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Trinidad & Tobago gears up for polls, Indian-origin Kamla Bissessar eyes second term as PM

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, home to a huge ethnic Indian population, will be holding general elections on September 7, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has said.

Persad-Bissessar, who is of Indian origin, made the announcement at the final sitting of the 41-member House of Representatives on Friday.

On May 24, 2010, Persad-Bissessar became the first Hindu woman to sit on the prime minister’s chair of this Caribbean nation. During Friday’s announcement, she said that she would advise the president to dissolve parliament at midnight on Wednesday, June 17.

Persad-Bissessar formed the People’s Partnership coalition government with her United National Congress(UNC), the Congress of the People(COP), the Movement for Social Justice(MSJ), the National Joint Action Committee(NJAC) and the Tobago Organisation of People (TOP).

Several social issues, infrastructural matters and political matters are projected to be aired on the political platforms during the 87-day campaign for the September 7 elections, the 10th in the country.

The opposition — People’s National Movement (PNM), led by Keith Rowley — has been campaigning prior to Friday’s announcement by the prime minister for several weeks now.

This is the first time that a large number of opinion polls have been done with television and radio stations also involved in the process. The latest opinion polls shows the People’s Partnership coalition getting 21 seats and the PNM 20 seats or vice versa.

Elections in this twin-island republic are based on the ethnic composition of the one million plus voters. All persons 18 years and over are eligible to vote.

44 percent of the country’s population is comprised of people belonging to East Indian extraction, whose forefathers were sourced from India between 1845 and 1917 to work on the agricultural plantations of the then British colony of Trinidad and Tobago.

Observers contend that the elections this year will be tough. Trinidad and Tobago, like India, is a member of the Commonwealth.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Forgotten Enslavement of Indians in the form of Coolies: A Compelling Argument for Reparations

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Emancipation of enslaved Africans
Dr Vishnu Bisram

– by Dr. Vishnu Bisram

August 7, 2017: Every year since 1985, the emancipation of enslaved Africans is celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago on August 1st which has been declared a national holiday.

Slavery and indentureship were among the most heinous and inhumane crimes committed against African and Indian people in the diaspora. Slavery was similar to indentureship in more ways than one.

In fact, there is a book on indentureship entitled, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas (1830-1920). In this seminal and comprehensive book, Professor Hugh Tinker gave details of the many similarities that two systems shared in common.

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A research paper entitled “Cheaper than a slave: Indentured labor, colonialism and capitalism” also makes interesting reading. It was written by Dr. Tayyab Mahmud, a Professor of Law & Director of the Center for Global Justice at Seattle University.

As an epigraph, Mahmud quoted a passage from Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies (2008): “‘Do you mean slaves, sir?’ Mr. Burnham winced. ‘Why no, Reid. Not slaves – coolies. Have you not heard it said that when God closes one door he opens another? When the doors of freedom were closed to the African, the Lord opened them to a tribe that was yet more needful of it – the Asiatick.’”

On page 15 of his research paper on indentureship, Mahmud wrote: “The main successor to modern slavery was the institution of indentured labor, which is often portrayed as a bridge between slavery and modern forms of contract labor. This switch in the form of labor also involved a switch in the source of the labor supply from Africa to Asia.”

African leaders and historians have been given recognition and support by CARICOM governments. In 2013, CARICOM established a reparations commission (CRC) to pursue the path to reconciliation, truth, and justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants. CARICOM funds this body which has a chairman and several members – all of whom are compensated and are receiving stipends for their work and travel.

Indian community leaders and scholars feel that there should also be reparatory justice for the descendants of the victims of indentureship as well as the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the New World. They also believe that Chinese, Madeirans and Portuguese should also be part of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. African leaders and CARICOM governments cannot agitate for compensation for only Blacks in the Caribbean.

Paradoxically, CARICOM is violating the very concept of fairness, equity, and justice by excluding non-Africans in the Commission. There is not a single Indian or Chinese or Madeiran or Portuguese or indigenous Indian in the CARICOM Reparations Commission. The Chairman is Prof. Sir Hilary Beckles from UWI, Mona Campus.

