One hundred and seventy-one years ago, the first set of East Indian indentured labourers arrived on the shores of Trinidad and Tobago on the ship Fatel Razack after that perilous journey across the Kala Pani (Black Water).
Those indentured labourers had both the hope and vision of a future for themselves and their families that included an improved standard of living, greater family opportunities and the realization of personal ambitions.
The East Indian influence and dynamic have been defining in our national tapestry. The indigenous Indian culture that the indentured labourers came with has evolved in a way that has benefitted not only Trinidad and Tobago but the world.
East Indian culture has given the world the doubles, the Trini roti and curry blend and Chutney music, all very unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The East Indian diaspora in Trinidad and Tobago has further demonstrated that hard work, personal sacrifice and affirmative social values are pivotal for the transformational growth of any progressive society.
The journey endured by the East Indian indentured labourers is an admirable and inspirational one. From this energized East Indian culture and the philosophies that emanate thereof, we, as a nation, can draw motivation and encouragement to soldier on in both good times and times of adversity.
In these days of social and economic difficulties, we must remember the journey of our East Indian forefathers to the Caribbean and draw from their strength, resilience and sense of hope. The message is unmistakable. The journey to progress is one grounded in the ascendancy and perseverance of the human spirit.
From the onset, the East Indian presence in Trinidad and Tobago has had great influence on the Caribbean way of life. In my humble view, a critical and underutilized system, brought to the Caribbean by our East Indian forefathers, is the Panchayat system, quite possibly one of the earliest manifestations of mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
The Panchayat system is structured community mediation at work and can be an important feature of restorative justice in the criminal justice system. As a former criminal judge and a strong advocate of restorative justice, at criminal trials I have employed the Panchayat system as a mechanism for resolving family conflict that resulted in a criminal offence.
I used this system at the end of the trial, sometimes upon conviction to arrive at a just and fair sentence or penalty.
As our society today experiences many instances of violence, criminal activity and social hostility, we can possibly look at the Panchayat system as a way to resolve human conflict through its power of mediation and reconciliation.
East Indian culture places great emphasis on respect for parents, elders and also nurtures in all, the benefits of hard work, sacrifice and a sound education. As a nation, we can all benefit from this traditional value system.
Our country’s greatest resource is its human resource and a human resource, buttressed by these conventional morals and ideals, can certainly lead to the caring and compassionate society we must have as a nation of vision.
We must always proudly acclaim our sons and daughters of that generational pool of indentured labourers who have gone on to make indelible footprints in the sands of human development in the spheres of engineering, innovation, economics, finance, the arts, science and even language.
One such sterling example is the esteemed author V.S. Naipaul, a son of the soil and a Noble Prize winner for literature. It has been stated, time and time again, by his honoured colleagues and peers that he is the greatest writer of the English language alive today. Is this not a phenomenal accolade for a son of the soil?
We must celebrate the positives of our East Indian ‘Trinbago’ culture.
On behalf of her excellency my wife Reema and my children Christian and Anura, I would like to wish the East Indian community and by extension the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, a happy Indian Arrival Day and may God richly bless us all.