In The West Indies countries, the people of Indian diaspora make a significant percentage. They arrived here more than 130 years back as indentured labor in sugarcane plantations from India. They constitute what many term as Indo-Caribbean community.- NewsGram
Dr Patricia Mohammed, in an interview, spoke on the status of Indo Caribbean women. Dr Mohammed is currently Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies and Campus Chair, School for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, and Trinidad.
She is also a pioneer in second wave feminism and the development of gender studies at Tertiary level in the Caribbean and has been involved in feminist activism and scholarship for over two decades in Cultural Studies.
The Interview will be published in The Journal of International Women’s Studies (2016). Below are a few excerpts from it:
One purpose of this interview in this column is to bring more visibility to Indo-Caribbean women in the region, whom arguably, have been marginalised in almost every domain of life, including the domestic sphere.
The current regime in Guyana has only a few Indian women in its Cabinet. This is not encouraging to young inspiring Indian women who want to pursue a career in politics.
Lomarsh Roopnarine (hereafter LR): One of the most interesting debates on Indo-Caribbean women is whether or not their indentured experience has led to more freedom than in India or they simply exchanged one oppressed environment for another. In other words, are Indian women better off in the Caribbean than in India?
Patricia Mohammed (hereafter PM): Indian women benefitted from migration in many ways. Many were leaving lives of destitution or in fear of violent husbands and as unpaid and undervalued help in households and perhaps living under conditions that offered them little hope of advancement for themselves and their offspring within their lifetimes.
They were brought into a system that offered advantages of being wage earners in their own right and being in much shorter supply than men. For the entire period of indentureship to the Caribbean, the female population constituted between 25 to at most 40 per cent of the male population.
The rules pertaining to arranged marriages, dowries and female virginity in India rapidly underwent change as femininity was a more prized commodity and they were able to bargain for greater power in many spheres.
LR:Do you think that women entered into a new caste/class system in the Caribbean?
PM: Migration offered Indians the possibility of challenging the fixed caste system from which they were drawn although there emerged another caste hierarchy mediated by a parallel class system that the migrants would be fitted into in the new society.
Women perhaps had greater flexibility with the caste system as, again, being in short supply, caste endogamy could no longer be binding. At the same time, women were also vulnerable as a result of their sex. We are not sure how many women were at risk of unwanted attentions on plantations from overseers and sirdhars (headman on the plantation) but this would have been one of the new threats they faced in the Caribbean, although I am sure there was no shortage of this in India itself.
The difference in the new society was that the family and village network that provided protection was not available in the earliest days of the indenture and both men and women were more vulnerable as migrants always are…
LR: What are some newly emerging trends and thoughts on Indo-Caribbean?
PM: Even as we speak, there are new groups of Indians entering, under different migration schemes, changing the landscape of what is constituted as Indo-Caribbean.
Hajima Degia, a scholar at Cave Hill Barbados, has for instance written about the new migration of Gujarat populations into this society, while in Trinidad, groups of commercial and professional Indians are settling into the society.
So the first thing is that we cannot constitute Indians as a homogeneous group who travelled on the same ships around the same time.
The second trend might be the real class differences, between and among the very wealthy and entrepreneurial class, the professional classes who comprise part of the expanded middle class especially in Trinidad and those who still survive barely above the poverty line. These exhibit vast differences in values, cuisine choices, vacation destinations and so on.
The third trend might be the antagonism again between two ideological groups within the Indian communities, those who feel that they have remained and should remain “authentic” to received values and religious traditions from Indian that has not been tainted by western mores and those who view their birth and presence in a multicultural western society as allowing them to combine the best of both worlds, the home as a safe culturally-defined Indo-Caribbean space, the world as the mixture of many cultures that they contend with on an everyday basis…
The significance of this interview in this context is that it adds to Dr Baytoram Ramharack’s series on the Indian mind as well as providing alternative discussions and discourses on Indo-Caribbean women. (Image source: cooliewomen.com)
(The article was first published in guyanatimesgy.com)
Aug 21, 2017: “Coolie” is the name of the character played by Narad Mahabir in the play directed by Errol Hill titled Man Better Man.
