Speaking Notes of
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC. MP – Siparia
Leader of the Opposition | Political Leader of the UNC
At the Indian Diaspora Council Closing Event
Maha Sabha HQ – Sunday 19 March 2017
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Sitaram – Namashkar – ASalaam u alaikum – Good evening
I am deeply honoured to join with you in marking the centenary of the end of recruitment of Indian Indentures to the British colonies, including T&T.
I am happy to participate in this event and to share the company of so many distinguished persons who have come from far and wide not only to discuss events which occurred 100 years ago, but also to trace the journey both of those who arrived and of us their descendants to the point where we are today.
It is imperative that we pay tribute to those souls who braved the kala paani and made the perilous journey to Trinidad and other Caribbean ports.
Today, their descendants in Trinidad and Tobago comprise about 35% of the population of our country (CSO Census 2011) with persons who stated they were Hindus being about 240,000 and Muslims about 65,000.
It is difficult for us to understand how life was for our ancestors who began arriving here in 1845. And, I am sure, just as difficult to comprehend what it was like 100 years ago when recruitment of Indian Indentures ended.
What we know is that had it not been for the perseverance of the tens of thousands who came here and made Trinidad their home, the history of our country would have been very different.
Their story needs to be told so future generations would understand the struggles of our ancestors who left their homes to venture into the unknown with great hope for a new life.
I congratulate the organizers and all the presenters and participants over the last several days in helping to tell the kahani of our ancestors in this our homeland of Trinidad and Tobago.
History – Legal
I had the privilege of reading the works of Ms. Radica Mahase on indentureship, and it struck me that it would be instructive to see what the laws and Hansards of TT would reveal.
But before I do so, it is of interest to note that Lord Harris, Governor of Trinidad in his report of 1847, to the Honourable Secretary of Colonies, stated in relation to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and I quote:
“They are not, neither coolies or niggers fit to be placed in a position which the labourers of civilized countries may at once occupy: they must be treated like children, and wayward ones too, the former from their habits and their religion, the latter from the utterly savage state in which they arrive.”
I took a look at the laws that existed throughout the period of indentureship in Trinidad & Tobago.
I found nearly 100 individual ordinances relating to different aspects of immigration.
The law was in a constant state of flux and appears to have been developed in a piece-meal manner.
Even though the first indentured labourers were brought to Trinidad aboard the SS Fatel Razack on 30 May 1845 more than 7 years after indentured labourers began to arrive in the Caribbean at Guyana, laws were not developed prior to indentureship beginning.
The early laws were focused on securing financing to pay for passage of labourers from India from the public purse and placing these labourers with the plantations and employers.
A class of laws were developed which governed domestic relations, property rights, contract rights, and many other rights specifically related to indenture labourers.
For example, over time, laws provided for: labour law protections such as minimum wage and maximum hours of work per day, access to public hospitals, regulation of Indian Festivals, Indian Marriage, the education and apprenticeship of indentured labourers and their children, travel restrictions of labourers and of course punishment of labourers.
There were three attempts to consolidate the immigration/ indentureship laws, through:
- Ordinance 24 of 1854
- Ordinances of 1870 and 1875 (Ordinance 13 of 1870 and 9 of 1875) and
- Ordinance 26 of 1916 (Chapter 245).
ORDINANCE 17 OF 1838
Many may not be aware that a precursor to later indentureship system was introduced in Trinidad by Ordinance 17 of 1838. We know that the indentureship began in 1845, but a system of encouraging agricultural labourers to enter Trinidad was put into place several years earlier.
In correspondence from Lieutenant-Governor George Fitzgerald Hill, Baronet to Lord Glenelg, Secretary of the Colonies dated 11 December 1838 indicated certain resolutions had been passed including inter alia:
[In] the opinion of the board … the quantity of labour available for the purpose of raising and manufacturing the staple articles of produce is not sufficient to maintain the cultivation already established and to give employment to the fixed capital already invested in buildings and machinery, and that therefore unless effective measures for procuring an addition to our agricultural population are immediately adopted, a large amount of existing capital will be lost and the prosperity of the colony materially and permanently injured.
That it is, therefore, necessary and expedient to provide, at the public expense, such means of giving facility to immigration as may secure to the colony a sufficient number of labourers accustomed to agriculture, and inured to labour in a tropical climate.
