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Indian arrival: Part of the Vincentian experience

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I would like today to join SEARCHLIGHT (Midweek) in adding my congratulations to the local Indian community on the occasion of celebrations to mark Indian Arrival Day and in the process extend my best wishes for the success of the activities planned.In commemorating this historic occasion the organisers are contributing towards what is in reality the filling in of the blanks imposed by colonialism on our history and being.

The legacy of colonial rule is that it tried to completely obliterate the history of the people of colonial lands. In the case of the Caribbean, there was a deliberate attempt not only to pretend that our history began with the coming of Europeans (Columbus), but that the persons that they brought to this region had no rich history of their own. Yet those people came from great civilisations, such as India with its long traditions and “Golden Ages”, and West Africa where great civilisations such as the Kingdom of Mali flourished when many parts of Europe were still in the “Dark Ages”.

Slavery, the system of indentured labour, and colonial rule in the Caribbean erased most of this and severed the cultural links between the slaves and indentured servants and their countries of origin. Worse, not only were the oppressed kept ignorant of their own history, but divisions were sown amongst them. Blacks were fed the false notion of unsanitary “coolies”, Indians were warned about the “worthless”, “lazy” and “black and ugly” Africans. Both sides were taught to despise the Kalinago and Garifuna, while the Portuguese and Irish/Scottish migrants became a buffer group. Division was the cornerstone of colonial rule.

Much water has not only passed under that colonial bridge, but has washed it away as well. Part of the anti-colonial experience involved the search for history and the rejection of the racial stereotypes of the past. That was part of what the Garveyite and Black Power movements were all about, a foundation built upon by the progressive movements of the seventies onwards.

In St Vincent, the relatively small numbers of the Indian community and its tendency to be confined to specific locations meant that for a long time they were “below the radar”, contributing to the development of society in rather quiet, inconspicuous manner. Denuded of much of their cultural practices, devoid of even their Indian names, they had little choice but to integrate as a minority in society.

However, this could not last forever. Indian parents had always placed great store on educating their children and today the fruits of that are emerging. New generations of Indians are searching for their roots, much as the Garifuna, Kalinago and African sections of the population have been doing. Historians and researchers are retracing the steps, noting the lessons and consciously setting out to reconnect, not in any divisive, isolated way, but as a valuable part of the Vincentian experience and Caribbean civilisation.

The Indian community has contributed significantly to Vincentian socio-economic development, particularly in agriculture, health, education and the small business and commercial sectors.

The celebration of Indian Arrival Day is an important milestone in our history. It is an occasion to be remembered not only by the Indian community, but by us all, as Vincentians, for it is part and parcel of our nation-building experience. Each act of strengthening of the component parts of our nation, each assertion of their self-confidence in their roots, can only redound to the benefit of the nation as a whole.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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