Barbados is represented by Prof. Pedro Welch, Dominica is represented by Dr. Damien Dublin,

Antigua and Barbuda by Mr. Dorbrene O’Marde, Nasau by Mr. Alfred M. Sears and Mr. Phillip P. Smith, Guyana by Mr. Eric Phillip, Jamaica by Prof. Verene Shepherd and Ms. Laleta Davis Mattis, St. Kitts and Nevis by Ras Dabo Penny, St Vincent and the Grenadines by Senator Jomo Thomas and Mr. Curtis King, Suriname by Mr. Armand Zunder, St Lucia by Mr. Earl Bousquet and Trinidad & Tobago by Mr. Aiyegoto Ome.

After consultation with stakeholders, I would like to recommend the following persons be included in the CARICOM Reparations Commission: Suriname should be represented by Professor Maurits Hassankhan and Dr. Narinder Mohkamsingh, Guyana by Dr. Vishnu Bisram, Ms. Ryhaan Shah and Mr. Ravi-dev, Trinidad by Dr. Kumar Mahabir and Mr. Kamal Persad, St Vincent and the Grenadines by Dr. Arnold Thomas, Grenada by Mr. Jai Sears, Jamaica by Dr. Winston Tolan, and Belize by Ms. Sylvia Gilharry-Perez.

There should be compensation to the descendants of Indian indentured for crimes committed against their forebears who were duped into leaving India, underpaid and cheated for their labor, jailed and beaten wrongfully, and robbed of the land that they were promised.

There is a compelling argument for reparations for Indians in the book entitled Sat Maharaj: Hindu Civil Rights Leader of Trinidad and Tobago by biographer Dr Kumar Mahabir.

On page 147, Mahabir wrote: “During the hundred-year period of 1845 to 1945, all marriages not performed by the Christian church or at a warden’s office were not legally recognized by the State. Thus, widows and children of Hindu and Muslim land owners were unable to claim their relative’s estates after they had died. Children of Hindu and Muslim marriages were considered to be illegitimate and thus the land that they should have inherited was given over, once again, to the State.”

– Dr.Vishnu Bisram is an electoral pollster and political analyst

 

 

 

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How Whites collude with Blacks to exclude Indians- Latest example is Films on world-renowned Trinidadian Cultural Historian CLR James

Blacks are more likely to embrace Whites than Indians which can be explained by Frantz Fanon in his seminal book, White Skin Black Masks (1952). Having lost most of their culture and religion through slavery, Blacks have tried to appropriate, imitate and adapt the culture, religion and behaviour of their former colonizers

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Trinidad and Tobago
Indentured Laborers taken from India. Wikimedia

Trinidad and Tobago. June 19,2017:

A noted Anthropologist from Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Kumar Mahabir has brought to attention how Whites collude with Blacks to exclude or marginalize Indians in the media or academia. He has given several instances. He starts with the latest example of a couple of movies made on CLR James and the cites other examples.

Mahabir starts with his recent visit to London.  He attended a memorial lecture on CLR James on June 17, 2017, in London which was one of his many recent tributes to the legacy of this world-renowned Trinidadian cultural historian, cricket writer, and political activist. The lecture was organized in partnership with Hackney Unites, a local UK coalition for social justice.

Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir

Although James (1901 -1989) was a champion of Pan-Africanism, and was named Chair of the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE), he was not averse to keeping Indians as his friends and colleagues in multi-ethnic Trinidad.

There are at least two films on James: Every Cook Can Govern: CLR James and the Canon (2013) and Every Cook Can Govern: The Life, Impact and Works of C.L.R. James (2016). The first film is based on a panel presentation in London entitled “Documenting the life, impact & works of CLR James.”

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The second film is a full-length documentary which reveals never-before-seen footage of C.L.R. James himself. It is filmed in England and Trinidad. Both films highlight speakers who knew James and/or his works intimately.