The Correspondence indicated that many estates had between 12 and 20 labourers and that at least 30 labourers were required:
2 Boys to drive mill
2 Wet Mogass-Carriers
1 Field Overlooker
2 Dry Mogass-Carriers
Ordinance 17 of 1838 permitted the Governor with the advice and consent of the Council of Government to appoint a person to facilitate the payments of 10 s. sterling to agents for each agricultural labourer procured at the ports of Trinidad and 5 s. sterling for each child and the wife of the said labourer. Further funds would be provided for the cost of passage of the labourers.
Further the Governor was given the power to appoint a person to become the Agent-General of the immigrants. The Agent-General was required to register each immigrant and oversee the employment of the immigrants with employers.
The fees to be provided for passage at the time of Ordinance was
From Grenada $5
Carriacon and the Grenadines $6
St. Vincent $8
St. Lucia $10
St Kitts and Nevis $14
ORDINANCES OF 1844
Perhaps one of the first legislative measures passed was Ordinance Nos. 18 and 19 of 1844 which permitted Trinidad to raise 250,000 UKP through the issuance of bonds for promoting the immigration of agricultural labourers from the British Dominions in India and elsewhere. Initially, these funds were to secure to cost of passage back to India or elsewhere at the end of the five year indenture contract.
It is interesting to note that the Secretary of Colonies Lord Stanley specifically denied the request of Governor H. MacLeod to introduce a minimum wage for indentured labourers by correspondence dated 19 April 1845:
With respect to your suggestion to fix a minimum rate of wages, with liberty to the emigrant to demand a free passage back whenever they fall below it, I would observe that the contingency against which it is proposed to guard is one which you consider neither near nor probable, and that, therefore, it appears to be hardly worthwhile to provide against it now, especially as interference with the course of wages is in itself objectionable in principle. The better plan I think will be to stop the current of immigration for a season, whenever wages are found to be falling too low.
ORDINANCES of 1847
Records from records of the UK Parliament show that the state paid for a total of 2,681 emigrated as indentured labourers introduced at the public expense in 1845 (225) and 1846 (2,456).
Despite this fact, it was only in 1847 that the legislature passed several ordinances to treat with the rights and the protection of indentured labourers.
Ordinance 3 of 1847 (which came into effect on 1 March 1847) placed into law many of the basic components of indentureship, for example it provided, inter alia:
- A registry of immigrants was to be created and maintained
- After five years’ industrial residence, all registered immigrants were entitled a free passage back.
- A labourer could commute his free passage for land
- Agreements to labour had to be signed before a justice of the peace or the Agent General.
- There was a tax penalty of 5 s per month for any labourer not under written contract
- The hours of labour were to be contracted to
- Employers had to provide a medical attendant for immigrants
- A Superintendant of Immigrants was to be appointed who would be permitted to enter estates and inspect immigrants.
- No registered immigrant was permitted to leave the colony without a passport.
The Secretary of Colonies requested that the Ordinance be made applicable to all immigrants, not just East Indian immigrants and it was repealed and Ordinance 9 of 1847.
The Legislature passed Ordinance 3 of 1849 which replaced Ordinance 9 of 1847 and added a provision that required that an indentured labourer contract for a minimum term of 5 years with a single employer and that in any case if the contract was signed before the immigrant turned 16 that the contract would determine at the age of 21 with the rate of wages to be determined by the Governor after the first year.
The Secretary of the Colonies disagreed with this provision because it was a return to a system close to slavery. Therefore, it was repealed by Ordinance 5 of 1850.
ORDINANCE 24 of 1854
Ordinance 24 of 1854 consolidated various provisions made over the previous few years. Importantly it required that all indentured labourers entering the country after January 1854 to be indentured for a period of three years.
Previously the terms of contracts were in one year periods. Further immigrants entering after January 1854 had to reside in the colony for 10 years to become eligible for return passage and pay part of their return passage.
Penalty provisions were increased.
Ordinance 7 of 1855 was introduced the following year to encourage indentured labourers who had completed their term of service to re-contract for an additional period (in one year cycles) with an employer. The provision permitted the employer to pay the indentured labourer a “bounty” prior to a contract of indenture being signed for an additional period.
ORDINANCE 5 of 1857
Ordinance 5 of 1857 authorised contracts of service for five years with Immigrants from certain places and to give validity to certain contracts of service.
ORDINANCE 14 of 1859
Ordinance 14 of 1859 was passed to facilitate the Introduction of Indian Immigrants at the Expense of Private Persons which permitted private persons to provide funding to the State to transport immigrants in addition to those paid for by the public purse.
This essentially permitted private persons to recruit labourers from India.
ORDINANCES OF 1870 AND 1875
ORDINANCE 26 OF 1916
Although Ordinance 26 of 1916 was enacted less than a year before the end of recruitment of indentured labourers in India, it preserved the status quo of indentureship even though the legislators were aware that the system would soon come to an end.
Minute No. 4 of 1916 dated 29 March 1916 from the Acting Governor S.W. Knaggs indicated that a telegram had been received from the Secretary of State of the Colonies (Andrew Bonar Law) which stated:
You will receive by next mail a despatch announcing that the Government of India has decided to abolish indentured Emigration. I have urged the maintenance of the existing system for a period which will in no case exceed five years, thus allowing time for organization of a new system of recruiting. Future policy will be considered by inter-departmental Committee in London after preliminary Conference in West Indies.
During the debate of the bill reference was made to a Committee which was appointed in London in 1909 to study emigration to the colonies. As a consequence of the report, Mr. McNeil of the Indian Civil Service and Lalla Chimmanlal (of the United Provinces) were appointed to visit the colonies and make recommendations.
They came to Trinidad in 1913 and discovered a large number of prosecutions were being carried out under the immigration laws. Their recommendations were largely targeted at reducing the penalties under the immigration laws. Many of these recommendations were taken by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ordinance 26 of 1916 covered a wide breadth of law, within its provisions there are laws applicable to: contract, property, housing, rations, wages, health, marriage (and the registration of marriages), divorce, criminal sanctions, court procedure and of course immigration.
During the debate the Protector of Immigrants noted:
The Indian Government with the concurrence of the Secretary of State, has decided on the abolition of the indenture system of immigration.
But the Indian Government not wishing to disturb the present economic conditions in the island, has consented to the present system continuing for some time longer. This will mean that immigrants will be under indenture for at least five years and probably ten years more. Hence this Ordinance. The Indian Government also does not wish to entirely prohibit the importation of labour from India and is willing that we should get immigrants, but under other conditions. They have, therefore, suggested that a scheme should be devised by the governments interested which will be acceptable both to the Indian Government and the people of these islands.
With the passage of Chapter 245, the further step was taken of completely abolishing imprisonment for labour offences under the immigration laws and replacing imprisonment with fines alone.
Further, prior to the law when an indentured labourer was arrested he would be held in prison until the particulars could be determined. This resulted in persons typically being held for a week or more until a Magistrate was available to hear the matter.
This was replaced by a system in which the immigrant would be brought before a Stipendiary Justice of the Peace and then returned to his estate. The period of desertion was also increased from 3 days to 7 days.
At Section 78 of the 1916 Ordinance provision is made to protect children under the age of 12 from indentureship, however as of turning 12 years of age, the child would be deemed to be an indentured labourer for the same employer as his parent or guardian. At section 79 the ordinance indicated that the age of adulthood for indentured labourers was 18 years of age.
Other protections of immigrants found in the ordinance were a maximum 6 day work week of 9 hours per day with a minimum wage of one shilling and one-half penny.
The immigrant was to receive a 30 minute rest period after working for four and one-half hours. To give you some context the penalty for refusing or not being available to work was 10 shillings. Immigrants were given the right of complaint to the Protector of Immigrants if they were dissatisfied with the wages paid by their employer.
If an immigrant was assaulted or ill-treated the penalty was ten pounds and/or two months imprisonment. Withholding wages was punishable by a ten pound fine.
There were two provisions that the Protector of Immigration made note of were:
- Section 199 which gave the indentured immigrant the right to commute his indenture at any time during his period of indenture by giving one month’s notice to his employer and paying a fee of six shillings and eight pence for every month of service and 2 and one-half pence for each additional day of service left in his contract.
- Section 237 required that any complaint to be made against an immigrant must be made within one month of the action that led to the complaint and an employer must receive consent in writing from the Protector of Immigrants or the Inspector of Immigrants. The legislators hoped that this would reduce the number of cases being laid before the courts.
