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Indian Diaspora remains a powerful force in world history

By PARAS RAMOUTAR

Trinidad and Tobago will be one of the several diasporic countries which will form an integral partnership to mark the centenary of the abolition of indentureship by the British Parliament March 21, 1917. And, this country’s major input will be the hosting of the Indian Diaspora World Convention entitled, "Global Indian Diaspora - Charting New Frontiers," March 17 to March 20, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel.

The seminar is being organized by the International Diaspora Council (IDC) based in New York with Ashook Ramsaran, International co-ordinator along with Indian Diaspora Council of Trinidad and Tobago, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha(SDMS), the Indian High Commission and the National Council of Indian Culture(NCIC).

May 30, 2017 marks 172nd Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago when East Indians, approximately 148,000, were brought from India, principally Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, by the then British colonial government between 1845 to 1917 to work on the sugar, cocoa and coconut plantations. They came here to enhance its economic and financial stability. May 30, a public holiday, is celebrated as the Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago, annually.

The national citizenry here must not allow Indian Arrival Day to become just another day in our calendar as it has deep significance in world history, world civilization and world thought. India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Indians, Ms. Sushma Swaraj, told the recent International Conference on "Indian Diaspora and Cultural Heritage: Past, Present and Future" that the Indian Diaspora has emerged as "an important and unique force, making a positive difference in all fields of human endeavour, from economics to politics."

She said: "We hold our heads high when members of the Diaspora are appreciated, recognized honoured and respected for their outstanding contribution in their respective countries of residence. The success and prosperity of the Diaspora is our asset, as much as a strong India is to the diaspora. We are determined to work closely with the Diaspora mutual benefit".

And Trinidad and Tobago fits in this description. Whether we like it or not, Trinidad and Tobago is a multicultural and multi-religious society, and this has become the cornerstone for the full flowering of serious nationhood. We in Trinidad and Tobago must continue to celebrate in our multi-religious and multi-cultural society, Eid, Diwali, Ram Leela, Yagnas, Hosay Phagwa, Corpus Christi ,Christmas, Baptists, Easter and the other religious festivals and occasions at all times. We have to share and respect each other’s cultural strains.

Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then Prime Minister, in her Indian Arrival Day message, May 30, 2015, reminded us: "We must never forget the many sacrifices that were made by our ancestors and neither forget to show, in a tangible way, our profound thanks for their immense contribution to the economic, religious and cultural life of Trinidad and Tobago."

In the same vein, she invoked a thought of her late Indian counterpart of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi: "A nation’s strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not what it can borrow from others."

India’s newly-accredited High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Shri Bishwadip Dey, in a message marking Divali 2016, one of the Indian diaspora’s flagship celebrations, noted that Diwali, the Festival of Lights, gives an expression of happiness and a sense of attainment. Darkness represents ignorance, and light is a metaphor for knowledge and happiness."

The contribution of Indian culture to Trinidad and Tobago is well-noted and it is now being comprehensively documented. Media portrayals continue to improve and expand, but not to an accepted level though. Indian culture continues to flourish the foundations for national reconstruction and inspiration for national regeneration. Are we to conclude that a new world order is emerging - a world order which assigns a much higher priority to cultural relations in national and international development. The claim that cultural traditions have a crucial note to play in the unfolding order is not limited to individuals or nations. Indeed, it is being advocated by prominent people the world over-politicians, statesmen, corporate executives, scientists, scholars, artistes, humanists and philosophers.

So when the Fatel Razack burst through the Gulf of Paria on May 30, 1845, the 230-member human cargo in Trinidad and Tobago, embarked and inserted that indomitable spirit of human kindness, creativity and resourcefulness. Their Arrival has many meanings as they introduced new kinds of food, musical genre, songs, dances, plants, religious literature, religions and cultural traits. And we are here to stay. We have anchored our anvil, "Mother Trinidad and Tobago" in the words of this country’s first Prime Minister, the late Dr Eric Williams. The journey of the hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured labour in the 19th century to Africa, Mauritius, the Caribbean, Suriname and Fiji was one saga of supreme courage, unbending will, unwavering belief in their faith, culture and traditions that triumphed against all odds.

Indian Arrival Day must not be viewed upon with scorn as a people whose socio-economic and cultural and religious backgrounds do not have origins from some celestial source. We are not a tribal people. It is an opportunity to encourage the participation of shared values. We must not be seen as turning our backs on the other segments of the nation, but rather we must converse with others to listen, to learn, to understand and to respect their experiences and values.

Despite the ethnic strains displayed in electoral campaigns, it is heart-warming to see the population of Trinidad and Tobago joining, participating, supporting or celebrating the many religious and cultural presentations like Carnival, Divali, Diwali Nagar and Panorama.