WATCH THE TRAILER: 

 

WATCH THE FULL FILM:

Informants/interviewees in the two films include Ceri Dingle (Co-director with Rob Harris), Claire Fox, Kenan Malik, Kent Worcester, Christian Hogsbjerg, Alan Hudson, Robert A. Hill, Selwyn R. Cudjoe, James Heartfield, Rachel Douglas, Scott McLemee, Paul Buhle, Roy McCree, Andrew Smith, Selma James and Darcus Howe.

ALSO READ: Hindus and Muslims at peace in Trinidad and Tobago: Strong need to convey Indian diaspora stories to the world 

What is noteworthy, says Mahabir, is that there are sixteen (16) luminaries speaking in these films, but not a single Indian was featured who knew James personally and/or through his work.

Any or some of the following living Indo-Trinidadians could have been included as an interviewee or presenter in any or both of the two films Every Cook Can Govern.

  • V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, who wrote about James in The Middle Passage (2011 edition), The Way in The World and The Overcrowded Barracoon. James himself refers extensively to the correspondences between himself and Naipaul in James’ lesser-known book, Cricket (1986). Naipaul resides in England.
  • Emeritus Professor Clem Seecharan at London Metropolitan University, who wrote a chapter entitled, “Empire and Family in the Shaping of a West Indian Intellectual: The Young CLR James, a Preliminary Assessment.” The chapter is in his book, Finding Myself: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture (2015). Seecharan appears fleetingly in one of the films but is not captured speaking.
  • Professor Frank M. Birbalsingh who wrote and published “The Literary Achievement of C.L.R. James” in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. 19, no.1 (1984).
  • Professor Kenneth Ramchand who interviewed James at the OWTU Guest House in San Fernando in Trinidad & Tobago on September 5, 1980. The interview is archived on film in Banyan Productions. Ramchand also wrote the introduction to James’ only novel, Minty Alley.
  • Basdeo Panday, former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who worked with CLR James to establish the Workers and Farmers Party (WFP). The Marxist political party contested the 1966 General Elections and failed to secure a seat. Panday lives in Trinidad but visits London regularly to spend time with his children.
  • Trevor Sudama who worked with James in the WFP which was organised by former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) leader, Stephen Maharaj.
  • Dr. Bishnu Ragoonath who compiled and edited a volume of essays entitled, Tribute to a Scholar: Appreciating C.L.R. James, published in 1990 in Kingston, Jamaica.
  • Raffique Shah who spoke to James (“Nello”) while the latter was lying in bed during his winter years at OWTU’s Hobson House in San Fernando. The conversations were published in the Express on September 29, 2012.
  • John Gaffar LaGuerre who wrote an essay entitled “The Evolution of the Political Thought of C.L.R. James” and published by the University of the West Indies (UWI) in 1972.

Thus, it emerges that not one of the nine (9) Indo-Caribbean persons above were included among the sixteen (16) speakers or interviewees in the two films. Naturally, the question arises: why?

The documentary film version of Every Cook can Govern was screened on March 21, 2017 in Trinidad at the Bocas Literary Festival, and would be screened again by The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF) in September 2017.

Dr. Kumar Mahabir asserts that Whites have colluded with Blacks/Africans in Trinidad and elsewhere to exclude or marginalize Indians in advertisements in the print and electronic media, the CXC CSEC and CAPE syllabi, the Bocas Literary Festival, and in many other areas that should be investigated empirically and statistically.

In her research paper entitled “The Representation of Indians in the Education System of Trinidad and Tobago, 1845-1980,” historian Dr. Sherry-Ann Singh commented on the representation of Indians in textbooks for primary school children.

She wrote that these textbooks, written by Whites, included “many African Anansi folk tales, illustrations and pictures of African orientation, references to local creole food and practices. Neither Indian names nor characters were employed in any of the general illustrations. The very sparse inclusions of Indians both stereotyped and clearly situated Indians as the proverbial “other” in the society …”

These examples of Black-White collusion against Indians can be explained by Orientalism and Post-colonial theories.

