Get ready for the annual Indian Arrival Day deniers

Get ready for the annual Indian Arrival Day deniers

Photo: Ramdath Jagessar

Indian Arrival Day (IAD) is coming on fast and for certain this year some donkey is going to jump up and have his article in the papers saying, “Why I don’t celebrate Indian Arrival Day.” And it will likely be an Indian donkey too! I use the word donkey, gadha or गधा in Hindi, because my editor will not let me used the other English word!

Like many rational human beings, I have grown exasperated at seeing a succession of these braying donkeys coming up with their pathetic excuses for putting down a very, very popular annual celebration like Indian Arrival Day. Much of it seems to me to be no more than trying to show how important the donkeys believe they are.

One of the more recent objectors was Port of Spain mayor Louis Lee Sing who in 2012 called for the Indian Arrival Day holiday to be replaced with Arrival Day “because many other groups had also arrived.” Sat Maharaj had to put Lee Singh in his place by telling him that we had been celebrating the arrival of Indians in Trinidad since the 1945 Indian Centenary.

The excuses for dumping on IAD are the same old, tired nonsense we have heard for years.

-We shouldn’t celebrate IAD because it was a sad time for the indentured Indians.

-IAD was a new system of slavery.

-IAD doesn’t include other arrivals.

-We shouldn’t have an arrival day for Indians alone but should have Arrival Day for all people who came to Trinidad.

-We should celebrate the abolition of the indentureship system instead.

-There will be chaos if every group had their own Arrival Day.

-IAD is racist because it excludes other races.

-At the bottom of all this trash is the hidden gripe of the donkeys- “Nobody consulted me when they were starting Indian Arrival Day!”

All the above excuses have been dispatched to the dustbin, though that doesn’t seem to discourage the donkeys.

IAD is not about the indentureship system but is the birthday, the anniversary of the arrival of a major portion of Trinidad’s population. People celebrate their birthdays irrespective of whether they were poor or facing miserable conditions at the time.

Racism by exclusion of other races is based on the belief that the excluded races are inferior, but this does not apply to IAD at all. IAD is about the arrival and heritage of Indians, only Indians.

The arrival of the Indians was not a sad time for them or for Trinidad society- for the Indians it was the start of a new life in a new country, and for the society it was a joyous event in the coming of workers to save the dying sugar industry. It was a hard life on the estates for the Indians, but they eventually made the best of their time in Trinidad, decided to stay, and end up today much better than their relatives in India today. That is plenty of reason to celebrate.

Photo : Brinsley Samaroo

Nobody cared about the end of the indentureship system in 1917, which occurred in far off India. The Indians in Trinidad had mostly finished their term of indenture and could care less if the system was ending.

Indentureship was definitely not like slavery. The Indians were free men and women who were working through a short term five year contract for which they were paid. Slaves were the property of their owners for life, working for free with no rights of their own and no salary.

Sure, IAD is about Indians and does not include others. If any others want to have their own arrival day, let them go ahead and do it. I understand the Chinese have begun celebrating Chinese Arrival Day and there is no chaos to be seen.

Try telling those reasons to the donkeys, most of whom seem to have their hearing aids switched off. The most ancient and determined IAD denier is one Brinsley Samaroo, who is now approaching the 40th year of his campaign to have IAD replaced with the celebration of the Abolition of the Indentureship System. I remember telling him in early 1979 that our Indian Arrival Day Committee was planning a major celebration of IAD on May 30. He immediately disagreed, saying that was a sad occasion, and insisted that instead we should mark the anniversary of the abolition of the indentureship system in 1917. And what day was that? I asked. January 1, he replied. But that is New Year’s Day, already a public holiday, I told him. That abolition day would never fly! He was not convinced, and I learned he was carrying on a lonely campaign for HIS celebration instead of IAD. He even got up in Parliament when he was a NAR minister and argued against a public holiday for IAD as proposed by Members of Parliament Trevor Sudama and Raymond Pallackdarrysingh in 1991. Why was he so hostile to IAD? I believe the only reason was that IAD was not his idea, but the anniversary of the abolition of indentureship was his idea. Finally in 2017 he got some traction and there were local and international events marking the centenary of the abolition of indentureship. Brinsley is undoubtedly hoping he could make this into an annual event that would eclipse and finally knock out IAD. He doesn’t have much chance of success there after 40 years of trying but count on him to keep on trying. The egoism of these IAD deniers is simply beyond belief.

They appear determined to make IAD seem controversial, and are not bothered by facts or by the indifference of the average Trini. It’s about as controversial as Irish Heritage Day in North America, which celebrates the arrival and heritage of the Irish to the new world. Or Thanksgiving Day in the USA, which marks the successful settlement of the European Pilgrim Fathers, which was one of the models used by the IAD committee. We haven’t yet moved to family celebration of IAD at home as envisaged by the committee in the seventies, but that will come in time.

Trinidad Indians by a vast margin have accepted Indian Arrival Day as is since it was proposed in 1979 and still do so today. The other races, religious organizations, cultural organizations, the media, are all on board without exception. Only a tiny handful of donkeys like Louis Lee Singh and Brinsley Samaroo have different opinions on IAD.

When the donkey or donkeys emerge this year, we have only one option which is the cricket option of hitting them out of the field, out of the grounds and if possible, out of the country entirely.