Who Is a Hindu in Trinidad?

Who Is a Hindu in Trinidad?
Photo : Vassan Ramracha (Swami Sawai Vaskananda)

“Who is a Hindu in Trinidad?” is a question that is often asked.

Who is a: Hindu, Buddhist, British Druid, Muslim, Christian, Shango, and Mormon.

Many commentators on theology have said that different religions “appeared” and evolved in different parts of the world to solve problems that were unique to ethnic/racial groups, tribes and nationalities. Very few religions have embraced all people in their religions. Most religions have retained their uniqueness by focusing on their specific ethno/racial, cultural, groups from specific national origins.

The Jews believe that only a person who is descended from a Jewish woman can be a Jew. Currently, Israel is having major problems in defining “who is a Jew.” Those persons who claim to be Jews and are from China, Ethiopia, India, and the Arab world are not considered real Jews by Israelis. European Jews believe that for 2,000 years they suffered extreme persecution because of their Jewish Faith. Jews suffered all forms of discriminations from being barred from government employment, certain trades, and occupations. Jewish land was often confiscated by the governments in Europe and the Arab world.  During World War 2, Jews faced the possibility of final extermination. Many Jews were sent to concentration camps, where they were gassed to death.  For a while, Judaism and being the victims of persecution went hand in hand.  

Jewish people believed they have suffered tremendously because they have always tried to maintain their faith. They paid a heavy price for preserving their religion. Jews believe that there has to be strict rules about ‘Who is a Jew?” You cannot be a Jew just because you like Judaism, or you have adopted few Jewish practices. You cannot be a Jew just because you dress in Jewish clothes or eat Jewish Kosher/food. You cannot just jump in and out of the Jewish faith when it suits your earthly desires. Jews believed that God revealed himself, through their scriptures, to specifically the Jewish people for specific purposes. To be a Jew, you have to be descended from a straight line of Jewish blood over thousands of years since the time God created mankind on earth.

Thus Judaism is not a ‘fad’ or a fashion. It is not something to mimic. Judaism represents the history of the Israelites. It represents the rise and fall of the Jewish people. Judaism represents the joys and sorrows, mostly sorrows, of the religio-ethnic-racial-cultural historic group of people called Jews/Israelites,

Similarly, the Druids of Britain consider the Druid religion to be the ethnic/religion of the ancient British peoples. An Indian, a Nigerian, a German or a Chinese cannot be a Druid.  The Shango religion is tied of with the history, culture, joys and sorrows of the Yoruba people. We can like Shango practices. We can even adopt some of the Shango practices, but we cannot be a Shango/Yoruba. Shango is not tied intimately with the culture/ethnicity of China, India or Europe.

There are people, who call themselves Progressives and Universalists. These people say that all religions are the same. They try to remove the individual uniqueness of each religion. They ‘cook up’ an assortment of ‘Calalloo’ religions which they call “Progressive Christianity,” Progressive Hinduism.” These ‘Calalloo” religions are devoid of history, culture, ethnic pride, and nationhood. In the long run, these ‘Progressive” religions become so cosmopolitan, by trying to please everyone; they evolve into atheistic movements that are devoid of God. They are based on a specific cult leader. When the Leader dies, the religion/movement also dies. 

When Hindus arrived in the Caribbean-Trinidad, Guyana, and Surinam, we faced tremendous discrimination. The British colonial government used all forms of restrictions to suppress the practice of our religion. Our marriages were not recognized as legal. We even developed our own terms to describe our predicament. Our marriages were called “Bamboo Marriages.” Our children were not allowed to attend schools. Schools were for Christians. Hindus were blocked from government jobs. Hinduism was downgraded to the level of paganism or animism. Only when the Presbyterian missionaries arrived, Hindus were given a school education. We were grateful for the education; however Hindus were made to feel ashamed of their religion and culture. If Hindus wanted to progress further by teaching in Presbyterian schools, they had to convert to Christianity. The Presbyterians gave us some help with the ulterior motive of converting the Hindu population. Education was the carrot of conversion entrapment.

Traditionally, Hindus had to rely on their skills, self-help talent, or go into business. After Independence, the Eric Williams PNM government continued the colonial policies of trying to destroy Hinduism, Hindu culture, and music etc. While Eric Williams said that there could be no mother India or mother Africa, he was busy promoting African culture through the ‘Better Village’ competitions. Eric Williams refused to support the Hindi language in schools. He pushed for Trinidadians to speak Spanish. Hindus had Spanish forced down their throats, while Hindi as a spoken language died. Eric Williams signed a concordat (agreement) with the Roman Catholic Church that provided for Catholic and Christian schools to be fully funded, while ignoring that Hindus students were not being served because of a lack of adequate numbers of Hindu schools. Hindu children in many areas had to attend Presbyterian or Muslim schools in areas such as San Fernando.

It has to be said that the Hindu religion is and has been tied up with the Indian Identity throughout the ages. Even in India, it is the Hindus, who have to stand up for Indian identity, culture and ethnicity.  With every invasion of India, it was the Hindus that fought for the survival of Indian identity. If there were no Hindus in India and the Caribbean, there would be no Indian identity or culture. Hinduism is tied up with Indian identity, history, ethnicity, just as Judaism is tied up with Israeli/Jewish ethnicity. The sufferings and misfortune of Christians and Muslims are not those of the Indians. However, the sufferings and misfortunes of the Hindus are the sufferings/misfortunes of the Indian people. The progress of Hindus represents the progress of the Indian people throughout the world. We must remember that Hinduism represents the totality of the Indian people from the birth of India, the Indian Ethnicity and civilization. The totality of Indian identity includes: culture, ethnicity/race, the high points of Indian civilization – the creation of the Vedas, the ancient cities of Mohenjo-Daro/Harappan sites, but most importantly Hinduism represents the persecutions/sufferings of the Indian peoples. Many Saudi Arabians believe you cannot be a true Muslim, unless you have Arab blood. Just as in Judaism, Hinduism runs along a specific bloodline, culture, history, and national origin. It is always the case that Hindus have to stand up for Indian Identity.  People cannot jump in and out of Hinduism as they please. A white man or an African does not represent the achievements or sufferings of the Hindus people. An African or a European can give up their adopted Hindu practices and go back to their people and receive the protections and opportunities their people. Indian Hindus can dessert their faith and culture, but they cannot go to the African or European communities, and be accepted as an equal with other Africans and Europeans. Other peoples can admire and adopt Hindu practices. They can practice Yoga. They can be Vegetarianism. They can practice meditation. However, they cannot be Hindus/Hindustani.

The Indian Supreme Court defines a Hindu or Hindustani as anyone who is descended from the original peoples of India. This definition excludes Persians, Arabs, and Europeans. Billions of peoples around the world can admire Hinduism. Throughout the world, millions of people have been influenced by Hindu culture, food, vegetarianism, clothes, Yoga, and music. That is certainly an excellent phenomenon in this age. However, they are not Hindus.  At best, these non-Indians are “admirers.”