INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY 2012: Celebrating the Power of Vision
By Surujrattan Rambachan
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications
Trinidad and Tobago
As the debate continues as to whether we should be celebrating Indian Arrival Day or whether we should have one day called Arivval Day, we will once again make the annual pilgrimage to Divali Nagar and to other locations in our country to remember those ancestors who came to these shores in 1845 and continued to do so until 1917, when the period of indentureship came to a close.
On May 30th 2012, the 167th anniversary of their arrival, we observe that moment in time when they first landed and were quarantined at Nelson Island. We give gratitude to them for the foundations they laid for economic growth and the overall development of our twin island nation.
At the same time we celebrate their spirit of fortitude, their resilience in tough circumstances and thank them for the religious institutions, cultural and social systems they introduced, which has given to so many of us our self-definition and the ability to understand ourselves.
A glance at history will show that though they were generally unlettered, they possessed a vision of the possibilities for their children’s future, that resulted in a thirst for excellence manifested today in educated individuals who form a large part of the professional classes in Trinidad and Tobago. That such education started in the proverbial “cow sheds” is immaterial. What is important is that our ancestors recognized that knowledge was important both in terms of growing the person as well as developing the society.
It is remarkable that within less than fifty years, the children of the “jheel” (lagoons), migrated from the “jheels” to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, artisans, nurses, businessmen and businesswomen as well as public servants and even Prime Ministers. Such is the power of vision.
It is their vision for a better future that we celebrate across this country on this Indian Arrival Day. The power of vision was not limited to East Indians. We see that the same kind of progress has been made by our African, Chinese, Lebanese and Syrian brothers and sisters, indicative of the fact that personal and group success is intrinsically tied to imagination. Imagination and vision is however not enough for success. There has to be commitment, sacrifice, productivity, risk taking and entrepreneurship. All of these qualities were embraced by our ancestors. Today more than ever we need to return to these values, especially in a world that is becoming more competitive and globalized.
I often see on this day the recreation of the arrival in 1845 by persons ‘pulling a replica of the “Fatel Rozack.” I want to say that the boat has long arrived and returned to its native shores. We have established our roots here in Trinidad and Tobago. However, I sometimes feel that the roots are not as deep as they should be. At times, it appears that they are shallow and can be easily uprooted. At times I am led to question how committed we are to our country. We are not going to be successful, nor are we going to live fruitful and contented lives if we have a migratory mentality, or if we do not develop a sense of ownership of our land. Frankly, at times I feel that a real sense of ownership is missing. We must change this mentality. For myself, I had many an opportunity to migrate. At a personal level, I will not trade being a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago for any other citizenship. I will always work to develop the strongest sense of nationalism found anywhere in the world.
After fifty years after Independence, it is time for all of us to develop a deeper sense of nationalism, to put country first and self after, to sacrifice for the benefit of the larger community through a sense of duty and service to our fellow citizens. Fifty years after Independence, in the nation’s life cycle, we are in the stage of maturity. This means that we are expected to be mature in our deliberations, mature in our respect and recognition of all cultural and religious streams which comprise our diversity.
The time for fighting for cultural space, the struggle for dominance by one group over is finished. These struggles are sapping the productive energy of the country. These should now be replaced by cultural accommodation, whilst the struggle for dominance should be replaced by the reach for excellence thereby building a society where people are rewarded on the basis of merit and not affiliation, political affiliation included. In a diverse country as ours everyone must be made to feel equal, feel appreciated and valued. This is what I believe we should be working towards. To these aspirations and values we must commit on this Arrival Day.
And so, as we celebrate 167 years since our East Indian ancestors came to these shores let us truly make Trinidad and Tobago our homes. Let us stop being onlookers and become more integrally involved in the affairs of our nation. Let us build a country which is characterized by equality of opportunity, fairness, respect, cultural accommodation, freedom of expression with respect to others, and a deep sense of spirituality. Frankly, the souls of our ancestors will be satisfied and filled with joy if this happens.
Apart from Kolkata, India, where there is a monument to mark the departure of East Indians to serve periods of indentureship, I am advised that the only other monument in the West that stands as reminder of their arrival is in Trinidad. It speaks of their commitment to this country. It was installed in 1985 by the St Patrick County Council of which I was the then Chairman. It was a joint effort between myself and Councillor Basdeo Manmohansingh. It was built by a sculptor from Roussilac at a cost of $1500.00TT and it consists of a boat with a father, mother and a child whose finger is pointing inland to Trinidad and Tobago. Cedros was then a regular point for celebrating Indian Arrival Day by a group led by Ramdath Jaggessar and others.