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)