The local play was performed at NAPA in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in June and an excerpt was staged in August during the premiere of the CARIFESTA festival. Mahabir was given a minor role as the lone Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) villager in the musical which was laced with humorous dialogue, Kalinda dances and calypso songs.
Except for recent plays written and directed by Indians like Victor Edwards, Seeta Persad and Walid Baksh, Indian actors and actresses have been given minor roles or none at all (“invisible”) in “national” theatre and cinema. In this context, The Cutlass is a movie with a difference. And indeed, the tagline of the movie on the cinema poster is “A breakthrough in Caribbean Cinema.”
Surprisingly, Arnold Goindhan is given the lead role (by the non-Indian TeneilleNewallo) as of the kidnapper named “Al” in The Cutlass. Paradoxically, he is given only a fleeting presence in the film’s trailer. He is the only Indian actor and the only character who is Indian, in a movie that is based on crime, race and class.
As a villain, Al is portrayed as an evil Indian Hindu. A calendar painting of the anthropomorphic Hindu god, Lord Hanuman (The Remover of Obstacles) is captured fleetingly on the wall of Al’s forest camp. In the film world of poetic justice The Cutlass, light must overcome darkness, whiteness must overwhelm blackness, and Christianity must conquer Hinduism. The pendant of Virgin Mary in the hands of the white kidnapped victim must overpower Hanuman.
Goindhan is a full-time Indian actor from Malick in Barataria who also sings and plays music. The “Island Movie Blog” on August 11 noted that when Goindhan “keeps his portrayal subtle, he really shines.” The July/August edition of the Caribbean Beat magazine stated that The Cutlass has delivered “compelling performances” to audiences.
The kidnap movie premiered to a sold-out audience at the T&T Film Festival in 2016 received rave reviews. It copped the T&T Film Festival’s Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film and People’s Choice awards. The Cutlass was also screened at international film festivals such as the Cannes Film Mart at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
The last time an Indian was chosen for a major role in a local feature film was 43 years ago in 1974. That film was titled Bim which featured Ralph (Anglicised from Rabindranath) Maraj playing the role of Bim/Bheem Sing. Bim was based on the composite life of a notorious assassin, Boysie Singh, and aggressive trade unionist and Hindu leader, Bhadase Sagan Maraj.
As an actor, Ralph Maraj was preceded by Basdeo Panday who became the first Indian in the Caribbean to appear on a big screen in Nine Hours to Rama (1963). The movie was about the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Panday also acted in two other British cinematic movies: Man in the Middle (1964) and The Brigand of Kandahar (1965).
But the Indo-Caribbean actor who has earned the honour of starring in the most movies – Hollywood included – is Errol Sitahal. He acted in Tommy Boy (1995), A Little Princess (1995) and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004).
Valmike Rampersadand Dinesh (“Dino”) Maharaj is rising stars to watch. Originally from Cedros, Dinesh is the lead actor in Moko Jumbie, a new feature film by Indo-Trinidadian-American Vashti Anderson. Moko Jumbie was selected for screening at the 2017 LA Film Festival.
Dinesh acted in the local television series, Westwood Park (1997–2004). His cinematic film credits include portrayals in Klash (1996), The Mystic Masseur (2001) and Jeffrey’s Calypso (2005).
Nadia Nisha Kandhai is the lead actress in the upcoming screen adaptation of the novel, Green Days by the River.
There is a real danger in marginalising Indians in theatre and film when they are in fact the largest ethnic group in T&T according to the 2011 CSO census data. Cultivation theory states that images in the media strongly influence perceptions of the real-world. This theory was developed by communication researchers George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania in 1976.
The Cutlass can transmit the following wrong perceptions of reality: (1) Hinduism is evil, (2) Indians are one percent of the population, (3) there are few Indian actors, (4) Indians constitute the majority of kidnappers, and (5) the majority of kidnapped victims are white.
I presented a research paper in 2005 based on 40 cases of kidnapping in T&T. My findings revealed that 78% of the victims were Indians, and according to the survivors, the overwhelming majority of the kidnappers were Afro ex-police and army strongmen.
Watch Trailer: The Cutlass
The Writer is an anthropologist who has published 11 books
NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt.
Raymond Ramcharitar, a columnist with the Trinidad Guardian, is quite accurate when he wrote that “the oppressor these days in the minds of many Trinidadians is not the white world, but local Indian. It’s a narrative relentlessly repeated on talk radio, in newspaper columns, in academia.
Blacks in Trinidad and Tobago are describing the situation of the black community as a “crisis” and as one requiring urgent attention. The main areas of concern are the crime situation affecting the black community, the black on black violence, the murders of young black men and the gang warfare.
They point to the prison population as being black in composition, and the under 18-year-old prisoners at the Youth Training Centre (YTC). The recent outbreak of young black men from the St Michael’s Boys’ Home is also a serious concern to them.
Another area of expressed concern is the under-achievement of blacks in education. This becomes an emotional issue annually when the results of the SEA, CSEC, and CAPE are released and the lists of the top achievers and scholarship winners are announced. There is a visible under-representation of blacks as top scorers in these exams.
An example is the results of the 2017 SEA exams in which the first three top places were attained by Indian students from denominational schools. Success in business and the professions are also referred constantly by blacks. They point out the absence of blacks.
Trinidad is a plural society and blacks are constantly comparing their situation of crisis with the perceived success of Indians – Indians are their point of reference and comparison.
One tendency in this obvious comparison of ethnicities is to blame Indians for the crisis in the black community. This aspect of black analysis of their situation has the potential to lead to tension and conflict. Sometimes the United National Congress (UNC) and its leader, Mrs Kamla Persad Bissesser, are singled out for attack especially since she led the government for five years (2010 – 2015), and the UNC political base lay in the Hindu and Indian community.
The black talk-shows, articles, letters, etc.
The sources of black opinion are expressed in the many call-in talk shows on the radio, in letters to the editor, and articles in the print media such as the weekly TnT Mirror which is virtually an Afro-centric weekly newspaper. These media outlets are followed by the Trinidad Express in which the black position is given widespread publicity by several columnists who are clearly Afro-centric in their worldview and position on issues. There is the complete absence of any alternate Indian-orientated opinion in this daily newspaper. In this sense, the Trinidad Express can be deemed to be an urban Afro-centric newspaper and certainly not “national” or “independent” as it proclaims itself to be.
Aiyegoro Ome of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and its cultural arm, the National Action Cultural Committee (NACC), in a letter to the Express (“Mark Emancipation Day in Every Home.” June 24, 2017 p. 15) suggested that Emancipation Day should be celebrated widely. “Let’s face it, the African family is in crisis. The signs are everywhere. Communities which are primarily African are going through torture. Young African males, in particular, are the frequent perpetrators and well as, the victims of crime, notwithstanding the accomplishments of many Africans youths, the status of Africans is tainted with a lot of nonsense.”
Mayday, Mayday! SOS, SOS
Using the language of distress and trauma in a lengthy letter to the press (Guardian. June 20, 2017, p 21), another black writer, Michael Joseph, wrote: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! SOS, SOS, SOS to our leaders. Where are they? The Afro-centric community is leaderless and without voice. ” He continued: “Our predicament: We are experiencing a period of genocide in the black communities, where the system is geared towards our demise and we are in full co-operation shown by our actions and attitudes towards to each other.” Joseph stated that the “system” is working for others and not for blacks:
Michael Joseph added: “This multi-ethnic, multi-racial society is exactly what it is, every ethnic group is looking out for themselves and nothing is wrong with that. What is wrong is the fact that the Afro-centric communities are without voice. We are still being sold to the highest bidder, depending on the education and indoctrination. And so, we contribute to the progress and success of everyone else but ourselves. Where are our leaders?”
“Wake up black man!”
Joseph called upon blacks to “wake up black man – we are in no position to feed ourselves and protect our families and communities, and that is not good for a people.” He added: “Strength in numbers seems to have no meaning in the black communities. When will the killing stop? Who is benefiting from it?” He hoped the black youths would “stop killing each other, our youths in due course would put away the guns for the real war.” This black predicament affects others: “Children growing up angry with no love of one parent or another, “as such the well-off in society “get robbed or killed by the same disgruntled youths.” Thus blacks pose a real danger to society. This is a point repeated by other black writers on the black condition – the national price the country has to pay because of the black condition and crisis.
The criminal attack by bandits on Fr Clyde Harvey on Monday, June 13, 2017, on the Roman Catholic compound at Hermitage Road, Gonsales, in Belmont, Port-of-Spain, is viewed by the black intelligentsia as the epitome of the black crisis. The Prime Minister’s reaction was first published in condemnation of the attack of Fr Clyde Harvey: “The attack on Father Clyde Harvey by able-bodied, gun-toting men sadly represents the worst that exists within our communities. Notwithstanding what difficulties one may be facing in life there are limits beneath which the human form should not sink.” Dealing with the family background of the criminals, he said: “The miscreants have parents and I hope that somewhere in this country today, there are a few parents who are hanging their heads in shame as they reflect in private as to what more they might have done to prevent any of our citizens from behaving in this despicable way.”
“This is a black crisis. Don’t put lipstick on it!””
Dr Keith Rowley did not identify the ethnicity of the criminals or reacted in any ethnic-orientated way to the crime. The identity of the banditswere known when the police arrested four young men between the ages of 17 and 24 years, all from the Gonsales area in Belmont in Port-of-Spain. The many other responses to this high-profile crime against a popular priest were generally to condemn the crime. This was not the case of others.
Dr Theodore Lewis is professor emeritus of the University of Minnesota in the United States, retired and residing in Trinidad. He reported on a conversation he had with Fr Harvey before the crime in an article in the Express, about the crime in the Laventille area, and about “his parishioners who bear the brunt of the crime.” Lewis wrote: “But he (Fr Harvey) went further and yes, it is black boys whom he says can see no avenue for escape. Fr Harvey is not afraid to name the problem. He is not putting water in his mouth. This is a black crisis. Don’t put lipstick on it.”
“He (Fr Harey) points to the white-collar dimension of crime, crime in suit and tie, hiding behind the cloak of respectability.” In fact, in response to the attack on his person and church, Fr Harvey said that “in a sense, I cannot blame them. Some have identified the men as two wicked young men. They are not wicked, they are victims of our society. It is not about forgiveness. I don’t see them as guilty or see them as misguided – they are victims.”
Thieving black people’s money
When Fr Harvey was forced to open the church vault with a gun at his head, he recounted the event that one of the bandits, when they saw the cheques, one of them said: “All these cheques, you must have money, allyuh pastors have money, allyuh thieving black people money.”
Fr Harvey’s comment on the incident was that the thieves did not distinguish between a “pastor” and a “priest.” He completely ignored, and had no comment to make on, the psychology of the criminal mind, the black young men, who view him and his church as “thieving black people money” and feel justified in robbing and assaulting him, and from what one of them told the policeman, other victims as well, motivated by a sense of victimhood of blacks.
White collar criminals responsible for black crime
Fr Harvey blamed “society” and “white collar criminals in suit and tie” as responsible for the actions of the black criminals, while the black criminals blame him and his church for “thieving black people money,” a truly interesting divergence of positions.
Theodore Lewis commented on the crime against Fr Harvey: “Black boys behind the bridge do not have the means to do that [white collar crime]. They are not accepted in prestige schools, primary and secondary. The university is blind to the absence of blacks in medicine and engineering despite what Noel Kallicharan says. Fr Harvey was the victim of ‘societal forces that are at play.’”
