.
University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Jerome Teelucksingh, who presented his review of the book at the launch, said, “(Tikasingh’s) in-depth research and objective analyses will allow the reader to comprehend the intricate socio-economic evolution, cultural transition and religious dynamics of a society under the yoke of colonialism.”
He added that the book was “crucial in understanding the roots of racism,” since 19th-century Trinidad was a deeply divided society, where both groups, Africans and East Indians “kept their feelings to themselves and were silent about them.”
Teelucksingh suggested that the “curse of colonialism was never removed in 1962 or 1976. We need to learn from the past and chart our progress in the 21st century.”
He lamented, “It is unfortunate but not surprising that ugliness of race and ethnicity is regularly featured in party politics, the most recent being in the Tobago House of Assembly elections in Tobago.”
Tikasingh said the story of the East Indians had a “black bias” since it was often seen through the eyes of black writers.
“We still have those biases in this country. When I refer to the black bias I do not mean anything racist about it. It is just a term I am using. It is just how we see Indians through black people’s eyes, we do not see Indians through Indian eyes, so those misperceptions continue today,” Tikasingh said.