Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Guest commentary: To my Indian brothers and sisters: I am sorry

Reproduced unedited from TOBAGO NEWS 28 Jan. 2013By opoku ware

Well, well, well, the London PNM has prevailed, however, yours truly cannot offer any hypocritical congratulations to the PNM on the 12-nil victory in the 2013 THA elections.

It is the view of this column that the tenor of the PNM campaign was much too anti-East Indian and sisters. "Dem Indians go come and take we land." Ahsworth Jack sellout to dem Indians." "If the TOP win, Kamla go take over the Assembly." "Ah vote for the TOP is a vote for the UNC, and "the Pagans are coming" and the infamous, "Calcutta boat waiting to sail the Tobago." 

All these were comments which resonated from different levels of the PNM campaign and were all tinged with the phobia of racism against our East Indian fellow citizens.

Those comments penetrated the minds of Tobagonians and yours truly was confronted by young and old Tobagonians with this instilled fear of East Indians "invading" the island. 

It was shocking to hear supposedly intelligent men and women mouthing this nonsensical phobia about East Indians not conscious of thee short terms and long term damage to our rainbow nation and the Tobago economy. It was victory at all cost. 

It reminded me of when calypsonian Cro Cro, the 'darlin' of the PNM sang anti-Indian calypsos year after year. He was crowned calypso champion on many occasions, but it caused a dramatic drop in the attendance at calypso tents which could only survive because they are sponsored by the state.

As gallantly as the TOP fought, they found it difficult to defeat the ugly spectre of racist politics which prevailed during the campaign. In retrospect, maybe the TOP made a crucial blunder by not using the most potent weapon the People's Partnership to crush the racist politics in the THA election.

NJAC's Makandal Daaga is the most lethal weapon of destruction against racist politics in Trinidad and Tobago. He was the man who rose up to confront the racist politics between Indians and Africans in 1970. He led a march of thousands of Africans from Port of Spain to the Indian heartland in Couva to promote African/Indian unity. 

Since the days of Uriah Butler in 1937, Daaga's move to unite the races in 1970 was the most significant action in pursuing the cause of racial harmony in our nation. In addition, to his history in struggling to unite Africans and Indians, he has proven to be the most gifted orator in this part of the world. Yet the TOP did not seek his service to smash the devious and dangerous anti-Indian politics which played out in the THA elections.

When the PNM first came to Tobago in 1956 there was a Tobago leader named APT 'Fargo' James who was championing the Tobagonian cause for a better life. The PNM came up against James in the 1956 election and was beaten by James. The PNM went after James with a vengeance.

He was described as too dunce to represent Tobago. He was dubbed a 'boo boo man'. He was jeered and heckled by PNM supporters at his meetings and in the 1961 elections, some say the elections was stolen from him. He died shortly after.

A genuine Tobago leader was destroyed. Check the nullification of Ashworth Jack. However, credit must be given to Tobago PNM leader Orville London, who is a smart and clever operator. 

He was able to skillfully mobilise dissident former opponents, some of whom I would describe as political hustlers, such as Dr Vanus James, Hughvon Des Vignes, Winford and Max James, Deborah Moore Miggins and Hochoy Charles to launch vicious and concentrated attacks against the TOP leader. 

Well some may argue that this is part of the cut and thrust of politics but the main concern of yours truly was the anti-Indian campaign waged on the minds of African Tobagonians.

Maybe some African Tobagonians are not aware of the East Indian experience in Trinidad and Tobago. So let us for a moment take a look at the historical experience of the East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. 

After chattel slavery ended in 1938, many of the former African slaves left the plantations to seek out a living in the urban areas. The British colonial masters then proceeded to India which was also under British domination and enticed the poor, downtrodden Indians to come to the Caribbean to work with the promise of land and money. Those who took the offer soon realised that the work on the plantations was slave like. There were housed in barrack like structures and were paid very small money for their hard labour.

After indentureship, the British failed to keep their deal with the Indians for land and money, so many remained as plantation labourers. However, their living and working conditions were so bad, they often protested and revolted and on one occasion many were shot dead by the authorities when they attempted to march into San Fernando to protest about their conditions of life.

During the 1930's Uriah Butler challenged the British colonial authorities about the exploitation of the workers in the oil industry (Africans) and the sugar industry (Indians).

Butler invited the Africans and Indians in the fight for better working conditions. The Indians gave Butler a motorcar to help him coordinate his operations. They also provided hiding places for him when he was being hunted by colonial authorities.

The Indian masses lived in abject poverty as they worked on the sugar plantations in South and Central Trinidad. The harsh conditions on the sugar lands exposed them to a variety of illnesses. They were forced to eat rice and bush (pumpkin, bhaji, etc). Their children went to school without shoes and their lunch was sometimes pieces of sugar cane or sada roti skin.

The exploited Indian sugar workers made the maximum sacrifice, they denied themselves the joys of life and saved their pittance to educate their children. Even though they were an exploited lot and deprived of basic social services in their communities, they 'banned their bellies' to send their children to colleges and universities.

As time moved on, the younger Indians became lawyers and doctors, some Indians went into business selling roti, doubles and produce from their agriculture. They held on to their culture and religion, which gave them the strength and unity to move forward in life.

The Indians made huge contributions to the development of T&T in politics, economics, sports, culture, science, health, engineering and agriculture to name a few areas. At present, the Indians are aiding to keep the Tobago tourism sector alive. They supply Tobago with food, motor vehicles and other commodities.

So for those who spread hate and fear of our East Indians brothers and sisters to win an election must remember that Indians are also God's children and part of the human family. Time longer than twine!

freelance writer

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai