Genesis of Indian Arrival Day as a national holiday in Trinidad and Tobago

Genesis of Indian Arrival Day as a national holiday in Trinidad and Tobago

Photo : Paras Ramoutar

Port-of-Spain: After 150 years of Indian Arrival, it was only in 1995, that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago opted to announce a day marking the first arrival of over East Indians here, May 30, 1845.

 The Patrick Manning Government had announced that May 30, 1995 would be called Arrival Day, which

 was a one all day. In 1996, when Basdeo Panday came to the political throne he feverishly announced

 that May 30 will be Indian Arrival Day which was to be etched in our national calendar.

 Despite earlier attempts by the Indian Revival and Reform Committee led by Ramdath Jagessar, the

 Hindu Seva Sangh with Dool Hanoomansingh and others, the Indian Review Committee led by Kamal

 Persad and Ashram Maharaj, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha , it was former Member of Parliament

 for Oropouche, Trevor Sudama who moved a motion in Parliament on October 28, 1994 to have Indian

 Arrival Day declared a national holiday annually.

 And despite stiff opposition within the corridors of Parliament and in public opinion, Sudama

 successfully moved the motion which was ably seconded by then MP for Caroni Central, Raymond


 Sudama in his presentation made a strong plea which was buttressed by philosophical and sociological

 data and facts so that he would have left no stone unturned. This he did with great clarity and maturity,

 and it was passed with contributions from Members of Parliament. One would imagine that the debate

 was a very emotional issue, and one had to look at the historical antecedents of the whole question of

 Indian Arrival, as was the case of the Chinese. Syrians, Africans and Europeans coming here, that each

 group singularly would have called for similar treatment.

 Sudama moaned that the Motion to declare Indian Arrival Day a national holiday was on the Order

 Paper since 1989, but was only afforded the light of the day on October 28, 1994. Notwithstanding the

 fact the then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams had announced that both Divali and Eid would be public

 holidays from 1966, which was an election year. Later, then Prime Minister George Chambers

 announced in 1982 that Discovery Day, which was celebrated on the first Monday in August, was to be

 replaced by Emancipation Day August 1. Both Prime Ministers had ignored the presence of the East

 Indians in Trinidad and Tobago.

 It is worth remembering the spirited tone of Sudama when he piloted the motion saying that it must be

 accepted in the  “spirit of light, in that spirit of seeking what is best for the nation, what is best for the

 people of Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed, of acknowledging the cultural and plural diversity of our

 society and where we are as a nation today”.

“Madam Speaker (Occah Seepaul) we do not want to put the systems of indentureship and African

 slavery as counterpoised; they are different systems; they are different historical experiences. The

 conditions under which the African slaves were brought in.”

Sudama must be congratulated for his incisive and straight forward presentation, which would serve as

 a reference point for any dialogue today or in the coming decades about the relevance of a public

 holiday to mark Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago. Just in March 2017, the world community

 observed the centenary of the abolition of Indian indentureship, and Trinidad and Tobago was the

 venue for this historical observance as scores of notably former Prime Ministers, Presidents,

 Government Ministers, legislators, East Indian leaders, professionals among others gathered to discuss

 the past and the future role of the 33 million Indian diaspora membership in over 100 countries.

 A nation is marked as to how it shows respects for it ethnic groups, and this means equal treatment for

 everyone, and one is reminded to paraphrase Dr Williams’ address to the nation on Independence Day

 August 1962 that there is No Mother India, No Mother Africa, No Mother China, No Mother Lebanon,

 but the only Mother is Mother Trinidad and Tobago. And that a Mother cannot discriminate among its

 children. I think that it was in this vein that Sudama so brilliantly proposed that Indian Arrival Day

 becomes  a national holiday.

 The East Indians were brought here between the period 1845 to 1917, when in excess of 347,000, most

 of whom were devout Hindus who brought with them Ramayana, Gita, Mahabharat, the Puranas,

 Hanuman Chalisa, among several others, principally from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to rescue a dying

 agricultural economy, and their presence brought new hope and aspirations for the planters, and by

 extension the national economy. They brought with them new cuisine, jewelry, customs, habits,

 religion, culture, thought and way of life.

 Today, the East Indian community has contributed significantly to the national well-being, prosperity as

 they remain leaders in the professions, corporate sector, business, culture and politics. And the rest

 is history for we have had two Prime Ministers of East Indian extraction, namely Basdeo Panday and

 Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

 The East Indian labourers ignited friendship between India and Trinidad and Tobago, despite their

 geographical distance. The East Indian labourers were brought here to contribute to British capitalism,

 and they worked hard, very hard and struggled with other ethnic groups for this country’s prosperity,

 and as well for political freedom and independence. Independence was not a one-party or one ethnic

 group affair, but rather it was a people’s consciousness blended with the different ethnic groups and

 peoples that made it happen.

 Today friendship between India and Trinidad and Tobago continues to escalate to greater heights as the

 clock ticks, and one could decipher that it would continue to escalate in the coming years and decades,

 and even centuries.

 As we observe the 173rd anniversary of Indian Arrival Day, the 71st anniversary of India’s Independence, and our own 56th anniversary of our Independence, all of these factors make it compulsory for both our countries to continue in this trend of friendship, of growth, and support in all the councils of the world’s geopolitical and economic groups.

Trinidad and Tobago have benefitted from India’s graciousness in terms of ITEC, consultancies in various

 endeavours of economic, agricultural, cultural co-operation. Aside to these initiatives, religion and

 culture continue to dominate the calendar of both countries. The Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural

 Co-operation which was inked when India’s Indira Gandhi came here in October 1968, after 50 years,

 has now taken shape.

 This is a first for any diplomat, more so, an Indian diplomat. Incumbent Indian High Commissioner, Shri

 Bishwadip Dey, has embarked on an unique foray of cultural diplomacy by visiting descendants of

 indentured labourers at their homes and presenting hampers. This must be viewed as a micro

 engagement initiative, and His Excellency must be publicly commended. Usually, diplomats are noted

for presenting or promoting macro issues .

 Dey told the media these elderly citizens have contributed not only to the development of Trinidad and

 Tobago, but have played an important role in keeping family values alive and passing on cultural and

religious practices from one generation to the next. He continued that there are also,” strong family ties

 in the homes visited where  I witnessed that love and devotion for the elderly.”

Dey added that as “senior members of society, the elderly have had an important guiding role for the

 local communities and form an historical link for Indian nationals of East Indian origin”, as India remains in all of us.

The marking of the anniversary of our arrival in Trinidad and Tobago is a celebration of our triumph over odds stacks against us.