Whether it be good karma or just plain good luck, we Caribbean Hindus have landed in a good place in Canada our new dharti mata, our new homeland.
Our numbers are growing, we have no enemies determined to destroy our dharma, and most important, we have a guaranteed secure future.
Some changes in our practice are obvious, mostly due to our moving from countryside in the old countries to big cities in the new, and to the fact of living in a temperate country where it’s cool or cold for six months of the year.
Back in the old countries Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, St Vincent and others, Hindus were mostly country folks, living in small communities in a hot, tropical climate.
Canada is a little bit different. Here most of us live in big cities like Toronto (2.8 million), Hamilton (536,000), Montreal (1.9 million), Winnipeg (706,000), Calgary (1.2 million) and Vancouver (2.5 million). Several of them have populations larger than all of Trinidad or Guyana.
But the fundamentals are still in place. We enjoy all that we did in the old place except the things that climate doesn’t allow.
Looking at the big picture we see that Hindus have doubled our population here in Canada from 297,200 in the 2001 census to 497,200 in the 2011 census, a staggering 67% jump. The 2021 census should show a similar increase in the numbers of Hindus.
Caribbean Hindus at well around 200,000 today are a serious slice of the pie chart. I arrive at these numbers by estimating the numbers of Hindus as part of the population of Trinis and Guyanese in Canada. There are at least 150,000 Trinis in Canada (a WestJet marketing figure) and I would count 90,000 of them as Indo Trinis and of that number 50,000 Hindus. Guyana boasts 250,000 people in Canada, the vast majority 175,000 in my view being Indos and of that 150,000 being Hindus. Caribbean Hindus from Jamaica, St Vincent, Grenada, Suriname and the French territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe are a very tiny number that’s difficult to estimate.
So why are we growing? Natural increase by birth is one reason, almost no migration out of Canada a second, a small but steady increase by migration into Canada, and negligible loss of members through conversion by Christian missionaries or any missionaries are the main reasons. And of course Caribbean Hindus here have no political enemies, no spiritual enemies gunning to wipe us out either, no criminal gangs targeting us.
Christian missionaries and all the Christian churches and denominations they belong to are weak like wet paper. They are losing members massively, almost empty churches are closing all the time, they are beset by scandals of sexist criminal priests, sharing the genocide of the natives and the schools that destroyed the native children, young people don’t want to hear them, atheists and non-religious are increasing rapidly. The churches are seen by the younger generations as old fashioned, obsolete, racist, discriminatory against women and minority groups.
Missionaries do walk around sometimes but they can’t find the Caribbean Hindus among the millions of other Canadians, as their comrades in the Caribbean do by spotting the jhandis or going into Hindu villages for easy pickings. There are no Hindu villages or neighbourhoods in Canada. We don’t welcome door to door nuisances here and are very careful about letting strangers into our homes. In winter and cold weather, door to door missionary work is not sensible. When I see missionaries at my door I don’t answer the doorbell when they ring and they go away.
Other tried and trusted missionary tactics like crusades, sidewalk preachers, pamphlets in the mailbox, Bible study classes in the home, picking up Hindu children to go to Christian Sunday schools, aggressive student groups in schools, radio and television broadcasts just don’t seem to work well in Canada. Caribbean Hindus are simply not in the firing line.
This may seem strange to some in the Caribbean, but we Hindus in Canada including Caribbean Hindus, may have better prospects than all the Christian groups together. What’s the proof? Twenty-four percent of Canadians today have no religious affiliation and are classified as atheistic or agnostic. Protestant Christians at 29% will soon be overtaken. Many declared Christians say they are spiritual but not religious, meaning they want nothing to do with the organized religions that once dominated Canada. Some are “three church Christians” who enter a church only three times in their lives, for christenings, weddings and funerals. In Quebec the dominant Catholic Church has seen attendance drop to 17% in 2011 and today it has been reported that attendance at mass is down to 10% of Catholics from a high of 90% in the recent past.
I am not saying all is hunky dory for Caribbean Hindus. We have our problems but they seem to be quite small compared to the huge beasts we left behind in the Caribbean.
I believe it’s because we have English as a first language that we have adapted so quickly and easily to big city life in a foreign land. Others who have other languages as their mother tongue struggle for years before they adapt.
Relative prosperity has meant most of us have cars. We drive to the mandirs or to attend Ramayan readings or pujas or large cultural shows for Divali and Phagwa, weddings and funerals, reunions of the old country villages in provincial parks. It’s not a problem to drive 60 km for a function which is like driving from Georgetown to Bartica in Guyana or from Chaguanas to Siparia in Trinidad.
