A release issued on the Columbia University conference on Indo-Caribbean indentureship held on December 2 praised the speakers and thanked the attendees. The Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS-USA) hosted the academic conference on the "History, Present and Future of Indentured Indian Diaspora" on the occasion of 100th anniversary of abolition of Indentureship. The conference was co-hosted by Hindu Yuva Chapter of Columbia University. Indentureship to the Caribbean started in 1838 with recruitment of labourers abolished in 1917. Various experts presented their comments on the diaspora’s struggle, survival of culture and success in building an influential community from a historical as well as socio-political-anthropological perspective.Various experts on the field gave their views on selected topics.
The Consul General of India at New York, Mr. Sandeep Chakravoorty commented: “India is proud of the Indian Caribbean diaspora for their resiliency, achievements and contributions to their host countries. Under the leadership of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is making efforts to connect the diaspora around the globe to India and address their concerns.”
Mr. Ravi Dev, Ex-Member Guyana parliament and founder of political party Rise, Organize and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR) addressed the issue of politics of entitlement in a ethnically divided society of Guyana. He stated: “Until politicians and other actors in the public arena openly and publicly confront the ethnic bases of Guyanese political culture and structures, and deal with their consequences affirmatively, Guyana will remain mired in a Sisyphean paradigm. Unless the ethnic conflict is addressed frontally and honestly, Guyana is doomed to struggle strenuously, perhaps even heroically, but ultimately futilely, for the goal that they all claim to share in common - a Guyana in which all groups can have their just share of power: political, economic and social.”
Dr. Vishnu Bisram, political analyst, educator, pollster, journalist and diaspora specialist lauded India's contributions to and continuous interactions with the diaspora. He showered praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Monmohan Singh for their interaction with the diaspora. Dr. Bisram asserted that “India has had an institutionalized caring, compassionate relationship with Indo-Caribbeans focused on culture, business, education, diplomacy and other non-political fields". But he appeals that "India must develop the courage to address political issues like the racial persecution of Indians especially in Guyana similar to how the Chinese or Israeli government speak out against victimization of their Diasporas. And he urges Indo-Caribbean politicians to speak out against the discrimination faced by their constituents and seek India's help to address them at global forums.”
Dr. Tara Singh, a former University of Guyana professor and now community advocate in NY, presented a case for reparatory justice for Indo-Caribbeans whose ancestors suffered under the indentureship system not much different from slavery. He said the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC), constituted in 2013 to advance the cause of reparatory justice for descendants of slaves and indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region, should include indentureship of Indian Caribbeans as the indentured labourers had to live in circumstances akin to slavery and Indians did not only save the sugar industry from collapse at great social cost to themselves, but also pioneered the rice industry as well as livestock and other agricultural crops and industries. They also deserve justice.
Robert Mahase, a former school headmaster in Guyana, narrated the courageous struggle of the indentureds and their success in overcoming adversity in Guyana and by extension in other societies.
Karen Dipnarine-Saroop, co-founder of the Green Brain Initiative., noted that "the history of the Indians in the Caribbean is one of individual, family and community resilience. In many instances, individual strength was tied to community strength". She explained that "storytelling among the indentureds and their descendants was a medium for comfort and for staying connected to their memories of India". She added, "despite the hardships, the indentured Indians reshaped the landscape of each country in which they were planted".
Dr Satnarine Balkaransingh, an artist, economist and author from Trinidad and Tobago, in his presentation, pointed out that the Indian Diaspora is currently the largest diaspora in the world with centuries of experience in living in plural societies.It is therefore ideally positioned to be leading the vanguard of change, for a new world socio-economic and cultural order of peace, harmony and prosperity, founded on enlightened thought and action.. This change must however be undertaken with missionary zeal but with a vedantic heart.
Professor Lomarsh Roopnarine from Jackson State University said: "For the majority of Indian Caribbean people, especially the large working class, migration is really a product of the interplay between constraints and thought, will and eventual action. Amid aspirations toward modernity, Indians do not necessarily dismiss their preexisting values— education, gender relations, and family cohesion and connection—when they migrate".
Guyana-born Dr. Somdat Mahabir, a Scientist at the National Institutes of Health, gave a unique perspective on the importance of science and thinking to advance the cause Indians. He said arguments for the Indian cause must be scientific based and data driven and not based simply on emotion. He also highlighted two great Guyana-born Indian origin scientists of early times, late Professor Nutan P. Bishun, a pioneer in the field of cytogenetics and Professor Premsuk Poonai, who made major scientific contributions in the field of agronomy. Somdat-ji also highlighted some important data on Guyana's population. He pointed out that between 1880 and 2012, the Hindu proportion of the Indo-Guyanese population has been declining because of religious conversion to Christianity. Dr. Mahabir called upon researchers and activists from all disciplines who are pursuing Indo-Caribbean Diaspora issues to pay careful attention to quality data.
Dennis Ramdahin informed the gathering of the work being done by the Indo-Caribbeans and others through the Vihara Foundation in aiding with agro-industrialization in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.