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NRI, or some called East Indians in Trinidad

East Indians in Trinidad

With the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1838, many plantation economies like Trinidad were left looking for alternative sources of cheap labor. Trinidad tried to draw Europeans, but the heat made them ineffective. Attention finally turned to the Subcontinent, and in 1845 the first ship of Indian laborers arrived in Trinidad. These workers were hired indentured and came mainly from the poorer parts of Uttar Pradesh. They undertook the three-month journey to the New World with the understanding that after their five-year work stint was over, they could re-indenture themselves or return to India. The system stayed in place until 1917.

The Indians proved effective on the sugar cane and cocoa plantations, helping them return to prosperity. In an effort to discourage them from returning home, the colony eventually offered a land grant as an incentive for those who chose to stay. Many took up the offer and stayed to make new lives in their adopted homeland. Their descendants still maintain many traditions and, to some extent, language. East Indian culture is a vibrant component of T&T's national culture, and you can find Indian festivals and music sharing center stage at all national events. East Indians actually comprise about half the island's population and are an integral part of Trinidad and Tobago society.

*Today, East Indians constitute about 45 per cent of the total population, almost exactly the same as Africans


Trinidad & Tobago and Mauritius are poly-ethnic island-states with large population segments of Indian origin. The other major ethnic categories are in both societies of African descent. Brought to the islands during the British colonial indentureship scheme from ca. 1840 to ca. 1910, the Indians were in both societies politically marginal until the electoral reforms of the post-war years. There are both similarities and differences in the collective situation of Indians in Trinidad and Mauritius. Both of the societies are, nevertheless, remarkably peaceful at the inter-ethnic level. In this article, I shall compare the respective positions of Indians in the two nation-states, paying especial attention to the relationship between the wider socio-cultural contexts of daily life and national politics.1

Re-Examining Indian Arrival Day
By Jerome Teelucksingh

The annual observance of Indian Arrival Day needs to be re-examined by our society. Every year, there is mention of the arrival of the first batch of immigrants from the Asian continent to Trinidad. The Fatel Rozack departed the Calcutta harbour, in India, on 16th February 1845 with 231 Indians. The correct name of this ship is Fath Al Razak (Victory of Allah the Provider) however, it is commonly referred to as the "Fatel Rozack". After 103 days on the seas, the ship arrived in Trinidad on 30th May 1845.

We need to realise that the entire Indo-Trinidadian population did not 'arrive' on that historic trip in 1845. During 1845-1917, scores of ships transported thousands of Indians from India to the Caribbean. Among the ships which docked at Trinidad were: Alwrick Castle, Allanshaw, Grecian, Brenda, Avoca, Clyde, Mutla, Chenab, Rhone, Hereford, Jarawar and Wiltshire. These ships, which were mostly British, visited Trinidad on more than one occasion. Thus, after 1845, the overwhelming majority of ancestors of Indians in Trinidad 'arrived' on ships other than the Rozack and at different times. Other British colonies as Jamaica, British Guiana, Grenada and St. Lucia also received Indians from these ships.
Interestingly, the 'arrival' of Indians in Trinidad was not a permanent status. Hundreds returned to Trinidad after completing their term of indentureship. During 1904-1908, between 670 to 827 persons returned to India.

A common misconception is that Indians transported to Trinidad originated from the same provinces in India and thus possessed a similar background. Nothing could be further form the truth. Differences in caste, religion (Hindus and Muslims), sects, age and gender added to the milieu which was created in the new host society. The occupations and levels of adaptation and assimilation also varied among the indentured immigrants. Furthermore, during the early decades of indentureship, not all the Indians in Trinidad originated from India. Some came from neighbouring colonies of Grenada, British Guiana and Martinique. Some Indians after serving their contracts in other places as South Africa, were re-indentured to theCaribbean.

Indians worked on various sugar estates. Among these estates were Waterloo, Woodford Lodge, Picton, Union Hall, Bronte, Esperanza, Caroni and Canaan. Another fallacy which should be removed is that all Indians worked on the sugar plantations. A significant percentage of Indians were employed on the cocoa, coffee and coconut estates. Also, a considerable number of East Indians sought employment as shop owners, petty traders and as primary school teachers in the Canadian Missionary Indian (CMI) schools (established by the Presbyterian missionaries from Nova Scotia).

A glimpse of the population figures provides an idea of the extent of immigration. In 1914, the colony's Indian population was 118,822 in a total population of 352,145 persons. By 1927, the East Indian population in Trinidad had risen to 127, 326.

The trip across the kala pani was not merely a trade in human cargo but also had a wider, more pronounced environmental impact. Products from India which were included on the ships, heading for the West Indies, were cloves, ginger, saffron, dhall, peppers, mustard, spices, ghee and the now infamous-- marijuana.

Our landscape provides visible evidence of the items brought by the indentured labourers. Fruits, originally from India, such as mangoes, guava, tamarind, ochro and seime thrived in the tropical conditions of the Caribbean.

Third and fourth generation East Indians need to seriously ask themselves­what does Indian Arrival Day mean to me in a society as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean? Does it mean voting for a political party, ethnic wear or listening to a particular radio station ? Obviously, attending a cultural programme and eating particular foods are no longer hallmarks of identifying Indians in the society. Today, many young Indians are unaware of the personal and financial sacrifices of the early immigrants to ensure a better future for their offspring.
Today, Indians should be acutely aware of the prejudiced individuals (newspaper columnists,
religious leaders, politicians and cultural artistes) who are intent on dividing the society and turning back the hands of progress. These persons lusting after power and publicity possess myopic agendas of dividing the society, promoting isolation and racial antagonism. It is fortunate and a blessing that the majority of our population have chosen to deliberately ignore the socio-political rantings, pseudo-doctrines and frequent distortion of facts which are paraded by these individuals. Indeed, it is the independent, rational and logical thinking population which have ensured the peaceful co-existence, assimilation and interaction of individuals in our country.

1498 - Christopher Columbus claims Trinidad for the Spanish Crown.

1592 - The Spanish Colonise Trinidad and retain possession for two centuries.

1797 - British forces capture Trinidad and Tobago in 1802

1814 - Tobago, which has changed hands several times, is ceded to Britian.

1845 - First indentured immigrants from India-Continued till 1917

1888 - Tobago is linked with Trinidad in a single administrative unit.

1941 - US military bases built

1958 - Trinidad & Tobago joins the Federation of the West Indies and remains a member until its dissolution four years later.

1962 - Independence from Britian.

1970 - Black Power demonstrations cause brief state of emergency.

1976 - Republic within the Commonwealth.

1980 - The Tobago House of Assembly established.

1981 - Dr. Eric Williams dies after being Head of Government (as Chief Minister and Prime Minister) for 25 years.


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