By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. As baptised Catholics, we belong to the Family of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created out of love to love, teaching others to follow God’s commandments, the greatest of which is LOVE.
As Fr Anthony Kadavil reminds us, “the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to adopt an ‘I-and-God-and-neighbour’ principle: ‘I am a Christian insofar as I live in a relationship of love with God and with other people’.” And I would add ‘Creation’ to this relationship. Integral ecology requires us to reconcile ourselves with God, neighbour, self, and creation.
We are blessed to have diverse ethnic groups living in our blessed Republic of T&T. However, while we celebrate diversity, we must acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to ensure that there is unity in diversity and an equal place for every creed and race here.
There is a yawning gap between the fundamental rights enshrined in our Republican Constitution, and the lived reality of many—from different ethnic groups.
If we reflect on our situation honestly, we would admit that we know the extent and nature of some of the obstacles that prevent us from building a thriving democracy, from loving our neighbour.
Each day when I read some of the comments on social media, particularly between persons of the two major ethnic groups in T&T, I pray that God will ‘put ah hand’ and open our hearts and minds to love each other.
Indian Arrival Day
Today, May 30, is Indian Arrival Day, a day when we commemorate the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to Trinidad, 176 years ago. The ship, the Fatel Razack, had left Calcutta on February 16, 1845 and landed in the Gulf of Paria on May 30, 1845 with 227 passengers on board.
As Dr Kusha Haracksingh says: “The majority were males from their mid-twenties to early thirties…There was a smattering of women in the same age bracket… The youngest passengers were a boy called Goonoo, aged 5, and a girl named Faizan, aged 4.”
Between 1845 and 1917, there were 319 voyages by ship bringing 147,592 Indians to work as indentured labourers on sugarcane plantations owned by the British in T&T. There were more men than women who came from India, and also a few children.
Researchers tell us that of those who came, there were about 60 per cent Hindus, 13 per cent Muslims, as well as some Christians, Buddhists, and persons of other faiths. Indians were also brought to some other British colonies in our region and to other parts of the world.
I grew up learning about this history from my father, whose great grandparents had arrived on the ship the Edith Moore on December 6, 1858 and were sent to Mt Plaisir Estate in Cunupia to work as indentured labourers.
He said: “Indians brought with them untold wealth in terms of their long, rich history that spans over 5,000 years, and aspects of their culture such as religions, languages, literature, music and musical instruments, dress, traditions, food/seeds, plants, fruits such as mangoes, guava, tamarind, ochro and seime, cloves, ginger, saffron, dhal, peppers, mustard, spices, ghee etc. The dhantal, a musical instrument, was developed in T&T.
“The indenture contract was an exploitative one. The treatment of Indians under indentureship was inhumane. Life was not easy for the 75% or so who remained after indentureship or for the few who returned to India – some of whom returned to T&T.”
Note that Hindu marriages were not recognised by the State as legal until May 13, 1946 and Muslim marriages were similarly not recognised until December 1, 1964. This had adverse effects on the lives of wives and children as land owned by the men in their families went bona vacantia – to the State, when these men died.
In the early years of indentureship, the law stated that one could only vote if one could read and write. For many years Indians were denied adult suffrage since many were unable to read or write and could not register to vote. They only gained adult suffrage in 1946.
By God’s grace, and by dint of their hard work, countless descendants of those who came to these shores from various ethnic groups, as well as indigenous people, continue to excel in various fields of endeavour.
May God open our hearts to love each other as He loves us.
“The Church cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. (28)
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee