Wherever they are found, Indians have had to struggle against great odds to gain recognition of their presence and the enormous contributions they have made to national development. In most territories, their culture has been marginalized. They face discrimination in employment practices. A kind of cultural genocide has been unleashed on the Indian community in several territories. Their presence is gradually being erased as their percentage in the total population continues to decline.
The pioneering Indian ancestors, just like the African ancestors, and the Indian community at large deserves some form of recognition of their presence, contributions to development, and the struggle they waged to gain their freedom from indentureship and freedom for the colonies. Their suffering and sacrifice are similar to those of enslaved Africans who are rewarded with Emancipation Day holiday. To give a holiday to the Africans and deny same to Indians is discriminatory. The Indian community deserves equality. Regrettably, they have had to wage a long arduous battle for Indian Arrival Day (IAD) recognition. I joined the struggle for a IAD in Trinidad and brought together a team of activists to pioneer the struggle in New York for a similar holiday in Guyana.
In the societies (Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, Grenada) where they are recognized for their contributions, governments did so half-heartedly. Recognition came after a long period of arm twisting of politicians by the Indian community as though such recognition has not been deserved. In Trinidad, initially, the recognition was called Arrival Day and only changed after an Indian became PM. In Guyana it is still called Arrival Day.
Recognition of the sacrifices of the Indian ancestors is important in the collective history of Indians and is not dis-similar to that accorded Africans. The ancestors have handed down a rich treasure of cultural values, traditions, customs, practices, religions, music, cuisine, and development skills that have survived in spite of the onslaught from those with political control who seek to exile or liquidate the Indian community.
While government and non-Indians in each territory has not been very supportive of recognizing the sacrifices of the indentureds, private (non-government and religious) community based Indian organizations have held annual commemorative celebrations over the last several decades going back to the mid-1900s in each territory to mark the presence of Indians and celebrate their identity (culture) and by extension Indian arrival. It has been a tradition over many decades (in fact since the early 1920s right after indentureship was terminated in 1917) to hold such annual commemorative festivities (cultural variety concerts, seminars, conferences, banquets, and the like) to mark the date Indians first arrived in each territory. It is called Indian Arrival Day (IAD) because it celebrates the contributions made by Indians in the region. Such celebrations are held not only in the Caribbean but in the metropolitan cities of North America (New York, Toronto, Orlando, Jersey City, Miami, etc. since the 1980s) and Europe (Amsterdam, Paris, London since the 1970s) to where Indians have migrated from the Caribbean.
Several territories in the region recognize the presence and laud the contributions of the Indians with the celebration of Indian Arrival Day, a date that varies from territory to territory depending on the actual date when Indians first arrived there. Similar recognitions are accorded in major cities in or countries of North America and Europe. This recognition has come about as a result of the work of some dedicated grass roots activists (political, cultural and religious). It has not been an easy journey or task to organize commemorative events marking the Indian presence in the Caribbean and or in North America and Europe. Black led governments initially have not been supportive of events and refused to give grants to commemorate IAD. But over time, the governments of Guyana and Trinidad gave minimal amounts of funds to host community activities as contrasted with support for Afro festivals or Emancipation Day celebrations. IAD, in Guyana and Trinidad, for example, obtains less than a tenth of the resources committed to Emancipation Day activities. Also, Black led governments had adamantly opposed granting a holiday to recognize IAD in contrast with Emancipation Day.
Significant pressure has/had been applied on (African dominated) governments by grass roots (Indian) organizations and community activists to make IAD a national holiday. Some of these commemorative events are “officially” sanctioned by the government while others are privately carried out by community organizations without government encouragement or support. It took a lot of lobbying and pressure from the Indian community before governments agreed to grant a holiday on the occasion of IAD.
Tribute is paid to those who conceived and or assisted in organizing commemorative events (of IAD) marking the presence of Indians in the Caribbean and those (too many to mention here) who also helped to propagate Indian culture in North America and Europe as introduced by the Indo-Caribbean immigrants. We salute and acknowledge the dedication and hard work of all those who struggled to obtain official recognition of the enormous sacrifices of the Indian ancestors and their progeny.
*Dr. Vishnu Bisram joined the struggle with a handful of others in Guyana and Trinidad sine 1981 for the granting of IAD holiday in Trinidad and Guyana.
By Vishnu Bisram