Sweetness and Power:
By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
The Turbulent Career of Badase Sagan Maraj
October 15, 2008
Each week the Academy of at UTT for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs presents "The Research Fellows' Series" in which the Fellows of the Academy offer their aspects of their research to the public. These projects are supposed to be path-breaking offerings that lend new insights into aspect of our society and personalities in our society. On Thursday last (October 9), Professor Brinsley Samaroo, a fellow of the Academy, sought to dissuade us from holding onto many of our previous assumptions about Badase asked us to recognize his heroic personality and his contributions to Trinidad and Tobago society.
In this lecture, Professor Samaroo discussed three aspects of Badase's career: his religious commitment and educational achievements; his labor interests; and his legislative/political achievements. In terms of religion, Professor Samaroo argues that Badase fought successfully for Hindu solidarity which was achieved through the eventual formation of Maha Sabha that his son-in-law Sat Maharaj leads so proudly today. We were reminded of his devotion to the education of Hindu children which manifests itself in the splendid achievement of the Maha Sabha schools, particularly the creation of schools such as Lashmi Girls that is considered one of our prestige schools. No one could miss the delight Professor Samaroo took in lambasting Williams' description of these schools as "cowsheds" although one member of the audience sought to place Dr. Williams's remarks in a more meaningful context.
Badase was also an important figure in the development of the Labour unions partuclarly among East Indian sugar workers in that he developed the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Tade Union. Much is told of his heroic struggle in improving the working conditions of the sugar workers and increasing their wages. Here, too, Badase may have had to use some unorthodox methods to achieve his goals but he succeeded in breaking the hegemony of the local planter class exploitation of the sugar workers of the country.
At the Legislative and political level Professor Samaroo talked about Badase success creation of the People's Democratic Party which lost the first general elections of 1956 and the Democratic Labour Party which won the Trinidad and Tobago battle at the Federal elections of 1958. Professor Samarro also claimed that Badase worked with Dr. Williams to secure Trinidad as the federal capital of the West Indian Federation after the powers that be argued that Trinidad and Tobago could not be the federal site because of the racial division in Trinidad and Tobago.
In his lecture, Professor Samaroo failed to mention the dark side of Badase's personality. And this is where I thought that Professor Samaroo's lecture failed was lacking. He also contended that both the British and the local authorities were anti-Indian and that everything in the society was set up to prevent East Indians from achieving their personhood. At no point in the lecture did Professor Samaroo admit that Badase may have been a violent man who used violent methods to achieve his wealth and his place in the society. To Professor Samaroo, all of the negative things that we have heard about Badase are only rumors. As he said: "You know Trinidadians. We like rumors." According to Professor Samaroo, unless it was/is recorded there is really no reason to believe that Badase was the untoward figure that he had come to be known in local lore.
In this regard, I would only make one suggestion. In writing about the treatment that African-Americans received during Reconstruction, a tremendously violent time in their lives in the US South, the Louisiana historian A. E. Perkins remarked: "It ill becomes an historian, or any other chronicler, to dignify rumor with notice. But when rumor swells to established fact, or rests upon evidence all but conclusive, then one may without hesitancy take full notice of if." Perkins was talking about the rumors that Oscar Dunn, the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, was poisoned by his opponents. It might be that in turbulent times that outstanding men have to turn to violent means to achieve their objectives. However, to disregard Badase's darker side in any presentation of his life robs history of its authenticity and denies the Badase his historical richness. There really is no need to sanitize Badase. Warts and all, he was an important personality in our history.
It was more difficult to accept Professor Samaroo's conclusion that Badase and the Indians (or more precisely the Hindus) were robbed of ruling the society after the results of the 1956 elections because of an anti-Indian animus. Professor Samaroo concludes that in spite of the fact that Dr. Williams and the PNM won 13 of the 24 elected seats with 106,000 as opposed to Badase Maraj's and the PDP's 56,000 votes that Governor Beetham Beetham should have called on Badase to form the government. He argued that Trinidad and Tobago was a unicameral legislation of 31 member and therefore Williams had not won a majority. We are left with the improbable argument that Badase with 5 seats and 56,000 votes should have been called to form the government but this was not done because the British were against the Indians. I am still understand why Governor Beetham should have called Badase when Williams had received more votes, a majority of the seats; and was better equipped to lead the government.
But the distortions do not end there. Badase and the DLP were presented as being more racially balanced than the PNM which Professor Samaroo suggests speaks more to the non-racial character of Badase and negatively against Dr. Williams who, after all referred to the "recalcitrant minority" within the DLP party. He cites the inclusion of Albert Gomes in the DLP as proof that Badase had reached out to all elements of the society. Yet, the contradiction remains. If Badase major goal and achievement was to bring the Hindus together how such a thrust could allow for Badase political expansiveness of which Professor Samaroo speaks.
Professor Samaroo also accused the British government of inveighing against the Indian High Commission who quickly after universal adult suffrage was introduced into this island began to push a Hindu head which Albert Gomes in Through a Maze of Colour denounced thoroughly. Professor Samaroo argues that the British were against the activities of High Commission because of what other scholars called "Indian imperialist" and which, from his discussion, he endorsed. So that even though the High Commissioner behavior was denounced by Gomes and other progressives of the time, Professor Samaroo still clings to the belief that any Indian excess could be wished away by speaking of this anti-Indian bias on the part of the British and the local white establishment.
There is no doubt that Badase is an important personage in this society and we ought to welcome any work that speaks to his contributions to our society. It is also true that Badase's negatives have kept us from appreciating the man but it does not help to dismiss his negatives and or to unduly sanitize the man. Also, it is not the most helpful way to read Trinidad and Tobago history as a sustained attack against East Indians particularly when the East Indian indentureship was responsible for denying Africans the true fruits of the emancipation victory. East Indians like all immigrant groups that came to Trinidad and Tobago, was subjective to humiliation and discrimination. Each had to make his way in the world and shaped herself against the background of the local situation. Any attempt at ethnic chauvinism takes away from the glorious struggle of East Indians to make themselves in T&T. Like all of us there was good and bad in all of our groups. It does not really hurt to acknowledge this fact.
Archives | Back to Cudjoe Home | Trinicenter Homepage