CORRECTING THE HISTORICAL RECORD ON INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY IN TRINIDAD AND THE CARIBBEAN
Jai Parasram’s article on Indian Arrival Day was a well written and an adequate response to critics of the annual Indian Arrival commemoration in Trinidad and other parts of the Caribbean and world (Sunday Guardian May 28, 2017 p 13 Indian Arrival Day Celebrates Spirit of Survival).
A lot of discussion had taken place in the past on the issue of Indian Arrival Day as worthy of commemoration in and out of Parliament, and one would have thought that the issue is a settled one. That Mr Parasram has to address lingering concerns have shown otherwise. Comments like “Indian Arrival…celebrates the beginning of our slavery sentence” or “we would celebrate the beginning of bondage” are same points made by critics in the 1980s against Indian Arrival Day, especially when activists and the Indian community began to call for a national public holiday in recognition of the occasion.
The small group of Indian activists from Curepe named the Indian Reform and Revival Association (IRRA) began the commemoration and publicised the need to do so by the Centennial Celebration of May 1945. These very issues were considered by then.
The decision to mark the Centennial of Indian Arrival to Trinidad was arrived at in a most democratic manner by a cross section of the Indian community. A report in the Indian monthly journal, The Observer, An Organ of Indian Opinion, edited by S. M. Rameshwar, reported on the all-day conference held in San Fernando on Sunday March 4, 1945 and the “large crowd” of delegates came from Princess Town, San Juan, Siparia, Penal, Port-of-Spain and other districts, representatives of Indian organisations.
The historic meeting was presided over by Timothy Roodal, with A. S. Sinanan as secretary. The resolution was moved by the chair and seconded by G. Fitzpatrick. The report stated that “Indians of Trinidad by resolution passed at a conference have decided to celebrate the 100 years of successful settlement in the Colony. The conference felt that the progress made in the intervening century is worthy of record and recognition.” During the conference “it was explained by various speakers that it was not intended to celebrate the conditions of our coming but the progress the Indian community has undoubtedly made over a period of 100 years.”
S. M. Rameshwar in the editorial wrote that “what we are to celebrate is not the fact that our forefathers came here under a system of indenture; we celebrate 100 years of successful settlement during which we, as a community, have made creditable strides in every walk of life thereby contributing richly to the progress of the colony as a whole.”
Indian Arrival Day was an occasion “to pay high tribute to our ancestors” and that “no intelligent Indian in the Colony is unaware of the difficulties which our forefathers face and heroically surmounted.” The occasion should be regarded as “a time of stock-taking.” Further “we shall have forever to thank our pioneering ancestors for remaining faithful repositories of the culture and traditions which they brought.” Thus, it is a celebration of cultural continuity.”
S. M. Rameshwar was responsible for the publication, with the financial assistance of Murli Kirpalani, of the Indian Centenary Review One Hundred Years of Progress (Guardian Printery Port-of-Spain 1945). The book is dedicated to “our Indian ancestors in whose debt we are forever grateful.”
There was Indian economic consciousness permeating the occasion of the Centenary Celebrations in 1945. The Indian community had made progress commenced by our Indian indentured ancestors and continued by their descendants, and that this progress was due to self-effort, by hard work and a disciplined life-style. There was no scapegoating of anyone, of the system of indenture, the planters and plantations, of colonialism, of the British et al.
The few remaining critics of Indian Arrival Day should be aware of this history and the positions of Indians in 1945, positions which apply today. Jai Parasram is probably unaware of the details of this history but, after 72 years, he has faithfully recorded the thinking, the “mind” of Indians in 1945 in answer to critics.
The Indian Review Committee
29th May, 2017