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The Indianization of the Society

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Posted: January 26, 2004

A few days ago, the Maha Sabha went to court to argue that it was treated unfairly when it was by-passed by the PNM government for a radio broadcast license and granted one to Citadel Limited. The Maha Sabha applied for its licence while the UNC was in power. On November 4, 2003, Parsuran Maharaj, an Executive Member of the Maha Sabha, wrote in Newsday: "There are over six Indian-formatted radio stations operating in Trinidad and Tobago. Each station has at least one Hindu devotional hour to start each morning and some more during the day and night-time broadcasts." Sad to say, there is not one African-formatted radio station in the country yet this Hindu organization says it is about fairness and equality.

On the same day the Express published the Maha Sabha challenge to Citadel's license, Virendra Gupta, India's High Commissioner announced his Government had committed $15 million dollars to establish a Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Cooperation. At the moment classes are taught at venues around the country include music, harmonium, tabla, dance and Hindi. He said, "People whose ancestors came from India spoke the mother tongue but then the language became lost and youngsters and middle age people are no longer familiar with it. Gupta said the High Commission was now looking at having monthly lectures focusing on Indian culture" (Express, January 20, 2004). In his book, Through a Maze of Colour, Albert Gomes commented about the intervention of a previous Indian High Commissioner after the 1946 elections. He says: "As 'Mother' India drew closer to Independence there were comparative stirrings among Trinidad Indians. When India received its Independence in 1948 the pageantry of extra-territorial patriotism exceeded itself in Trinidad. [Then,] an Indian High Commissioner appeared on the scene."

Gomes became suspicious. His worse fears were confirmed "when one of these diplomatic gentlemen proceeded to appoint himself leader of our Indian community and its political counselor and organizer. On the surface, of course, it all seemed above board and in the cause of culture, but to my keen instinct the sinister purpose was unmistakable. Indian separatism was being sedulously fostered by India's diplomatic representation in our midst...I was at the time in the vanguard of the effort to achieve a consensus of all the British Caribbean territories on what seemed the sin qua non of West Indian nationhood. The divisive activities of Trinidad Indian separatists cut straight across ambition, since Indians were being persuaded that Federation would mean their total outnumbering by the Negroes, who were preponderant in the other territories."

When Dr. Eric Williams' spoke about the reactionary behavior of a recalcitrant minority, he had this group in mind. Is there any limit to the activities of a foreign High Commission in a sovereign state and should there be a Mandela Institute of Culture in Trinidad and Tobago? And what are the consequences of such actions for the vaunted goal of national unity?

Mr. Basdeo Panday and a contingent of Trinbagonian Indians traveled to New Delhi to attend the second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or the Indian Diaspora Day Conference that took place from January 7-9, 2003. It "aimed at bringing Indian people together; a gathering of the world Indian family." At the conference, Manohar Ramsaran, MP for Chaguanas, proclaimed his loyalty to the larger Indian family. He said: "Like myself, I urge all of you gathered here to be proud of yourself. We must be proud to be called Indians; proud to hold Indian names. Proud of our cultural, religious, and social customs and you must practice them without fear and intimidation."

Mr. Deokienanan Sharma, my colleague on the Prime Minister's Round Table Discussions on Race Relations, said: "I would have liked to see the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas provide a forum and devote more time and focus discussion on the problems of people of Indian origins which would be more meaningful to the vast majority of the Indian Diaspora." I wonder if our affluent and not so affluent blacks can say they are Africans with the same degree of pride and confidence as their Indian brothers?

At the conference, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana pledged his country's support for India's quest for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. He also accepted an award from the Shri Atal Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India. No one has uttered derogatory remarks about his receipt of this award. Compare this reaction with the contempt that Indians and Africans showered upon President A. N. R. Robinson when he accepted chiefdom from an African state. Such is our self-contempt, we couldn't get enough kicks out of Chief Olukim and his staff.

I wonder how many members of Parliament can say, I am proud to be an African; I must respect African names; I must be proud of our cultural, religious and social customs. But then, Indians are Indians; Africans are Trinidadians and Tobagonians first. Never the twain, they say, shall meet.

We are faced with the proposition that Hindi must be taught at our schools. Hindu-oriented groups in the society see Hindi as the nation's second language after English. Today, all students must take Spanish since we want to be a bilingual nation to take advantage of the economic benefits of our neighbors. Spanish is taught at our primary schools. But does the teaching of Spanish alienate Africans further away from themselves and their identity? Language is not only about communication. It is also about the promulgation of values. When an African child learns Spanish, he merely learns the values of another European society. When an Indian child learns Hindi, he reinforces his cultural values and thereby entrench himself further in his culture. Since many parochial Hindu, Muslim and Baptist schools have opened outside the purview of government, many Indians are being re-oriented into their culture while Africans are alienated further from any knowledge of their forefathers' culture. Is there anyway we can bridge the gap? Should we even talk about it?

Morals and Values Education begins in our schools in September this year. While the Ministry of Education has offered guidelines about how the programme should be administered, it has not offered a specific course each school must teach. Each denomination must introduced morals and values in various subjects as it sees fit. But if the Muslims teach the values of its group; the Hindus teach the values of its group; the Christians teach the values of their group, who will teach the values of Africans or any of their religions?

The systematic exclusion of Africans from the realm of higher education is also taking place at TTIT and UWI. I was called a racist when I raised the issue some months ago. Principal Harris Khan promised to respond but never did even as Principal Bhoe Tewarie asserted gleefully: "We do not ask the students what race they belong to. We only ask them what grades they got." As TTIT was being constructed at a cost of 100 million dollars, John D. Technical Institute was left to ruins. While TTIT's student body and faculty consisted of close to 90 percent Indians the enrollment of John D. was falling. In 1998 there were 2,500 students at John D. In 2000, it had declined to 200 students. Colm Imbert, Minister of Tertiary Education, stated: "The decline in 1999 of John D can be traced directly to a number of decisions made by the former UNC Government." Between "1996 to 2001 when John D was starved of funds millions [of dollars] were pumped into the creation of TTIT" (Trinidad Guardian, January 24). That's how a government of national unity behaved.

UWI carries on the farce that "Grades are all that matters." When JR Sternberg, their distinguished guest from Yale, addressed their Symposium on Critical Thinking, he made it clear that "the tendency to label students according to standardized test scores is deceptive." On November 13, 2003, the New York Times confirmed that hundreds of university and colleges in the US [over 700] no longer require the SAT for admission to their universities. Even Israel eliminated the standardized tests for admission to its five universities because it prevented Arab students from entering its universities. One report notes: "The number of Arab students admitted to the medical training program at Tel Aviv University is up 600 per cent from a year ago." Standardized tests and the crass manipulation of CESS funds are used to keep Africans out of the UWI. GATE fund funds must not be used to keep Africans out of the university. Mr. Imbert must keep a racial scorecard of how GATE funds are divvied up. We must know who benefits the most from these funds.

Now I am being told, that plans are afoot to establish a School of Journalism at UWI that will be controlled Ms. Sunity Maharaj. I hope this is not true. If this happens these two first cousins (Sunity and Bhoe) will control these two ideological apparatuses: University education and the training of media personnel). We cannot leave the control of these mind-bending apparatuses in their hands. Presently, the Guardian and the Express are unsympathetic to the aspirations of African people.

The Indianization of the society is taking place in front of our eyes. Although none of us is born with any racial or ethnic tendencies, they can be cultivated. Trinbagonians need to connect the dots and ask where are we going as a society. None of these events has any meaning in themselves. Taken as a whole they create a disturbing picture. We ought to examine the whole more carefully.

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