T&T is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent nation. A rebirth from slavery and indentureship, periods in history that present a bitter-sweet scenario. Had this not happened, we would not have been here today as a twin-island republic with the memories and images of the hardships of our ancestors that haunt us even now.
On May 30, Indian Arrival Day will be celebrated to commemorate the first arrivals from the Indian subcontinent to Trinidad in 1845 aboard the ship SS Fatel Razack. From 1845 to 1917, approximately 130,000 immigrant labourers, the majority Hindus, came from India. This year's celebration marks 167 years since the first arrival of Indians.
Indian Arrival Day was first celebrated at Skinner Park, San Fernando, as the East Indian cen- tenary on May 30, 1945. This marked the hundredth anniversary of the coming of Indians to Trinidad. The acting governor, representing the Government of the United Kingdom, attended, indicating the significance of the observance.
Other local dignitaries who addressed the large crowd included Timothy Roodal, George Fitzpatrick, Adrian Cola Rienzi, and Murli J Kirpalani. Greetings were also read from Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Wavell and Col Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colo-nies. Gandhi subsequently died in 1948, three years after this historic event.
The Indian community in T&T has shaped, molded, carved and built itself around the idea of pro-gress. But names such as Sarran Teelucksingh, Timothy Roodal, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Bhadase Sagan Maraj and Rudranath Ca-pildeo are seldom remembered by today's generation.
The fruits of their labour, however, have only truly materialised post-independence and thus in this the 50th year of independence reflection on the progress of the Indian community in T&T must form a part of our celebrations. The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha still stands as the largest and oldest Hindu organisation in the Caribbean.
Other Indo-centred religious bodies have organised themselves into successful organisations such as ASJA (Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat Association) representing the Muslims and the Presbyterian group which comprises mainly East Indian Christians. The Sanskrit chant "Sanghe Shakti Kali Yuge" says "in Kaliyuge (last/dark age), organisation is power."
Organisations that have been established here in T&T from within itself have formed the very pillar and support of the followers they lead. Today we have our own Indian Caribbean Museum, an institution dedicated to the preservation of Indian culture.
Housed in Waterloo, Carapi-chima, the members comprising the board of the museum are of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, ASJA and the Presbyterian Board. Under these organisations, multiple schools and places of worship have been established. To date the SDMS has under its pur-view over 60 schools (early child care centres, primary and secondary). None of these schools look or function like a "cow shed" as they were described during the reign of Dr Eric Williams.
The properties on which these institutions stand have been acquired and owned by these bodies. The buildings have been built by the respective communities in which they are housed. Fund-raisings, donations and hard work of the villagers, parents and children of these communities have been the foundation for these modern buildings.
The recent court judgment of Justice Ventour in the matter of Kamla Jagessar v Teaching Service Commission underscores this point. No rouge element will dictate to us how our affairs are to be conducted. Academically, our children are achieving the highest marks not only in T&T but in the Caribbean and even worldwide. Our places of worship are always well attended and in the last 50 years cultural awareness has heightened.
Within the schools this is also an important aspect as culture and religion remain focal points for the children. Many of our children have surpassed the expectations of the national syllabus and curriculum and are able to multi-task and excel in all areas.
Even at the tertiary level, excellence is also being achieved. In the various fields of work there is also an overwhelming success rate. Today we see the accomplishment of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who has ascended to the highest parliamentary office in T&T. This reality speaks to the fact that we have achieved in every profession in which we position ourselves.
We have achieved as a people and a community despite adversity, discrimination, victimisation and injustice. We have learnt to rely on self and on hard work and progress. This is what has sustained the Indian diaspora, not only in T&T but around the world. It is through education and persistence that our present realism is fruitful and flourishing for our children to enjoy.
Fifty years post-independence and 167 years since our ancestors' arrival have seen a reshaping of the cane cutters into the professionals of today. Mahatma Gandhi in his words of wisdom to the world said: "There will have to be rigid and iron discipline before we achieve anything great and enduring, and that discipline will not come by mere academic argument and appeal to reason and logic. Discipline is learnt in the school of adversity."
• Satnarayan Maharaj is the secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha