Indian diaspora in the Caribbean needs the right political impetus


Title: [East Indian Women, Men and Children] Creator: Morin, Felix Date: ca. 1890-1896 Part of: Photographs of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Venezuela Place: Trinidad Physical Description: 1 photographic print: gelatin silver, part of 1 volume (48 prints); 16 x 22 cm on 25 x 30 cm mount File: ag1982_0037_36_opt.jpg Rights: Please cite DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University when using this file. PHOTO:
The Indian diaspora worldwide was used to enhance British colonialism, and imperialism as a deliberate policy in the then British Empire. East Indian immigrants were forced out of India between 1845 and 1917 in order to enhance British interests and plantation owners where ever they went. This initiative was a continuation of the British domination in all its colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, and whilst these immigrants made an indelible contribution to the economic and socio-cultural contribution to their newly-found homes, they were traumatized, scorned, belittled, and were treated in the most inhumane conditions. It was not easy in terms of human civilization.

And whilst, the East Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago triumphed over the decades, they did so under great social, economic and political stress, all of which continue unabated in contemporary society. The Indian diaspora is not a tribal group; it has contributed immensely to the development of Trinidad and Tobago, and this contribution will continue. For all the diligence, hard work, thrift, and sacrifice made over the past 178 years, May 30 must be construed as footprints for our nation which other ethnic groups should follow and build upon. Approximately 147,000 East Indians came from such places as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They can be located across the Indian diaspora in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the USA or Europe, and they have made a great mark for others to follow.

The University of the West Indies, or for that matter the University of Trinidad and Tobago, should undertake an in-depth study of all the ethnic groups for future reference for scholars, researchers and students of world history. It is fitting that as we celebrate the 178th anniversary on May 30 since the first group of our forefathers set foot on this land, that such an undertaking becomes a reality.

Indian Arrival Day, whilst it is an opportunity for reflection, should become a monumental occasion for all of us, including the other ethnic groups, to rebrand our own portfolios with the view of promoting the concept of national development and nation-building to greater heights than when they came here. This must be undertaken in a collective and bipartisan effort as all of us are children of Mother Trinidad and Tobago. Let the true spirit of patriotism that the national citizenry flow with the temper of the times, and now. It is about time that celebrations to mark Indian Arrival Day, whether in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Mauritius, and Fiji take a new format and a more scientific approach. Fiji, this year celebrated Indian Arrival Day on May 15, and from now on it would be observed as a national holiday.

Move away from carnival-style celebrations

We must move away from the traditional carnival-style parades, whether they are on the roads or the oceans, floats, religious services and grandiose speeches by politicians and others. As all these activities
are quickly forgotten until the next Indian Arrival Day. This approach does not provide or offer a new learning process or respect for future generations. We, the leaders of the diaspora, must seek to etch out a new civilizational concept, providing a psychological, political, and philosophical framework for the Indian Arrival Day’s continued observance for generations to come.

In the preface to the seminar held at the University of the West Indies in June 1975, Bridget Brereton and Winston Dookeran, two international scholars in the sciences, wrote: “The symposium on East Indians in the Caribbean was organized in the awareness that issues are central to the future development of the region. The aim was to provide a forum for research and to bring together these findings in the field. We hope that new perspectives on these issues have emerged from the deliberations of the symposium and that as a result, new areas of research have opened up”. Apparently, there were similar parleys but nothing of substance emerged.

Late Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul, who gave the opening remarks, then said: “We forget we have no idea of our past; it is part of the trouble. We came from a culture that has not been given much to self-examination or to historical inquiry. And it is not only today, and the old culture has been more or less lost. Its values were overthrown; (it is) only today that people can begin to look at themselves. This is the first paradox; that self-awareness should come only with this loss. But the self-awareness is revolutionary and I think that this is the first Indian attempt at self-examination—this intellectual response to a cultural loss, this break with the past—makes the community more complex and interesting than it perhaps has been.”

This harks back to the issue of psychological and political stimulus. Otherwise, the whole concept of the annual Indian Arrival Day will be blown away into oblivion, and probably forgotten. Other countries will similar ethnic stocks are now being given the political impetus to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate Indian Arrival Day. But with jubilation, honour and respect.

We, in Trinidad and Tobago, can take a page from similar countries. It is getting late.

aras Ramoutar. PHOTO:

(The author is a Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago-based journalist. Views are personal. He can be contacted at



(This article appeared in South Asia Monitor online May 29, 2023. Used with permission )



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