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Racial bias against Indians in Trinidad and Tobago

DH Singh voices his concern for continued racial discrimination against Indo-Trinidadians

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A Hindu temple near Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. Source: Wikimedia Commons
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Dear Editor:

On Saturday 16th April 2016 I had the privilege of listening to Lenox Grant delivering the feature address in the launch of a book titled “ The Hindu View of Trinidad and Tobago, “ a collection of articles by Sat Maharaj and edited by Kumar Mahabir.

While I enjoyed Lenox Grant’s speech for his striving for balance, I must confess that he has unconsciously or unwittingly perpetuated misconceptions or stereotypes  of Indian society and leadership. For example, the sceptre or mukdar that Sat holds in his hand and depicted in the cover of the text could not be accepted by Lenox Grant. He wrote:  “I hear the golden ornamental staff of office is called a mukdar. But I prefer sceptre-or Hindu magic wand.”

Lenox Grant should appreciate that the Hindus have their labels for the objects that are part of their culture and tradition. If the Hindus label it a ‘mukdar’ then that should have been good enough for him. But not so. He went on: “ I prefer sceptre –or Hindu magic wand.”  A similar attitude is also witnessed in the ad by the Guardian Newspaper featuring the top SEA pupil for 2015 where the Hindi word “dhanyavaad” was removed and replaced with “thank you.” The Guardian Newspaper could not tolerate “dhanyavaad” as much as Grant “prefer sceptre –or HIndu magic wand.” Is Grant saying that he has a phobia for Hindi-sounding words?

A Hindu holyman making purchases in Debe, Trinidad and Tobago. Wikimedia Commons
A Hindu holyman making purchases in Debe, Trinidad and Tobago. Wikimedia Commons

Grant in typical “Creole style” went on to label Sat’s social commentaries as “race talk.” He wrote: “Sat Maharaj has gained notoriety in what I have called T&T race talk.”  Interestingly, he brought into his address the recent pronouncement of Minister Garcia that there was  bias in the distribution of scholarships. Is Grant simply brushing aside that serious allegation of Minister Garcia as simply “race talk” and nothing more?

Grant did not stop there but went on to lump former columnists and letter writers as simply race talk. He wrote: “Over nearly three decades, I have been paying attention to race talk” and went on to identify  Noor Kumar Mahabir, Kamal Persad, Anil Mahabir and  Rajnie Ramlakhan, Indrani Rampersad and Rabindranath (Raviji) Maharaj. I feel deeply disappointed that Grant could so easily dismiss the writings and concerns raised by the  Indo-Trinidadian community as simply race talk. Why couldn’t Grant interpret the writings of those columnists as a cry for social justice in a society where they felt like second class citizens?

Grant continued:” I played a part in making such media access possible to people fired up as part of a prevailing mood and motivation resembling that of an Indo-Trinidadian renaissance. I could more easily picture him wielding a cutlass in—at least metaphorical—defence of the interests of Hindus, and of Indians, and of deserving others in this country.”  And Grant has now said it all –“I could more easily picture him wielding a cutlass…”

I would like to write a conclusion to this piece but I would refrain from doing so as I leave it to the readers.

D.H.Singh,

Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago

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  • Ran Nam

    My question is, who asked this man Lennox Grant to give the feature address at the launch of Sat’s book on The Hindu View of Trinidad and Tobago? That person should be given a few blows with the mukdar! For Grant to give an informed address on the book he should know something substantial about the Hindu view in Trinidad. Which he doesn’t, as far as I know. This is disgraceful. You would have gotten a better address from Selwyn Cudjoe who at least respects Sat Maharaj and must have learned something about the Hindu view from his many debates with Sat. Why couldn’t the organizers of this function asked a qualified Hindu leader to give the feature address???

  • Ran Nam

    My question is, who asked this man Lennox Grant to give the feature address at the launch of Sat’s book on The Hindu View of Trinidad and Tobago? That person should be given a few blows with the mukdar! For Grant to give an informed address on the book he should know something substantial about the Hindu view in Trinidad. Which he doesn’t, as far as I know. This is disgraceful. You would have gotten a better address from Selwyn Cudjoe who at least respects Sat Maharaj and must have learned something about the Hindu view from his many debates with Sat. Why couldn’t the organizers of this function asked a qualified Hindu leader to give the feature address???

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Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music

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Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
  • Chutney soca music is a crossover style of music incorporating Soca elements
  • The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.
  • It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country

By Dr Kumar Mahabir

When people get angry, they tend to speak their mind. Their emotions explode in words that they have been suppressing for some time. Psychologist Dr Jeffrey Huntsinger proved this theory after conducting experiments at Loyala University in Chicago in the USA in 2012.

Chutney Soca promoter George Singh really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not funded by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), an agency of the Afro-dominated Government in multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago  (T&T).

At a news conference which he convened, Singh said that “the decision by the Government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form” (Express 05/02/17).

George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons
George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons

Singh raged: “The Government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival” (emphasis added).

At the same news conference, Singh said that the Government had approved a budget of TT $146 million to the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

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“I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival. It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainment,” he said.

Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree ) is given marginal or no space in “national” and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA).

Sing’s rant is more revealing since he has admitted that he has “family ties” to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (Express 27/12/17).

Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons
Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons

In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government initially denied him funding because he was allowing Massive to perform his hot chutney hit “Rowlee Mudda Count.”

The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.

I have always contended that chutney concerts, competitions, tents and fêtes must be recognised as part of Carnival and must be a given an equitable share of culture funds, media space and stage presence.

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My argument is contained in detail in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival:

Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago” in the book Caribbean Dynamics:

Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015). The book is edited by Drs Beatrice Boufoy-Bastick Savrina Chinien and published by Ian Randle in Jamaica.

In the chapter, I discussed how Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. To this day, the major players and champions of calypso, soca, extempo, steelpan and masquerade, whether in Jouvert (“Jour Ouvert”) or Dimanche Gras, remain participants of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artists in 1995 – when Basdeo Panday was elected as the first Indian Prime Minister of T&T – was historic. In 1996, the rendition of Sonny Mann’s runaway hit “Lotay La” by DJs in soca parties, and by steel bands as their Road Mach tune during Carnival signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanized festival/centre.

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons

In the following years, Indians continued to change the ontology of “the national festival” to the extent that Carnival has to be re-defined to include Chutney Monarch, Chutney Brass, Chutney Soca, Chutney Calypso, Chutney Glow and Chutney Mardi Gras.

For the first time this year, a new chutney show is being introduced to the Carnival calendar. It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country. The event is being hosted by Randy Glasgow Productions.

Also Read: Race as a tool to keep people Divided: Will Science break the Shackles?

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles, but the genre is also used as an alternative to the Afro-Creole music formats. There have been two institutionalised chutney calypso theatres: “D” Massive Gosine Roving Calypso/Chutney Tent and the National Chutney Calypso Touring Tent.  Now in its eighth year is the National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition held at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

These chutney competitions cum fêtes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival, although on the periphery of the capital city. These cultural incursions also allow Indians to actively participate in Carnival without losing their (sense of) ethnic identity.

Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books
Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books

In 1998, cultural critic Burton Sankeralli wrote: “Indians are claiming Carnival space as Indians…. [and] … The flagship of this Indocentric presence and contestation for space is chutney …” With the re-creation of chutney, Indian artists are refusing to be subjected to silence and invisibility on mainstream radio, television, newspaper and the stage.

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. The subversive spirit of calypso and Carnival is perhaps being re-incarnated in chutney.

(Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books)