Our ethnic realities

We live in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, and this has really been evident since the arrival of the Fatel Razack in 1845 when the first Indian Indentured labourers came in, joining the Indians, Africans and the Europeans who were already here.

When indentured labour was brought in from India, the people, excluding the few survivors of the original inhabitants, were African, European and “mixed” or mulatto. The official language was English, the religion was Christian and the “culture” was essentially European.

The people from India were then seen as “different”, and this was probably less to do with their appearance than their language, religions and culture. Unlike the African slaves before them, the Indians were permitted to retain their religions and culture.

However, there has always seemed to be an attitude among the former African people, who had grown accustomed to the adoption of European culture and religion, that the Indians were “different”. And there is little doubt that much of this sentiment remains alive in many persons of African and European descent. The feeling that much of the “Indian” aspects of our culture is not “really our culture” still persists in many minds.

We have learned, over the years, to live reasonably comfortably with our prejudices, and these feelings are prejudices, make no mistake about that. After World War II things began to change, as educational opportunities were afforded to the brightest of both these groups. People of African and Indian descent entered the fields of Law, Medicine and ultimately, politics.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the country “matured” politically, and we saw the rise of intellectuals like Eric Williams and Rudrunath Capildeo. These men developed political followings based largely upon race, and it was from here that the ethnic rivalries we experience today obviously sprung. With political support based almost totally on ethnic choices, the tensions normally seen in a change of government become magnified.

When there is a change of government in Jamaica or Barbados, senior political appointees lose their jobs and their perks of office. There are no cries of racial discrimination, or much worse (as we have heard here) of “ethnic cleansing”. We in Trinidad and Tobago do not see these political changes as “political”, but as racial.

The current debates about the police service, the army, and the civil service in general, are valid, in that “Indians” are not represented in numbers comparable to the wider problem. That is a fact that we should all accept.

However, the reason that people of Indian descent are not comparably represented may not be totally due to exclusions based upon their race. At least not directly so. It may also be due to choice, and we therefore need to examine the factors which affect that “choice”. We suggest that an enlightening and meaningful discussion is in order, without “head counts” and accusations flying back and forth.

Because Trinidad and Tobago handles its ethnic and cultural diversities better than any nation or community on earth. And it must remain so, for no one can rightfully claim that any group “does not belong” here.


"Our ethnic realities"

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