Addressing the closing of the Indian Diaspora Council on Sunday night, Persad Bissessar, the first woman of Indian descent to become prime minister here, said that the history books have called the slavery of Indians “indentureship but that is just a euphemism for the brutality that characterized Indian labour on the plantations.
“The promise of a better life was a mirage that ended the moment they boarded the ships that brought them here,” she told the event, adding that Britain shipped three and a half million Indians to far corners of the planet to work on plantations in the British Empire.
She said just over 147,000 Indians came to Trinidad and only about a quarter of them ever saw their homeland again; thousands died on the plantations struggling to complete their contracts. The majority made Trinidad their home.
“Once they sailed, they displayed a level of courage and faith that laid foundations upon which we have all built our lives.
“They arrived in a land with no family to receive them, shuttled to Nelson Island and then to the estates, with few possessions, a jahaji bundle, some containing their holy texts the Ramayan, the Gita and the Koran and they came with their ability to work hard and their faith in their God.”
She told the ceremony that the Indians were filled with an entrepreneurial spirit and a determination not to be at the same place where they began on arrival.
“They did not accept their fate but created a future by defining the destiny they wanted for themselves and their families.
“Indentureship was a deliberate and conscious act to enslave Indians. Indians were forced to live in squalor, their lives governed by the overseers and drivers on the estates. To the former slave drivers, nothing had changed<’ she said, adding that “Indians were routinely abused, flogged and even killed.
“To add to their misery, their women were raped with no law to protect and defend them; the magistrates understood that the only constituency that mattered was the elite planter class.
“So don’t be misled by the British history books. Indentureship was a harsh, painful reality. It was slavery all over again. Our ancestors were treated worse than animals, their dignity dragged into the ground. “
But she said despite such treatment, the Indians’ spirit could not be broken and that “Trinidad and Tobago is a richer society because of the Indian experience and the customs and traditions our forefathers protected and kept for us”.
During her address Persad Bissessar made reference to the ongoing debate regarding child marriage here saying the Hindu Marriage Act of 1945 made provision for the solemnization and registration of Hindu Marriages; the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1961.
“We have been hearing the debate raging about marriage age as the government seeks to change the law. That debate is still to continue before the House of Representatives in Parliament.
“It has been most offensive to witness the denigration of our leaders of the Hindu Community and Muslim community who have been exercising their right to speak out against the change being proposed by government,” she said, praising the work of Say Maharaj, the general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the main Hindu organisation here.
“I strongly condemn the vicious and untruthful attacks against …Sat Maharaj for the courage of his convictions and his outspokenness on this and so many other issues faced by the descendants of indentures.
“His name will well be recorded in the annals of the history of Trinidad and Tobago as he who never faltered in defence of his faith, his community and his country.”
She told the conference that 100 years later, “we are still fighting for full recognition and acceptance of our cultural and religious practices in a country that we helped build and where our national anthem boasts of equality for all”.
- Countries: Trinidad_Tobago