By PARAS RAMOUTAR
PORT-OF-SPAIN: There were no floats, regalia , religious or cultural progarmmes to mark the 175th Indian Arrival Day, May 30, in Trinidad and Tobago, the first time in decades, all because of the lockdown caused by COVID 19.
But the Indian High Commission hosted a series of programmes showcasing different aspects of Indian culture and lifestyles from textiles and fashion to cuisine and classical dance. The programme concluded with an address by Indian High Commissioner Arun Kumar Sahu and seminar on challenges faced by the Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago by Dr Brinsley Samaroo , Dr Deokienanan Sharma and Winston Dookeran, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and now Professor at the Dept. of International. Affairs, University of the West indies.
“The outline initiative is to ensure that we celebrate the important occasion of the 175th Indian Arrival Day event as we are required to forego face to face interactions due to the Covid 19 related restrictions,” an official of the Indian High commission noted. The High Commission official said that the office joined online celebrations of the National Council of Indian Culture(NCIC), the National Library, NALIS and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts.
The arrival of East Indians here gave Hinduism a prominent religion in these parts of the globe. Hinduism remains one of the dominant religions here.
And in a message, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Paula Mae-Weekes hailed the courage, resilience and determination of the Indian indentured labourers who arrived here, some 148,000, between 1845 and 1917, adding that qualities displayed are critical to the survival of all citizens as we learn to adjust to the new normal since COVID 19.
“The intrepid immigrants hailed from various cities and regions across India, such as Mumbai, Madras, Agra and Bihar were an ecletic mix of peoples, customs, languages and beliefs united in the pursuit of a better future. Fortunately, for Trinidad and Tobago, many oped to remain after their contracts expired and planted roots here, continuing to work diligently to overcome sundry obstacles—social, religious, economic—and secure for themselves an equal place in their adopted homeland”. the president said
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley called on all citizens to put aside, “narrow, partisan agendas and biases” and instead focus of the survival of the country. “Many reviewers .have sought comparisons between Indian indentureship and African slavery, concluding that servitude for the African slave was a life time, from dusk to dawn, while Indian indentureship was for five years in the first instance. Yet, oppression in various forms was inflicted on East Indians. There were a series of repressive colonial laws designed to keep indentures confined to the sugar estates and, worse, separated and divided from the rest of the Trinidad population”.
Former Prime Minister and now Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad Bissessar called on the nation not to forget the struggles of the nation’s ancestors. “Those who came from India, China, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and other regions—their hard work, courage, and strength of spirit continue to inspire us today, History would show us that we all came on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar said while the indentured labourers faced harsh and inhumane working and poor living conditions on the plantations and barracks, they held onto hope for a brighter future
Dookeran spoke on the theme of the challenges facing the Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago and referred to the works of V.S.Naipaul, and as well commentaries by various authors on his writings. He said that the Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago is inspired by its own sacrifices is on the cusp of yet another voyage. Dookeran served as Minister of Finance, and later Foreign Affairs.
Sharma, President of the National Council of Indian Culture(NCIC) the epicenter of cultural and religious programmes, criticized a government agency, in advertisement, the word for dropping “Indian” from its Indian Arrival Day message. He said that the NCIC had planned to commemorate both the 100th anniversary of the final abolition of Indian indentureship, and the 175th anniversary of the arrival of East Indians to Trinidad and Tobago, but were discared because of COVID 19.