Who is an Indian?
Photo : Vassan Ramracha
After interactions with many Indians from India, I realized that Jahaji Indians [shipmates] brought to the Caribbean best reflect who is an Indian, both Hindu and Muslim. By their temperament and lifestyle, they are more Indian than those in India. There are still faint traces of the caste system within Diaspora Indians in Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, etc. unlike the inflexibility still retained in India.
Caribbean Indians have also definitely achieved a solid national concept of their identity in their country of birth. Unlike India where they identify with established sectarian loyalties, Caribbean Indians have slowly drifted to a concept of regional identity especially since the establishment of CARCOM which does them no favours or attempts to address their needs. For example, the taxpayer-funded CARCOM actively and commendably champions reparations for the savagery of yesterday’s slavery. What wrong was done to Caribbean peoples is being pursued to be put right by corrective deeds. But when CARCOM will champion and correct the ethnic neglect of its largest Caribbean Indian minority for present day security and future survival right here at home, still awaits listing to be an agenda item? Who’s at fault?
What defines who is an Indian and can legitimately speak for them? The usual tag is Indo-Trinidadian or Indo-Guyanese. Since no one is Indian until they leave India; similarly no one is considered white in Europe until they go to America and fall into the black-white divide made so by their history.
Regional Caribbean Indian identity developed despite the history of others and also survived despite constant attempts to “dumb them down” to “equality” where no one was capable of individual or cultural survival which upstaged anyone else. That was the non-Indian view of Indians publicly advocated by Trinidad’s first Prime Minister Eric Williams who
labelled Indians “a recalcitrant minority” who sent their Indian children to “cow pen” schools. Those schools have developed into established edifices of schooling, second to none in Trinidad.
In India, the dumb-down concept was used to preclude any other idea of having one language, one “race” one “God” meaning English alone, complete miscegenation and Christianity without apologies. The dark-skinned southern Indians were encouraged to view their northern countrymen as'”Aryan invaders” responsible for dominating the south.
Scorn was deliberately made of Lord Rama, their God and Hindi, their language and guide, upholding their traditions and customs.
The Indians of India identify themselves with their regional identity as a Punjabi, Guajarati, Tamil, etc. with their own languages, cultures and fashionable modes of dress. In Gujarat, for example, where Arab merchant traders took East Africans as slaves, their descendants are completely emancipated and fully integrated, speaking fluent Guajarati, wearing Indian’s saris, eating Indian food but still occasionally practicing some of their African traditions.
Because Diaspora Indians have no large scale interactions an understanding of Indian regional behaviour is non-existent. Most nationalistic leaders in India and China prefer all ethnic groups to coexist and were gathered under one flag for a kind of nation building which ignored their ethnic needs. Unlike India, the Chinese communists forcefully
implemented rule by one national identity and language which made China considerably stronger in relation to a stratified India by a common identity. India will continue to grow economically strong, with so many of its nationals returning as investors.
Until it is able to become culturally united like Indo-Caribbean jahajis and their descendant, its ability to respond to its foreign challenges could be weakened. Who should educate Indians about their unique Indo Caribbean identity is not for those who do not identify themselves bereft of cultural heritage and pride. Pan Indo-Caribbean unity can only be achieved by those so equipped to nurture, establish and continue its rich history.
Let’s see what the MODI BJP government will do to bring national identity to India and outreach to diaspora Indians.