This demonstrates that the philosophy of multiculturalism or cultural diversity is evident in our nation, and it must be enhanced and supported at the highest levels to ensure racial harmony, peace and concord among the respective ethnic groups in the national citizenry. State subventions must be equally shared across the societal spectrum, rather than favouring one ethnic group over the other.

The Indian Diaspora will always answer to this notion of working towards national peace...something our politicians fail to procure or to empower themselves, more so, the population.

There should be syllabi in all academic institutions from primary and tertiary levels about the arrival of East Indians, Africans, Chinese, European, Portuguese in our land. Lack of such an undertaking will set each group apart, instead of knitting them towards the evolution of a formidable T and T society. Our forefathers must be admired and respected for their pioneering spirit, resilience, perseverance and sense of origin. And this must continue to be demonstrated in our daily lives. The Indian Diaspora must be respected for its contribution in all aspects of the sociological, economic and political development of Trinidad and Tobago. We must continue to add to the cultural frontiers. Indo-Trinidadians have made a serious statement via the political arena through its cultural penetration. Like calypso and steelpan, which our African brothers claimed to develop and to demonstrate, Indo-Trinidadians can now lay claim to the production of the famous chutney presentations, which have now been factored on all entertainment stages. This initiative has awed the national citizenry as to the great strength and educational diversity of Trinidad and Tobago.

Former Minister of Finance, and later Foreign Affairs, Winston Dookeran, noted that as with other diasporas, the Indian community does have an affinity with India. "That affinity was kept alive by films, letters, religion and the ties of kinship. The earlier generations understandably were nostalgic. Globalization today, however, is triumphant. With growing convergence among nations and states, nostalgia will recede and some memories lost".

Dookeran said that while not losing their heritage, the Indian community is first and foremost part and parcel of the identity of Trinidad and Tobago, and the journey was long, at times arduous and difficult, but always inspiring, in the discovery of a new Caribbean identity.

Just a footnote: In 2016, marked the centenary, when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation, fought vigorously against the continued East Indian indentureship from India. And this happened at the height of British colonialism and the question still rages, in the minds of historians and social thinkers and researchers, would have it continued had it not been for Gandhi’s timely intervention.

This centennial observance is a major historical issue when one considers the following thoughts: India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made it abundantly clear to all Indians that, "India will not stand by them where their interests will clash with local interest". This ultimatum remains a standard one even today, as no successive Prime Ministers or Governments ever attempted to reverse this statement, yet at the annual Pravasi Bharitya Diwas (PBD), the diasporas are urged to make liberal remittances to India’s social and economic development.

Later, India’s 10th Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his address to the Antar-Rashhtriya Sahayog Parishad Bharat(ARSPB) in New Delhi which is the forerunner parley to today’s annual PBD noted that there were different forces of history that prompted our people, "to leave India and settle abroad. This kind of trans-national movement of people will only accelerate in the increasingly inter-dependent and inter-connected world of the 21st century".

Vajpyee continued: "The expansion of the Indian diaspora in the new century and new millennium, however, will follow a very different trajectory. In the past, people left India out of distress or some economic compulsion, because ours was then a country under colonial subjugation. This will no longer be the case in the future."

This is the state of the Indian diaspora as we prepare to observe the centenary of its abolition. Had this not happened, what would have been the state of the Indian nation. Or, let us look at it another way: the countries which were recipients of Indians would probably be fully packed with them, and might have more Indian leadership in the world, a much-needed feature.

Let us all be reminded of the thoughts of Existentialist philosopher, Carl Jaspers: "The apprehension of history as a whole leads beyond history. The unity of history is itself no longer history. To grasp this unity means to pass above and beyond history into the matrix of this unity, through that unity which enables history to become a whole. We do not live in the knowledge of history, in so far, however, as we live by unity, we live supra historically in history"

Contact: paras_ramoutar@yahoo.comor 868-374-5586 or 868-672-8702

Paras Ramoutar HBM,JP,BA,APR,ABC, is an international journalist for over 45 years who writes for several media houses in Trinidad and Tobago, India,(IANS, the indian diaspora, India Empire) Canada, USA, the Caribbean, among other countries. Mr Ramoutar is a respected commentator on issues of public affairs, social, cultural and religious issues with special focus on the Indian Diaspora. He is a Justice of the Peace for Trinidad and Tobago, and has received several national, community and international awards, including the Humming Bird Medal from the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Peace Award from the Judiciary of

Trinidad and Tobago, the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ryerson University, Canada; and Accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators. Contact: paras_ramoutar@yahoo.com.


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