The wedding car can be a Rolls Royce and you can get a real elephant or a white horse for the dulha if you are willing to pay. Astounding amounts of food can be served at Hindu functions. I have seen prasad bags weighing up to a kilo. You can wear all the genuine gold and diamond jewelry you want without fear of robbery. I have seen genuine full length fur coats costing thousands at Hindu functions and Canada Goose coats costing hundreds. A monster Hindu wedding with 500 guests at a convention centre can set you back $50,000 Canadian, which is a over a quarter million TT or $8 million Guyana. I have attended such weddings.
Speaking of prosperity, I am pleased to report that most Caribbean Hindus here have done quite well. “Indo-Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area have an average household income of $86,425, which is higher than the Canadian average of $81,709 but lower than the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area’s average of $95,326,” says the Wikipedia article. We Caribbean Hindus are part of that group.
I know quite a few of our group who make $100,000 Canadian per year, and way more families. For comparison sake, that is equivalent to $16.6 million Guyana and very close to the Guyana president’s salary of $114,599 Canadian. $100,000 Canadian is $542,700 TT, way above the Trinidad president’s salary of $68,086 Canadian and quite close to the prime minister’s salary of $106,743 Canadian. I know a humble auto mechanic here in Scarborough who was quite tickled to hear he was making as much money as the TT prime minister!
Very few are living below the poverty line like the Canadian average of 1 in 7 people existing on welfare. Over 90% own their own homes in Greater Toronto where most Caribbean Hindus live, according to a top real estate broker. Many are million dollar homes, meaning the equivalent of $5.4 million TT or $166 million Guyana. This huge crop of millionaire Caribbean Hindus in Toronto doesn’t include me, I hasten to declare, as my bungalow is way below a million in value.
Almost all of us have upgraded our skills and qualifications here in Canada, and moved out of the factory jobs and minimum wage drudge jobs we took when we first came. A notable number of our children are acquiring degrees and specializations in higher level occupations, again more than the Canadian average which is the only way to judge.
As I mentioned before, we have no serious concerns about crime anywhere in Canada, not about street robberies, burglaries, home invasions, car thefts and carjacking, sexual assaults, corrupt police, weak magistrates and judges.
We enjoy a single payer health system that gives us free doctor and hospital care and is rated one of the best in the world. The political system is relatively stable and functioning, the administrative systems are excellent, infrastructure sill in good shape, and probably most important, we have reasonably cheap and abundant food.
Canada has a social safety net that tries to take care of the unemployed, the sick, the handicapped, the mentally challenged. We didn’t create all this, but we enjoy it, do our bit to preserve it, are law abiding citizens for the most part. It’s not perfect, as Canada has some problems to fix, and we have some of the hurdles that all immigrants face in a new country. But these hurdles are so tiny compared to the giant obstacles we left behind in the Caribbean!
Climate has made some big differences for us, especially in winter. Outdoor events for Phagwa in February, or Ramleela in the park or kartik in chilly October are out of the question. I’ve seen folks going for matikor in the basement when the weather outside is below zero.
We do have Ganga Puja, but only in warm summer with temperatures above 20 Celsius. A heavy snowfall on a Sunday can cancel Sunday services at the mandir, as it’s too dangerous to drive and the snow has to be cleared from the parking lot. We don’t have outdoor clay and oil deyas for Divali, as the cold can freeze the oil or the wind can blow out the flame. You must get fire department permission for having an open flame on your property, because of the danger of starting forest fires. Most of us use electric lights outside.
But landing in a wealthier and safer place and adjusting well to it can hardly be the biggest prize when we Caribbean Hindus count our blessings in Canada. There is an intangible worth more than our Canadian passport, our health card, our million dollar homes and the sight of our children doing well.
We Hindus in Canada walk light of foot and head held high, free of that sense of oppression and defeat by implacable enemies that hung like a black cloud over our lives in the old country. It is a terrible thing to go into the battle for equality and a life with honour and respect knowing you have already lost the war and likely will be a loser all your life. It blights your psyche and your sense of self and is clearly visible to outsiders but not to you.
That was us when we grew up and lived in the Caribbean. We are free of it now after many decades in this new land, and our children and grandchildren in Canada don’t know it at all. We have no enemies here and don’t have to watch our step or our speech. The Trini and Guyanese Hindus have no friends at home and no place to go their Bell curve is plunging straight down while ours is heading straight up.
Here in Canada the black cloud of lifelong defeat and failure has disappeared for us, and never come for our children. This is our land now, Canada our new dharti mata as the Debe Penal Chowtal group in Toronto has sung.