Lewis added: “Fr Harvey is the one person there is in this country who can sit with gangsters and reason with them to end their war, the main casualties of which are young black men. Men are fighting for their lives daily, while the sons of Mr Big go to university, and while politicians fight for State land for sugar workers, Black men are dying too soon, their beautiful children left without a daddy to read to them at night, black children born into a country that does not tell them about the prowess of Courtney Bartholomew …“
At no point does Lewis place responsibility at the door of the black leaders. The absence of black men at university in medicine and engineering, it seems, is at the expense of Indians who are students of these disciplines. The “sugar workers” are mainly Indians, the prestige schools are populated by Indian children. By being successful in school and university, especially in medicine, law, and engineering, Indians are accused of contributing to the black condition in Trinidad and Tobago.
Blame the PPP Government (2010 – 2015)
Errol Pilgrim followed the Theodore-Lewis’ warped line of thought in his article, “The African Condition in Tatters in T&T” (TnT Mirror. June 16, 2017, p. 11). He identified the criminals who attacked Fr Harvey as black men and placed the African condition of crisis, not within the African community, but on the People’s Partnership Government (2010 – 2015), and more particularly, at the feet of Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissesser.
The criminals who attacked Fr Harvey are described as “cowardly young Black miscreants.” Pilgrim wrote that “as we move towards our thirty-second-year celebration of emancipation, it is difficult to identify anything in the condition of Africans in our nascent society that is worthy of celebration. For far too long, the character of the young African male, existing on the margins of society, has been largely defined by unrelenting brutality and brutishness and an aversion to anything that is decent and lawful.”
Errol Pilgrim referred to the Selwyn Ryan Report and proceeded to lay the condition of African crisis with Kamla Persad Bissesser and the PP government. He stated that the cancellation of the off-shore vessels by the PP government is responsible for crime among blacks. Pilgrim’s language is quite extreme: “The drugs and gun smugglers enjoyed a long uninterrupted reign, getting their mindless minions, consisting of young Black men, to reign terror on the streets and to set the indigent pockets of African habitation along the East-West corridor awash with African blood.”
Pilgrim wrote that the recommended national service scheme was a “stepped up servile CEPEP scheme” and the recommended use of sports was answered by the PP government “racially-orientated decision to seek to lay waste and ruin the monument that the previous government had started to erect.” He added that the PP’s Life Sport programme “burgeoned into a mammoth criminal enterprise.” This is political propaganda which fail to address the real causes of the black crisis, but puts blame for the black condition on others.
Blame Kamla Persad-Bissessar
Errol Pilgrim quoted the Ryan Report which asked the question: “What does increased youth criminality say about the failure of two earlier generations to provide ample role models and institutional support to guide the current generation?” Pilgrim’s answer is limited to five years, 2010 to 2017, when Kamla Persad-Bissessar was prime minister. He blames her for everything negative in the black community. His subsequent week’s article, “Hard To Be Black and Proud In T&T,” carried a photo of Kamla Persad-Bissessar with the caption: “Whereas the PNM has sought to be all things to all people, the UNC has openly and quite effectively sought to promote as a matter of policy, the interests and development of their East Indian political base …“
Errol Pilgrim’s article is a comparative account of the failures of Africans and the successes of Indians with the conclusion that Indians are responsible for the African condition. Pilgrim’s final article in the month of June, 2017, “I’ll Keep Writing Until Black Justice Happens,” (TnT Mirror, June 30, 2017, p. 11) disclosed his purpose of writing: “ … the racial and ethnic perils that the Black man in Trinidad and Tobago has had to endure to the advantage of other racial and ethnic groups. I propose to persist in my focus on this taboo of race and ethnicity.”
Blacks are never held accountable for their situation, and do not take responsibility for the crisis which they proclaim is facing them. The continuous administrations of Eric Williams from 1956 to the time of his death in 1981 and the PNM in power for 30 continuous years is never mentioned. Discussion of the continuation of PNM in government under Patrick Manning is avoided, and now under Dr. Keith Rowley.