Sharing similar Western and Christian cultural traits, Blacks have found common ground with Whites and off-Whites – the French Creoles and Syrians in Trinidad, and the Portuguese in Guyana. Both groups see (East) Indians/Asians as the “Other” because they belong to a Hindu and Muslim Indian cultural tradition, indicated at least by their last name. Despite class and religious differences among Indians, Orientalism theory explains why the Black-White alliance views Indians as a “homogeneous cultural entity.”

According to Orientalism and Post-colonialism theories, first conceptualized by Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak respectfully, the Western world has developed a thought system that treats non-Christian culture as backward, exotic, uncivilized and inferior.

In some societies, minority White elites have used Blacks against Indians to retain economic dominance through the political strategy of divide and rule. The powerful White elites in Trinidad fear the threat of Indians to their control and supremacy in business, international trade, the professions, and education.

Blacks are more likely to embrace Whites than Indians which can be explained by Frantz Fanon in his seminal book, White Skin Black Masks (1952). Having lost most of their culture and religion through slavery, Blacks have tried to appropriate, imitate and adapt the culture, religion and behaviour of their former colonizers.

Note: Dr. Kumar Mahabir is a faculty at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He acquired his Ph.D. Anthropology from the University of Florida and B.A., M.Phil., Literatures in English, University of the West Indies. 

 

 

2 responses to “How Whites collude with Blacks to exclude Indians- Latest example is Films on world-renowned Trinidadian Cultural Historian CLR James”

  1. Really disappointing to see Indian academic playing the identity politics game. William Dalyrymple has a much better and nuanced account of the variations in Anglo-Inidian relations over time than this simplistic reading of Said and Spivak (although with less jargon than them to be fair). Really, if you want to seen an ‘Indian angle’ on CL James (whatever that is), why don’t you and like minded friends go and make your own film? Or you could just refuse to play this stupid identity game and watch and judge the film for what is actually there rather than what isn’t.

  2. This article is really upsetting. As an Indian woman who played a key role in making this film I strongly object to the frankly offensive idea that it suffers from some sort of colonial mindset. Not just myself, several other Indians worked on the film (watch the film till the end credits roll ).This is a fantastic film exploring several universal themes from a great human being.

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Trinidad and Tobago to Host Activities to Mark International Yoga Day on June 21

High Commissioner Bishwadip Dey said yoga is over 6,000 years old and an invaluable part of Indian ancient tradition

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vastu tips
Vastu Shastra is a traditional Hindu system of design based on directional alignments. Wikimedia

June 8, 2017: The Indian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago has announced 12-days of activities to mark International Yoga Day on June 21.

Addressing the media, High Commissioner Bishwadip Dey said yoga is over 6,000 years old and an invaluable part of Indian ancient tradition.

The activities will begin on June 15, which coincides with Corpus Christi, a public holiday. On June 15, Yoga Meditation Society will organise ‘108 Surya Namashkar’ at the National Council of Indian Culture’s (NCIC) Divali Nagar.

From June 17 to 26, schools will organise a yoga awareness campaign. On June 18, yoga exercise will be held at the Board Walk Chaguaramas and on June 25, a yoga fest will be organised at Divali Nagar from 9.30 a.m.

Dey said that this year’s programme is organised by the High Commission of India with the United Nations, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and the International Day of Yoga Committee.

Dey recalled that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his address to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2014, had urged the world community to adopt an International Yoga Day saying ‘yoga is an invaluable gift of ancient Indian tradition’.

On December 11, 2004, 193 members of the United Nations passed a resolution declaring June 21 as International Day of Yoga.

‘In essence, yoga is a process of creating a body and mind that are stepping stones, not hurdles to an exuberant and fulfilling life,’ Dey said.

He added that yoga is essentially a path to liberation from all bondage. ‘Medical research in recent years has uncovered many physical and mental benefits that yoga offers, corroborating the experiences of millions of practitioners.’ (IANS)