Trinidad High Commissioner Dey on Indentureship

Trinidad High Commissioner Dey on Indentureship
Photo : the High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago, Bishwadip Dey

In His remarks to a gathering of 400 at the Hilton Hotel ballroom in Port of Spain in late September to celebrate elders, the High Commissioner of India to Trinidad and Tobago, Bishwadip Dey, explained how Indians came to Trinidad and settled and how they were able to establish communities and provided for their families. The Celebrating the elderly reception was emceed by the popular Surujdeo Mangaroo.

The High Commissioner briefly described the history of the arrival of Indians. He noted that following the abolition of slavery, the British planters on the island of Trinidad needed workers. The planters brought workers under a system of indentureship (contracted labor) from China and the Portuguese island of Madeira. Indentureship was not much different from slavery.

The experiment with Portuguese and Chinese failed because these imported laborers could not provide the desired labor for sugar cultivation. They were not accustomed to laboring on plantation. Thus, the planters turned to India for labour for their vast sugar plantations as well as cocoa, coffee and coconuts. India has a surplus pool of labor. Between 1845 and 1917 Trinidad received 147,939 indentured labourers mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with 5,000 from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Today, some 49 per cent of Trinidad and Tobago’s 1.3 million citizens is of Indian origin.

As High Commissioner Dey explained, these Indian workers rescued the threatened agricultural economy and most of them accepted the offer to remain in Trinidad at the end of their five year indentured contracts. Some of the labourers were given small parcels of lands in remote, forested and swampy parts of the country but they applied their intimate knowledge with the land, the appropriate crops to plant as well as the seasons to sow and harvest and store. Even to this day their descendants are the nation's farmers as well as those in the neighbouring countries of Guyana and Suriname.

An eminent Caribbean writer opined that these Indian labourers who have a deep sense of thrift, family and hard work must come from a high civilization and are worthy of emulation and the admiration and gratitude of the population as they and their descendants continue to feed the region.