Arrival Day takes a turn
Arrival Day celebrations on May 28. File photo: Tony Howell
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 peoples
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 reconciliationa
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
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
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. TTTs 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 PMs 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
Nagars gate, the tail was still at Mid Centre Mall.
Another high-profile procession was organised by the Maha
Sabha in the East-West Corridor. Pandays 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
Principal of UWI Dr Tewarie, speaking at the event, gave a
philosophical ground for a new turn in Indian Arrival Day
activitiesHow to acknowledge uniqueness as an
asset without taking an exclusivist viewand called
for a culture of acceptance that will enable all peoples
to realise their potential.