There should have been colourful, joyful celebrations taking place around the country today to mark a major historical milestone. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced commemorations of the 175th anniversary of East Indian Arrival in T&T to adopt social distancing protocols, so there will be no re-enactments of the 1845 arrival of the Fatel Razack, street processions or live cultural events.
Instead, virtual presentations and special radio and television programmes will ensure East Indian Arrival remains at the forefront throughout the day. For that, full credit goes to the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC), Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) and the many other religious and cultural groups that have creatively put together today’s activities.
This public holiday came about through the efforts of two parliamentarians, Trevor Sudama and Raymond Pallackdarrysingh, who in 1991 began lobbying the House of Representatives for May 30 to be recognised on the national calendar. Their calls were finally heeded in 1995, on the 150th anniversary of East Indian Arrival, when then Prime Minister Patrick Manning declared it a public holiday.
May 30, 1845, was indeed a major turning point for T&T, adding a vibrant dimension to the society that we are today. The 143,939 East Indians who migrated to T&T during the years of indentureship, ending in 1917, were seen at the time as solutions to an economic and labour crisis. They came here mainly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in north India, with smaller numbers coming from Bengal and various parts of south India.
Mostly young and unmarried, the immigrants were quarantined on Nelson Island before being assigned to estates to serve out their contracted five-year periods of indentureship. Most chose to remain in T&T when their indentureship ended and have embedded into the multicultural fabric of this nation practices and beliefs that have become essential elements of the country's identity.
Today, we give thanks for how life in these twin islands has been enriched by the music, cuisine and religions brought here by our East Indian ancestors. This is also the occasion to celebrate the priceless contributions of the descendants of those immigrants in many spheres of leadership and national development.
East Indian immigrants came to these shores with dreams of prospering in a strange new world. Their years of toil, enduring servitude, discrimination and exploitation became a solid platform on which the successes of Indo-Trinbagonians have been built.
For these and many other reasons, celebrating this country’s first East Indian immigrants should not be muted by COVID-19. Instead, every creed and race should take time today to reflect and rejoice on all of the national development that has come about because of that landmark event 175 years ago
T&T has the distinction of being the first country to make Indian Arrival a public holiday. There are now celebrations in many other parts of the world, notably Fiji, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and many parts of the Caribbean.
There are many reasons to celebrate today.