INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY MESSAGE FROM RAM JAGESSAR IN TORONTO
As secretary of the 1977 Trinidad committee that coined the name Indian Arrival Day and secretary of the 1998 Canadian committee that expanded the celebration into Indian Arrival and Heritage Month renamed as South Asian Heritage month, I look with amazement and gratitude at events of the last 54 years.
May 30, 2021 a Google search for Indian Arrival Day will garner 155 million hits, South Asian Heritage Month 63 million hits, Asian Heritage Month 562 million hits, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (USA) 69 million hits. You will find Indian Arrival Day type celebrations in 10 countries in the Caribbean, the USA, Canada, South Africa, Britain, Mauritius, Girmit Remembrance Day in Fiji and on and on.
Remembering and celebrating the arrival and heritage of people from the Indian subcontinent nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka to other parts of the world has truly become international and immense.
Who would have thought of such things in 1977 when young Trinidadian Rajiv Sieunarine slammed down a copy of the Indian Centenary Review 1945 and demanded that members of the Indian Revival and Reform Association (IRRA) do something about marking the anniversary of the arrival of Indians?
The massive 1945 Centenary of the arrival of Indians in Trinidad had already been forgotten 20 years later, and so too the equally massive 1838 Guyana Centenary of the arrival of Indians. Members of the brand new IRRA group agreed it was a shame, decided to do something about it, and the rest is history.
In three years time Indian Arrival Day was a national festival known to all and spawning numerous other celebrations all over the island and in later years to at least 10 Caribbean countries and internationally.
I have never seen anything like it, nothing like the incredible public support it gathered, nothing like the speed if its spread.
No, that is not correct. I saw the same thing here in Toronto as secretary of the 1998 Indian Arrival and Heritage Month Committee that boosted the celebration from a single one to many in Canada and the USA.
In a short four years it had been accepted as an official festival by the Ontario parliament and renamed South Asian Heritage Month to include all from six Indian subcontinent nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Similarly themed festivals like Asian Heritage Month by the Canadian government and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in America would follow.
The celebration has gone truly international for the estimated 30 million diaspora outside the Indian subcontinent and shows no sign of slowing down. Half a century ago in Trinidad we had the feeling its time had come, and a quarter century ago in Canada it was the same.
What else can we feel but gratitude that our people have rescued our many thousand years’ heritage and the memory of our families and ancestors who came to these distant shores and passed that heritage over to us? We stand on the shoulders of giants.
This wasn’t done by any committee of one or two dozen people in Trinidad or Canada, but by the hundreds of thousands and millions of our people who trace their roots to the Indian subcontinent and recently to several other countries. Your gratitude and mine must go to them.
In this pandemic affected month of May there haven’t been many public celebrations for obvious safety reasons. But it will pass and in later years our heritage celebrations will resume for a very good reason. Our people want it so.
I have attended many, many Indian Arrival Day type celebrations over the years, but never one that failed for lack of an audience or support. I wish all more of the same in years to come.