With regard to marriages, (to which I will return) there was a requirement that marriages be registered within one year of the male attaining 16 years of age or the female attaining 12 years of age or within one year of the marriage if one of the parties has attained the previously mentioned ages.
REPEAL OF INDENTURE PROVISIONS
ORDINANCE 9 OF 1940
Indenture remained on the law books in Trinidad and Tobago until 1940 even though the system came to an end through actions outside of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ordinance 9 of 1940 repealed the sections of the law related to indentureship.
The debate held on 7 June 1940 was extremely short and consisted of the Acting Attorney General J.H.M. De Comarmond briefly describing the bill and then the Council voting to pass the Ordinance.
In his contribution, the Acting Attorney General noted
The Ordinance…was passed at the time when indentured labour was still in force. Indentured labour has now ceased to exist for a number of years, and it is considered useless…to retain a large number of sections which are obsolete.
He also indicated that the Indian Training School established in 1916 was never created. In fact many of the lofty aims of the 1916 Ordinance were not achieved.
The reality of Indentureship
I thought it important to go through these ordinances to give you a full picture as to the history of Indian indentureship.
The reality is that Indian Indentured labourers were the new slaves. The history books have called it 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.
In the 19th century Britain shipped three and a half million Indians to far corners of the planet to work on plantations in the British Empire.
Just over 147-thousand 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.
In barracks they lived, then in mud huts.
They themselves were barely educated if at all, but their illiteracy did not prevent them from understanding the importance of their children being educated as a passport to a better life and to participation in the political administration of their adopted land.
In this way they had a vision for the future and took the decisions, made the sacrifices and performed the actions which brought success.
They 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.
A home for the Indians was one of several 10 by 10 single-room shacks, stitched together with a single wall that didn’t even reach the roof.
There was no privacy and if a worker were not on the job before daybreak the overseer would simply walk into the barrack and drag him out of bed.
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 no one could break their spirit and their commitment to their religious and cultural values. They suffered the worst degradation but maintained something precious that we have today. Each of us must be eternally grateful for that.
And Trinidad and Tobago is a richer society because of the Indian experience and the customs and traditions our forefathers protected and kept for us.
There is the myth that Indians were a favoured group who came with nothing and were handed land and money and did nothing for the country. We need to reread our history to learn the truth.
Planters had a legal commitment to pay for a return passage for the Indians at the end of their indentureship. But Indians had become a precious labour force so planters and the local administrators enticed them to stay by giving them land and money equivalent to or less than the cost of repatriation.
Every Indian who owned a piece of land paid for it; there was no gift, no generosity. The truth is the Indians were docile, industrious agrarian workers who were an asset to the colony.
So instead of letting them go home, the planters kept them to continue to work in the fields under horrible conditions for starvation wages even when they free.
Many Indians could neither read nor write the languages in which their contracts were written and many of them were cheated, never getting their return passage home or money due to them. They were left as homeless paupers at the mercy of those who easily exploited them.
During your conference you would no doubt have discussed the many issues that our ancestors confronted but the one for which we should all be proud and grateful is their refusal to let anyone destroy their heritage.
They were ridiculed for their dress and their language. And Christian missionaries and British bureaucrats described their religious practices as “unclean” and “barbaric”.
But Indians knew better and in their small communities away from the brutality of the plantations they worshipped as their ancestors had done and they kept the purity of their religions and cultural practices.
It is a tribute to all of them, and especially the Pandits and Imams, that Islam and Hinduism survived in their most authentic forms so today we can continue to live according to the great tradition of those religions in what is and always was a Western society.
Until 1868 Indian children – people who were our grandparents and great grandparents – were forced to work in the fields alongside their parents because according to the planters Trinidad was an agricultural country and educating a potential labour force was a sure way to destroy the economic base of the colony.
It was a Canadian missionary, Reverend Dr. John Morton, who challenged that with the establishment of the Presbyterian Church and Canadian Mission Indian Schools in Trinidad.
It opened doors through which people gained upward mobility. To get this benefit some Indians had to abandon their ancestral religions and embrace Christianity. It was a difficult choice but it helped many of to move from oblivion to the positions we occupy in our country today.
And the Hindu and Muslim schools that came later provided the education and religious instructions along with the reinforcement of cultural traditions.
For that we must thank our leaders who understood that religious practices alone were not enough to move forward. So they combined education and culture in our denominational schools, which stand out today for their excellence. These schools can attest to the worth of our culture, our values and our religious influence on success, character development and nation building.