The new oppressors are Indians
Are we to accept that these PNM administrations did not foster the interests of PNM black supporters? There is silence on this topic. To give a historical background of the black condition would create distress – it is better to avoid Eric Williams altogether.
Raymond Ramcharitar, a columnist with the Trinidad Guardian, is quite accurate when he wrote that “the oppressor these days in the minds of many Trinidadians is not the white world, but local Indian. It’s a narrative relentlessly repeated on talk radio, in newspaper columns, in academia. In last week’s Express Selwyn Cudjoe began to beat the drum again saying that Indians were brought here to stymie the economic progress of Africans” (“The View From AL Jaeera ” Guardian. May 24, 2017 p. 20)
Ramcharitar was referring to Cudjoe’s article in the Sunay Express (“Getting It Right.” March 26, 2017, p. 14) in which Cudjoe wrote that “Indians were brought to Trinidad to undercut the progress that Africans were making at the economic front” and “Indian labor had managed to put Africans back in their place.” Cudjoe concluded that “when Kamla talks next, I hope she talks about the impact indentureship had on her African brothers and sisters and how, in 2017, we can rectify the conditions of poor Africans who still remain at the bottom of the economic pie.” It is as though Indians and whites owe reparation to Africans.
There is no Indian voice in the Express and Mirror
The black blame of Indians for their condition of crisis is now given historical justification, and as such, Indians must pay for black reparation, an argument based on historical fabrication and falsification. When Indians are mentioned in this discussion of the black crisis, it is the black view of Indians which is published. There is virtually no Indian voice (columnist) published in the Express and the TnT Mirror, very few letters in response to the issues raised by blacks. There is no discussion of the Indian condition in Trinidad and Tobago or analysis of issues from an Indian viewpoint.
In a Newsday article (“Indo-Trinidadians Position Today.” June 12, 2017, p 12), Trevor Sudama wrote that “we do not know a great deal about the Indo-Trinidadians’ presence in the society today because not much relevant and informative research has been done. To argue for such a program is to run the risk of being accused of having an obsession with race and engaging in race rhetoric. In a polite society, it is considered taboo to talk openly about race.” Yet blacks are engaged in race discussion about themselves and Indians daily, and the media give enormous time and space to entertain this discussion.
One expects that this discussion of the black crisis, as defined by blacks themselves, would continue with great intensity, and the Indian presence would continue to be ignored. When Indians are mentioned at all, it is by blacks who are engaged in comparison of the Indian condition as they perceive it or to blame Indians for the black crisis
This situation cannot continue and Indians must find avenues to respond to black attacks on Indians and to give as far as possible, objective assessment of the reality in Trinidad and Tobago.
Kamal Persad (BA & MA in History, UWI) is from Carapichaima, Trinidad and Tobago. He is an Indian academic Ideologue.
The ‘Jahajee Sisters’, an Indo-Caribbean community of women has launched a training program for women of all sexual orientation to develop and strengthen a sense of individualism and leadership. Jahajee Sisters Leadership & Empowerment Institute aims at forming an empowered and bold leader who is ready to combat any gender-specific challenges.
‘Jahajee Sisters’ was formed with a motto to create a space for dialogue among women in their community. It thus endeavors to pave a path of determination for publicly oppressed people.
About the Program
The 6-month training program welcomes Indo-Caribbean community members to submit an application. It will focus on learning history Indo –Caribbean history, more specifically women’s history. The program will also help in acquiring new skills such as community organizing, direct action, advocacy, communications, and fundraising.
The leadership program will commence with a 2-day retreat (Oct 14-Oct 15) and will be followed by 5 Saturday sessions beginning from November and ending till March. Attendance in all the sessions will be compulsory.
Who can apply?
Women, including trans women and gender nonconforming people
$150 (Note: Need-based scholarship available)
18 years to 60 years (Note: Extraordinary candidates not falling under the age limit can also apply by informing)