One hundred years (100) have passed since the dismantling of the Indentureship regime often characterised on historical reflection as being at that time a ‘new system of slavery’. The indentured suffered alienation, marginalisation and social obstacles associated with a Colonialism that never fostered social equity, parity and justice. It is therefore easy for the unsuspecting to drift into the negativity of that characterisation of Indentureship. However, from evil commeth good. Through that suffering of displacement and social injustice, much has been accomplished and achieved.
With fervent hope, tremendous uncertainty and unbridled enthusiasm, Indentured Labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal and Madrascrossed the ‘Kala Pani’ on board the ‘FatelRazack’, one hundred and seventy two (172) years ago. They did not look back and they have not looked back and they buried their navel strings in the Motherland of Trinidad and Tobago.
In Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean Region, there is a defining and distinctive East Indian aura, presence and way of life that have been positively intertwined with other existing myriad cultures. The material and non-material tenets of East Indian culture have become critical components in the very identity of Trinidad and Tobago. The work ethic, morals, values, integrity, standards of conduct and the very cuisine that form part of the East Indian way of life,have beenpivotal in the transformational progression of our society and how it will advance into the next Millennium.
Through the vagaries of Indentureship,we are now able to embrace the positives of East Indian culture. It is noteworthy that some of the very solutions that we seek can be sourced from traditional philosophies and practices that can guide us. Philosophies of food sustainability and food security are increasingly pertinent in this time of economic uncertainty and financial downturn. That philosophy of self-sustainability and that buzz expression, food security may well have emanated from the planting culture of the East Indians, involved in sugar, rice and cocoa production. The concept of food sustainability, intrinsic to the culture of the indentured, foreshadowed that new vaunted philosophy of food security. Food sustainability and food securitydictate, that we all, in some form or fashion, engage in a planting philosophy in our homes, schools, offices and communities, teaching our children about the benefits of growing our own food. This practice and this philosophy were embedded in our East Indian brothers and sisters from arrival and there was and there is a well-grounded recognition that it did and can lead to sustainable wealth, individually and collectively.
This much needed connectivity to the land is even more relevant and timely todayin this recessionary period. The emphasis and care traditionally placed on the environment and“Dharti Mata” (Mother Earth) in the East Indian way of life, should be mirrored and pursued aggressively within this blessed Nation of ours. It will help us, if we are to adequately and proactively address the ravages of Climate Change and environmental degradation. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean, are at phenomenal risk. There is a clear and present danger. So important is this working philosophy of “Daarti Mata” in East Indian culture,thateven some plants and animals are revered, protected and treated as genuine manifestations of a living God.
The East Indian diaspora places great emphasis on respect for parents, elders and also nurtures in all the need for hard work, sacrifice and a sound education. At the end of Indentureship, education became the vehicle of social mobility and change eradicating poverty and garnering respect through sustainable, economically viable and satisfying careers and we all must learn and be guided by this. Through the power of education, East Indians have been able to reach the highest heights in various fields locally, regionally and internationally. The Indentured left a veritable generational legacy that hard work, sacrifice and the pursuit of education can bring progress.
We live in trying times, burdened by intolerance, indiscipline, conflict and a depreciation of the sanctity of human life. We need a change in that eternal fight against man’s inhumanity to man. Because of Indentureship, a traditional method of amicable redress is available to us in the form of the ‘Panchayat’ system.The ‘Panchayat’ system isone of the earliest manifestations of Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).It represents a cultural solution to resolving conflict in our communities. The ‘Panchayat’ wasindeed a forerunner that actualised a restorative justice that can ameliorate individuals or a community enveloped in conflict and burdened by discord. The ‘Panchayat’ system, one of the hallmarks of Indentureship, is a way of resolving social conflict through the power of Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
On behalf of my wife, Reema and my children Christian and Anura, I would like to wish the East Indian community and all citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a Happy Indian Arrival Day in the spirit of genuine inclusivity. May God richly bless you all and grant you everything great and wonderful in your future endeavours.
- Office of the President