Wednesday 15th June 2005

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Indian Arrival Day takes a turn

Indian Arrival Day celebrations on May 28. File photo: Tony Howell

Festival Days are important to a people. A close study often reveals not only social and anthropological evidence but also the history of the people in the context of the festival.

Often the multilayeredness of a festival, sometimes embracing irreconcilable features, reveals its dynamic nature. In reading the text of the festival, one can even see the footprint of conscious and unconscious political interference in the life of a people. The festival can also reveal much of the pride and prejudice of a particular period and the people’s struggle to be.

Embedded within our society is a rich and awesome harvest of civilisation. Within its womb, unseen, is multisourced energy, a virtual theatre of conflicts and reconciliation—a virtual gestation of T&T society taking place. The contest of these energies to surface is facilitated or deterred by the manner in which this society of immigrants has been shaped by colonialism and the resultant idea of nationalism.

Indian Arrival Day is a special reference point in this study, obviously because of the contest of race and politics in which culture is subsumed in T&T, where Emancipation is seen as African and Indian Arrival Day as Indian.

There is an ongoing criticism of Indian Arrival Day being too Hindu. This should encourage investigation into social behaviour. But all this is further tied up with the problem of a western society, which is nurtured in a lineal and mono-vision of reality without accounting for the eastern societies which are influenced by the circular and the diverse.

I see Indian Arrival Day taking an new turn this year which may give the student of social anthropology a ringside seat in the shaping of a social phenomenon. It is important, therefore, to landmark this turn of events for students of social and cultural history. I will attempt a profile of the history of Indian Arrival Day.

Hindu influence in commemorating Indian Arrival Day is obvious. Some see this as a negative and are critical.

Indian Arrival Day celebrations started 60 years ago (May 1945) with a centenary celebration at Skinner Park, San Fernando. There were few activities for the next 25 years.

Swami Satchidananda, on his return to Trinidad from India, revived activities. I participated in at least two sankirtan processions on May 30, from Chaguanas to the Divine Life Society, Enterprise, before I left for India in 1972. When I returned from India in the 80s, at his request, I co-ordinated a procession for him which concluded at Carlsen Field. Swami Ji later lead a large procession, organised by Hindu Seva Sangh, from Tunapuna to Aranguez.

It may be interesting to evaluate why Swami Ji organised May 30 activities. Was it to communicate his Indianness? Was it a Hindu programme?

Swami was not trying to shape May 30 activities as a Hindu event. It was just natural for him to express his selfhood as an Indian in a Hindu form. There is an interesting clue left unconsciously by Swami Ji: he published a popular bhajan book in which he included the Indian national anthem. The convergence of Hindu and Indian, for Hindus, is seamless.

A group of youths published, in the 80s, a list of the jahajis who arrived on the first Fatel Razack, for mass distribution. Two of the youths, Danny Jang and Khalik, were Muslims; the rest were Hindus who later became Hindu workers. The Hindu Seva Sangh, Maha Sabha, the Hindu Prachar Kendra and mandirs across Trinidad, and even in Tobago, were organising May 30 events.

Surujrattan Rambachan, a prominent Ramayan scholar, bhajan singer, academic and politician, brought Indian Arrival Day into sharp focus as he spoke in Cedros after a landing ceremony and a sankirtan procession. TTT’s hostile report and the resultant controversy took the idea of Indian Arrival Day to the nation.

Most of the Indian Arrival Day activities, not only have had to depend mainly on Hindu groups but expressed themselves as sankirtan processions. This sankirtan procession was already part of the ground-work developing in Central. Hindu Seva Sangh inherited the thread of Indian Arrival activities when Ramdat Jagessar, one of the founding Indian Arrival Day activists, joined as its general secretary. Indian Arrival Day activities now became a popular event through sankirtan.

By this time, Trevor Sudama, MP, had tabled in Parliament the motion for Indian Arrival Day. It is a mystery why it did not get the expected support from any parliamentarian and was deferred. The Manning administration later went on to declare May 30 as Arrival Day. (Ten years later, in 2005, he would formally celebrate Arrival Day “of all peoples” at PM’s residence to commemorate Indian Arrival Day.)

Then came 1995, the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians to T&T. The National Council of Indian Culture invited as chief of guests to T&T the vice-president of India. The Council gave me the responsibility to organise a procession of many organisations (including Christians and Muslims) for the occasion. When the head of the procession entered Divali Nagar’s gate, the tail was still at Mid Centre Mall. Another high-profile procession was organised by the Maha Sabha in the East-West Corridor. Panday’s UNC performed the poorna ahooti by simply including the term “Indian” when it came into Government later in 1995.

Kashika Patra lists Indian Arrival Day as a holiday pointing out the Hindu calendrical tithi. From last year, during the term of High Commissioner to India Pundit Manideo Persad, Indian Arrival (of Indians in T&T) has become an event in India. This year, he organised a trip of 160 visitors from India to T&T.

ASJA has formerly joined in organising the event this year but, according to reports made a decision to omit the word “Indian.”

Principal of UWI Dr Tewarie, speaking at the event, gave a philosophical ground for a new turn in Indian Arrival Day activities—“How to acknowledge uniqueness as an asset without taking an exclusivist view”—and called for a “culture of acceptance that will enable all peoples to realise their potential.”




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