Role of east Indian communities
This occasion is a good opportunity to speak to the role the east Indian communities of the region have played, and must play in shaping the region in the next few decades.
At the onset, let me state that descendants of east Indians should not feel that they are doing anything wrong by continuing to preserve their identity. We are as fiercely national as any other citizen of this country. Too often, one discerns a not so subtle pressure for Indo-Trinidadians to shed themselves of their cultural and religious souls to prove that they are loyal to country.
It is well known the compromises our forefathers had to make by way of changing their names, by modifying their food preferences and their mode of dress in order to get jobs and to be accepted in what others determine to be mainstream society.
The days of hiding our roti which we carried to school as lunch in brown paper is virtually no more. Sada roti and talkaree, doubles and phoolouree are as national as bake and saltfish. While cultural prejudice still exists due to fundamentalists among us, our cultural traditions have emerged center stage, though one must admit that there are some who will prefer otherwise.
Even today, there are people who still regard the east Indians and their practices, particularly religious practices, as pagan and should be converted.
Fortunately, in this country, there are those who have fought for an equal place, some at great personal cost, and as a result have caused the emergence of a stronger nation celebrating a diversity which has enriched our way of life.
Whether it was the struggle of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha to get a radio license to have a Hindu radio and TV station…
…a struggle which was finally determined at the Privy Council, or the struggle in 1969 of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Culture to have the freedom to celebrate Divali at the campus of the University of the West Indies, or the right of Attorney at Law Israel Rajah-Khan to wear his Nehru jacket in our local courts, or the struggle to have Indian Arrival Day recognized as a national holiday (thanks to Sat Maharaj, Trevor Sudama, Raymond Pallackdharrysingh, Basdeo Panday and so many others, the need to be strong in defense of our way of life and in ensuring cultural persistence has been, at times, intense.
We have come a long way from the jheels and the barracks.
We have shared the stage as Prime Minister and President, as Chief Justice and trade union leaders and in so many other walks of life.
May I also say that the descendants of the East Indian community has also dealt with its own prejudices with respect to the education of women and the place of women in leadership roles.
May I also add that the presence of Divali Nagar, a project of the National Council for Indian Culture has also been an important symbol and reminder of the value of the east Indian presence as much and as equally important as the presence of the ASJA educational complex in Charlieville, the SDMS headquarters.
While we have high performing schools like Lakshmi Girls College, we must never forget that there was a time when our Hindu schools were called cow sheds, which on reflection may also have been a reflection of how our people were thought of.
Those feelings are not all gone and in the Parliament there are those whose vitriolic language across the floor demonstrate these still held deep seated prejudices.
It is with a deep sense of pride that we can look everywhere in our country and find their alumni in positions of influence and importance in every stratum of our society.
One of them was Noor Mohammed Hassanali who became the Head of State of Trinidad and Tobago in 1987. And in 1995 when we celebrated 150 years of Indian arrival we were all bursting with pride to see Basdeo Panday and Noor Hassanali occupy the two highest posts in the land at the same time – Prime Minister and President respectively.
And when I followed in 2010 it was an even greater moment to see a daughter of people who came here to labour under slave-like conditions rise to be the Prime Minister.
I also experienced that joy in India in 2012 when I had the good fortune to visit my ancestral home in Bihar.
FAST TRACK post the end of indentureship and we witness some milestones along the journey to where we are today.
The SDMS, the largest Hindu organization was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1952 and, the ASJA, the largest Muslim Organization by Act 24 of 1935.
Thereafter several organizations of Hindus and Muslims have been incorporated as Acts of Parliament.
The declaration of Eid ul Fitr and Diwali as public holidays and of Indian Arrival Day also.
The Hindu Marriage Act of 1945 being an Act to make 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.
In particular, I strongly condemn the vicious and untruthful attacks against the Secretary general of the SDMS, Mr. 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.
Amongst the greatest of achievements of descendants of indentures has been the establishment of places of worship – masjids and mandirs – throughout the country and, the establishment of schools.
I applaud you for having this event to raise awareness of and document our history from our own perspectives and also to demonstrate that we share an equal space in this plural society.
I urge you to continue to do this and to write and produce material so that our youth and future generations would understand and appreciate the history of our people and the struggles they faced to lift us to the life of comfort we enjoy today.
