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How Indians shaped Barbadian culture

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By Romar Parris

FOR OVER 100 YEARS, Barbados has been home to immigrants from East India, specifically Bengal, Gujarat and Hyderabad Sindh. Over the years, they have played a significant role in shaping Barbadian culture and contributed to the advancement of the Barbados economy.

They still maintain this role today. Unlike our African ancestors, the Indians residing in Barbados today were not brought here through means of slavery or indentured labor,infact, they came of their free will.

In the early 1900s, the underprivileged of India (then a colony of Britain) were in a very bad state. Being poor and without land, they found it very difficult to acquire wealth and status. Many poor Indians lived in small villages owned by landlords while having to “work like slaves for about 50 cents per week” (Nakhuda 2013:11).

Diseases such as cholera, smallpox and leprosy were common among the impoverished. Seeking a better life, many Indians travelled to Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and other countries. However, the West Indies saw its first movement of the East Indians prior to this 20th century migration. After slavery was abolished across the British colonies in the Caribbean around 1838, a call for indentured labourers was made, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, St Lucia, St Vincent, Jamaica and Grenada.

The British brought East Indians to these islands to work the plantations since the newly freed slaves no longer wanted to be a part of the plantation system. None of these East Indian labourers was brought to Barbados, however. The British brought in “poor Whites” from Britain as indentured labourers to Barbados and unlike in the neighbouring islands, many slaves continued working the plantation. Therefore, there was no need for the East Indians on our shores. In Barbados most newly freed slaves stayed with the plantation because they had little option if they wanted to survive.

The plantation system dominated the sugar-based Barbados economy and its workers were in high demand. However, the island was considered to be overpopulated, thus access to workers was plentiful. The white overseers took advantage of this and mistreated their workers while paying them very little per week, knowing that if a worker chose to leave, another one could be easily hired. This continued until the 1937 Riots, which led eventually to labor reforms and better working conditions.

The arrival of the first East Indians was due to their personal decisions, not as a matter of national policy. According to Sabir Nakhuda, the first East Indian to reside in Barbados was a man called Bashart Ali Dewan. Nakhuda’s research showed that Dewan left India around 1910 heading for Trinidad after news of his father-in-law’s settlement there. He stayed in Trinidad for a while.

There he learnt the itinerant trading business from Bengalis based there at that time. Itinerant trading is the business of a door-to-door salesman trading on a credit basis. Hearing of a niche market in Barbados, he decided to go there for better financial profits. Dewan resided in various areas in Bridgetown, settling in Suttle Street and later Milk Market. He started his trade by purchasing products from the merchants in Bridgetown, and traveling to the countryside to sell them.

He eventually opened a store on Swan Street selling shoes, haberdashery and raw materials for ladies and gents. Dewan hired a “caller” to advertise for him. It is said that his voice could be heard from one end of Swan Street to the next.  By the laws of Islam, a man is permitted up to four wives. Not being able to afford to send for his wife in India, Dewan married his second wife by 1920, but within four years she left. He then married his third wife, Pauline Taylor, and had two daughters.

During the 1937 Riots Dewan fled Barbados and returned to India; sources said he was heavily in debt. Bashart Ali Dewan was the first East Indian merchant from Bengal on our shores and the pioneer of an aspect of Barbadian culture that is still a norm today. Stories of his venture ignited a trail of merchants to follow. Mentionable names are Mohammed Abdul Rohul Amin, Sheikh Nasrul Huque, Atar Ali, Arshad Ali and Babujan Dewan.

They all engaged in itinerant trade and built a close-knit network that served to support other Indians who later immigrated to the island. These merchants lived under one roof, sharing rooms and meals to save money for business use, and to send back to their families in India. Those already living in Barbados took the newcomers under their wings, giving them a place to stay and teaching them the ins and outs of the trade.

(The story first appeared in The Nation News)

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Most Terrible Water Crisis Ever In History Leaves Millions Of Indians Thirsty

6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water.

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A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017.
A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017. VOA

Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India, but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most. It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.

“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tubewell.

“Now things are better. But earlier … the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.

India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.

From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people – nearly half India’s population – face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.

Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching.

On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.

“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.

“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.”

Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70 percent of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds – and eventually gets into the groundwater.

“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.
Loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, unchecked extraction by farmers and wealthy residents has caused groundwater levels to plunge to record lows, says the report.

It predicts that 21 major cities, including New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The head of WaterAid India VK Madhavan said the country’s groundwater was now heavily contaminated.

“We are grappling with issues, with areas that have arsenic contamination, fluoride contamination, with salinity, with nitrates,” he said, listing chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Arsenic and fluoride occur naturally in the groundwater, but become more concentrated as the water becomes scarcer, while nitrates come from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste that has seeped into the supply.

The level of chemicals in the water was so high, he said, that bacterial contamination – the source of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid – “is in the second order of problems”.

“Poor quality of water – that is loss of livelihood. You fall ill because you don’t have access to safe drinking water, because your water is contaminated.”

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.
Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater. pixabay

“The burden of not having access to safe drinking water, that burden is greatest on the poor and the price is paid by them.”

Frothy lakes and rivers

Crippling water problems could shave 6 percent off India’s gross domestic product, according to the report by the government think-tank, Niti Aayog.

“This 6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water. Our industry, our food security, everything will be at stake,” said Mishra.

“It is a finite resource. It is not infinite. One day it can (become) extinct,” he said, warning that by 2030 India’s water supply will be half of the demand.

To tackle this crisis, which is predicted to get worse, the government has urged states – responsible for supplying clean water to residents – to prioritise treating waste water to bridge the supply and demand gap and to save lives.

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.

Every year, Bengaluru and New Delhi make global headlines as their heavily polluted water bodies emit clouds of white toxic froth due to a mix of industrial effluents and domestic garbage dumped into them.

In Bengaluru – once known as the “city of lakes” and now doomed to go dry – the Bellandur Lake bursts into flames often, sending plumes of black smoke into sky.

The Yamuna river that flows through New Delhi can be seen covered under a thick, detergent-like foam on some days.

On other days, faeces, chemicals and ashes from human cremations float on top, forcing passers-by to cover their mouths and noses against the stench.

That does not stop 10-year-old Gauri, who lives in a nearby slum, from jumping in every day.

With no access to water, it is the only way to cool herself down during India’s scorching summers, when temperatures soar to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“There usually is not enough water for us to take a shower, so we come here,” said Gauri, who only gave her first name, as she and her brother splashed around in the filthy river.

Also read: India’s bulging water crisis: Is it too late for us to do something?

“It makes us itchy and sick, but only for some time. We are happy to have this, everyone can use it.” (VOA)