They braved the Kala Paani to travel thousands of miles from their homeland to our shores, many of them bringing their hopes, their dreams and their belief in a better future for themselves and their families.
On the occasion of Indian Arrival Day 2017, we recognize the coming of the first Indian immigrants to Trinidad and Tobago 172 years ago, to start their new lives as indentured labourers. As we mark Indian Arrival Day, it should also be noted that this year, 2017, also marks the 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian indentured immigration.
Theirs is a story of courage, fortitude, and resilience. Once they sailed, they displayed a level of determination and faith that laid foundations upon which we have all built our lives.
Just over 147,000 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.
They toiled in the fields and lived in harsh conditions, but through it all maintained their focus on their goal of building a better life for their children and grandchildren. My own great-great-grandmother served as an indentured labourer, and I vividly recall the stories that were passed down through generations of the struggles and the hardships they endured.
We must not forget that period of time but remember it with the focus being always to strive for a world which promotes freedom and the dignity of the person. We must never forget the sacrifices they made, and we should make every effort to continue to demonstrate our appreciation for their contributions to our nation.
As we celebrate Indian Arrival Day, we must also recognize our First Peoples as well as the impact of the people of other regions who also came to Trinidad and Tobago – Africa, Asia, China, Europe and elsewhere – and made this land their home, creating the multicultural and multi-ethnic society we live in today. While we may have our own challenges, we have found and pride ourselves on unity in our diversity.
The celebration of Indian Arrival Day not only gives persons of Indian origin an opportunity to reflect on the journey of their ancestors, but for people of other origins, it provides an opportunity to reflect upon the journey and history of their own forefathers. It is important to examine our histories so that each of us can gain a better understanding of the impact of our forefathers’ efforts in building our nation.
Trinidad and Tobago is a richer society today as a result of the invaluable contributions the East Indian immigrants and the descendants of all immigrants have made to our national development, and in shaping a tapestry of cultures, traditions and belief systems.
Today, the people of our country face new challenges, but we can look to our ancestors for inspiration in overcoming these challenges through determination, resolve, and by working together.
Our country’s leaders appear to have abdicated their responsibility to govern and to fulfill the mandate given to them to develop our nation, and create a better life for all its citizens.
It is now up to each of us to work together for the advancement of our country. The Opposition remains committed to working with all seeking to come up with solutions to address the ills facing us.
As we move forward, let us all keep in mind our common vision and purpose – that of building a prosperous and unified Trinidad and Tobago.
On behalf of the Opposition, I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Indian Arrival Day.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP