Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 28th 2017 Contents Sunday, May 28, 2017 guardian.co.tt
Indian Arrival Day celebrates spirit of survival
It happens every year as we
celebrate Indian Arrival Day. I
get phone calls and emails, and
it comes up in conversation
with friends, colleagues and
family. And it always centres
on one question: Why cele-
brate Indian arrival when it
has had so many negatives?
My answer has always been the
same: we celebrate the resilience
of our ancestors. We celebrate
their courage to survive and thrive
in spite of the myriad colonial ob-
stacles that sought to keep them
relegated to subsistence workers.
I recently read a passionate
commentary by Guyanese-Amer-
ican writer Rajiv Mohabir (http://
who offered his answer to the per-
“Why the hell should I celebrate
colonization?” he asked, adding:
“To celebrate Indian Arrival Day is
to celebrate the beginning of our
slavery sentences...To celebrate
Indian Arrival Day is to celebrate
the cause of each ill: diabetes,
racism, alcoholism, homopho-
bia, and domestic violence. To
celebrate Indian Arrival Day is
to celebrate death.”
In the same commentary, Cana-
dian-based Indo-Trinidadian Dr
Andil Gosine is quoted as saying
that when we celebrate Indian ar-
rival, “We are implicitly erasing
the history and actual experiences
of indentures.” His view is that
Indians were “merely the cargo of
the system of Indentureship, and
it is ridiculous that we would cel-
ebrate the beginning of bondage”.
Everything about Indenture-
ship was wrong. We need to
continue to question why Brit-
ain freed one race and almost
immediately after emancipation
subjected another to what some
British officials characterised as
“a new system of slavery”.
But we should not let the hor-
rors of indentureship blur our
view of what it is we are really
celebrating as Indian Arrival Day.
We can continue to highlight
the negatives to justify our ob-
jection to the celebration or we
can see a different, more positive
picture in which Indians have
overcome the degradation, moved
away from the sub-human plan-
tation experience and have risen
above it all to become responsible
We celebrate not leaders and
professionals but the unnamed
and forgotten thousands who
kept people and culture alive in
spite of the adversities they faced.
To appreciate today we have to
go back to the beginning.
The export of Indians to Trinidad
that started in 1845 resulted in the
movement of more than 147,000 In-
dians to Trinidad by the time inden-
tureship ended in 1917.
In 1945—100 years after the first In-
dians landed in Trinidad—the Indian
population was 35 per cent of the na-
tional population (195,747) comprising
the descendants of indentured Indians
and former contract workers.
During the first 100 years, many
Indians had migrated from the pe-
riphery to occupy influential spaces
in the national community and they
were contributing to the state in every
facet of life.
They put education at the forefront
of family life, and helped their children
rise out of the ashes of the plantations.
Many achieved success in business
and a few had entered politics.
It was a landmark year and the com-
munity staged the first Indian Arriv-
al Day, at which the acting governor,
Sir Bede Edmund, congratulated the
community on its achievements. And
Mahatma Gandhi sent a telegram stat-
ing, “Domicile Indians prove worthy
Fifty years later in 1995, Prime Min-
ister Patrick Manning declared May 30
a public holiday and it has remained a
grand annual event.
What we celebrate today—and
what we did in 1945 and the inter-
vening years before the day became a
national holiday—is the Indian spirit
Indians were abused. They faced
adversities like depression, malnutri-
tion, disease and social stress leading
to alcoholism and domestic violence,
demons we continue to confront.
But they refused to let those neg-
atives impede their will to survive in
order to create a better life for future
generations. Had it not been for their
strength, and their conviction that
they could do better, their story would
have had a tragic ending.
But it didn’t. Theirs is a story of sur-
vival through a determination to stand
firm and defeat a system of bondage
and servitude so future generations
could be free in the new land they
embraced as home.
They preserved their rich and di-
verse cultural and religious traditions
and adopted the best of their new en-
vironment to move forward and con-
quer the system through education and
In the end, we the people won—all of
us, Indians and non-Indians alike. We
won because THEY won and together
all of us have contributed to building
a diverse state that is still evolving.
They created opportunity out of
misery. That is the legacy of a people
who defied colonialism, bigotry, igno-
rance and persecution through their
strong spirit of survival.
They created new communities ded-
icated to preserving the richness and
glory of the motherland while embrac-
ing and enhancing their new home.
That is what we celebrate.
Jai Parasram is a journalist, communi-
cation and media specialist and author.
His forthcoming book Beyond Survival
is a photographic narrative celebrating
Indians in T&T 1845-2017.
See Pages A21-A24
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