We still have a long way to travel in this journey. Our society has still not fully embraced us on our terms. We are still seen in the context of a western society and we must change that through education and eternal vigilance.
One of the characteristics of East Indians today in Trinidad is that they are not engaged in blaming the past.
Instead east Indians have always demonstrated a desire to do better, to elevate themselves, to work hard, to save, to build, to secure their families and to think of the future. In many ways there is evidence to show that east Indians are prepared to lift themselves by themselves.
Because of this attitude they have elevated themselves into all aspects of national life and have also demonstrated that they are loyal nationalists to their country while recognizing their heritage and ancestry. This approach of theirs has added value to the diversity that is Trinidad and Tobago.
Indians have helped shape the free and democratic society we have today. Starting with George Fitzpatrick back in 1909 who led the charge to end Indentureship (YES HE WAS AN INDIAN) and others like Bhadase Maraj, the Sinanans, the Capildeos, Tajmool Hosein, Lionel Frank Seukeran and many others too numerous to mention, our people helped create Trinidad and Tobago.
But unfortunately there is still too much misunderstanding of who we are and why we follow a path that is not necessarily in tune with the ethnocentricity that guides our national conversation and decision-making.
The challenge for our community and religious leaders is to continue speaking out, standing up and fighting to protect that which makes us distinct.
Our ancestors who chose to make Trinidad their new home never had any doubt that this would be their only home. And all of us of Indian ancestry recognise, love and embrace Mother Trinidad and Tobago as we should.
But that does not mean that we must dispense with Grandmother India. That is not the way.
We have remained a distinct community and maintained our institutions in our nation state for that very reason, starting with the extended family where we learned respect for our elders and where grand parents were an essential part of our upbringing and our cultural and religious education, instead of being discarded as useless baggage.
One hundred years ago recruitment of Indentures ended through the efforts of a whole army of people including George Fitzpatrick here at home and nationalists in India like Gopal Krishna Gokhale (GO-CA-LAY) and
Madan Mohan Malaviya (MALA-VEE-YAH).
I pay tribute to the Indian nationalists in India who paved the way to make this happen. That kahani would not be complete without acknowledging the role of Indian nationalists and the great Mahatma Gandhi.
The end of indentureship It made our ancestors legally free but it did not make them equal.
Today, 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.
We have come a long way from the barracks and plantations but the journey remains incomplete.
We are doing a lot within our communities to teach and educate our children about our ancestral culture but we must do more to extend that to the rest of our multi-ethnic society.
The work of media like Jagriti radio and TV is commendable but we need more to create understanding and appreciation.
I urge you to use every method of communication to explain who we are, what we believe, why we do things differently and what we represent so that all of Trinidad and Tobago would embrace us on our terms.
We must never apologise for our values or water them down to suit others.
And when we explain our scriptures we must put them in the context of today’s world to show their utility and value in contemporary society.
Let us be clear that Carnival alone is not the only culture of Trinidad and Tobago; we are a rainbow country of many cultures and each must be fully recognised and accepted, not tolerated.
Hindu and Muslim culture and religious practices are also part of the national mosaic and must have equality if we are to be a true free and democratic state.
Indeed it is the coming together of the people from all the great civilisations of the world here in T & T which makes unique – out of Africa, India, China, Asia Europe and elsewhere, we came.
Indentureship was period in our history marked by atrocities against human beings, as was slavery. However, 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.
And we mark this 100th anniversary of the end of the recruitment of indentures, let us vow to use it to remind ourselves that we must continue to fight against all forms of human exploitation especially in work related environments and as well against racism and discrimination.
May the souls of our ancestors be always blessed and may the sweat, blood and tears of theirs which fell on this land of ours nourish our national mind and find expression in that which always promotes the best human values.
Let us reflect on the words of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and make our minds free and without fear: “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
 It was 17 years after the first indentured labourers were brought to Reunion Island, a former stopover point on the East Indies trade route before the Suez Canal was opened. Reunion Island is located to the east of Madagascar and was controlled by France at the time. The first British controlled colony to receive indentured labourers appears to be Mauritius in November 1834.
 Note Ordinance 18 of 1844 repealed Ordinance 7 of 1844 which was passed for the same purpose but did not receive the approval of the Secretary of the Colonies.
 Other immigrants would be excepted from provisions which only related to indentured labourers