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Crumbs From Our Colonial Masters

15, May 2000
Colonial capital encouraged them to accept land here after indentureship, rather than passage back to India.

By the time of Independence, their seeming disadvantage as a well-knit, family based, rural small farming sector was their greatest asset.

The Indian was largely rural based, having replaced the African on the plantations, and was isolated from the focal centres of political power and control; while the African was mainly urban based, with an urban consciousness of all the latest developments and ideas. This is not to say there were not Indians in the urban areas who were part of that cultural mix; nor Africans who remained rural based.

We are talking about the majorities and the kind of activity and involvement that served to inform social consciousness. However, the aim of capital and its wielders was to keep one section of the population stagnant within context of a conservative culture reminiscent of feudal existence; while the other developed a world consciousness, made links with modern universal trends and tendencies, struggled and made demands accordingly.

How are we, for instance, to interpret the granting of some form of political participation to Africans namely, the vote though with a limited franchise: one had to own property over a certain value, while Indians were prevented from voting because of ignorance of the English language (it being regarded as the language of cultural development in the eyes of those who had the power to define).

The point is, not only did this happen but the objective conditions existed in which it could occur; and the wielders of capital got away with it for a short time. Such deliberate psychological and geographical separation of the two races proved to be dynamite in the development of African/Indian hostilities.

The supposedly "educated" Africans were allowed to fill the Civil Service, became teachers or priests: mainly salaried people forever dependent on the State for survival.

No civil servant could own land, or engage in business outside their professional occupation. Even today, public servants have to get special dispensation from their Permanent Secretaries to have businesses.

The process began in the days of the "free-coloureds" and intensified after Emancipation, the intention being to deliberately block Africans from developing in the field of commerce, business and land-owning.

The failure to advance development of a free peasantry, independent of sugar plantations and estates, after 1834, was also part of the same process. Not surprisingly therefore, most of our Caribbean island societies have remained impoverished monocultures one-crop economies up to the present.

Even in the 1930s, legislation such as the Shop Closing Ordinance and others relative to business licences were passed by colonial governments to frustrate and even eradicate independent African business and proprietorship. Even Africans came to accept business was not for them. In actual fact it was their militant combativeness, universal outlook and lack of any tradition of conservatism which forced capital to deny them economic independence from the State.

Salary, you see, is the biggest "discipliner" and controller of mankind. If you do not understand this, you understand nothing about this society.

However, it is within your area of disadvantage you find your advantage. Precisely because of their urbanity and heavy involvement with the State machinery, the African middle-class and educated elites found themselves best placed by capital to acquire political power.

Indians, on the other hand, were left by colonial capital to their own independent devices. Ancient traditions intact, they cocooned themselves for survival in a hostile world which appeared to want to deprive them of all social amenities.

A distinct race and culture, largely rural-based, they came quite early to see the universal trend of urban/rural divide and attendant uneven development as specifically hostile to their self-preservation as a social group.

They guarded their cultural presence jealously and vigorously as a mandate for their continued growth as a people, particularly since the urban culture seemed to want to remove their distinctiveness in the interest of "oneness" and some abstract unity.

Colonial capital encouraged them to accept land here after indentureship, rather than passage back to India, with the hope of keeping them somehow chained to the plantation system. No great exhortation was needed. Land reward at the end of indentureship was always the main attraction to Indians still fresh from a small peasant background in which land had both religious and economic significance.

This worked to some extent with the development of an independent cane-farming community, producing for the plantation factories. Indians, like Africans, placed great value on education of their offspring into independent professions.

By the time of Independence in 1962, their seeming disadvantage as a conservative, well-knit, family-based, rural small farming sector became their greatest asset. The society opened up economically and socially. They proved well-placed to gain from the expansion of all forms of commercial activity. A family unit could easily become a co-operative economic unit, especially if such a family is land-based, land being the initial basis of all wealth-generation and accumulation.

So the overall strategy of colonial capital in relation to our people is quite clear. In the furtherance of their own interest, you could be allowed either political development or economic independence.

But never both. Capital allowed Africans the one and Indians the other. In actual fact, both got crumbs. With de-colonisation and a new set of relationships, however, each race held on to its particular crumb to be used as a battering ram for further development.

Next week, we discuss how these objective factors are manifested subjectively.

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