Beyond arrival to engaged citizenship
As we once again commemorate Indian Arrival Day, and as we note the contribution of the East Indian population to national development it is imperative that we remember the contribution of our ancestors to our success. We must take a moment to appreciate the economic, social and spiritual foundations they laid down with courage and determination so that the future they envisaged would have become a reality. They sacrificed, they saved and they built, but above all they educated their children out of poverty and into a life of boundless opportunities.
When we consider that it was only in the fifties that a so-called formal system of education was introduced within the East Indian communities by leaders of the East Indian population in what was described as “cow sheds”, it is remarkable the nature and extent of the strides which have been made by East Indians as a result of a proper education. Yes, their presence helped to grow the economy and some say even save it from ruin. However, in educating their children and grandchildren, they contributed not just to their own prosperity but to the prosperity of the nation as a whole. The vision of our ancestors to empower their offspring with knowledge and skills to compete successfully not just locally but globally is their major achievement.
If I were to identify the most significant achievement of people of East Indian descent, I would say that it is in the education of their generations.
East Indians came to appreciate more than anything else the importance of a well-educated child and would have been emboldened by the experience of indentureship and the difficulties they had seen in climbing the social and economic ladder, of liberating themselves from poverty without being educated.
While political power was of great concern to them, they recognised that a formidable space in the capacity of the nation to function and to prosper was through knowledge-empowered sons and daughters. They may not have liberated themselves physically from the hard work in the fields but they liberated their minds and embraced new possibilities so that so-called uneducated, unlettered and “illiterate coolie parents” produced doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, politicians too, and a range of professionals who have contributed and continue to do so to our national well-being.
While East Indians are to be found in all areas of national life and while they have shared the political stage at the highest levels, I believe that it is time to place more emphasis on deepening the commitment to the citizenship. This is not to suggest that East Indians are being discriminated against as citizens or that they do not consider themselves citizens. My point is a bit more fundamental. We need overall to expand our understanding of citizenship and to act from that understanding. T&T is in dire need of “citizens”. It is time for us to begin a national discussion on what it means to be a citizen.
A true commitment to citizenship would require a fundamental shift in how we see our personal and collective relationship to our nation, it would necessitate a fundamental shift in how much we are prepared to become active contributors to nation building and national development, a fundamental shift in how much we are prepared to sacrifice for the benefit of the nation as a whole, a shift in levels of respect and integrity, and perhaps above all, a fundamental shift in our attitude to service. This nation is in dire need of servants and not just leaders. This nation is in dire need of a reformation of attitudes, moving away from a kind of destructive competitiveness to a spirit of cooperation and active sharing of ideas resources and knowledge, of giving and creating rather than simply taking and consuming, of adding value by our presence rather than remaining State dependants, of developing a spirit of entrepreneurship not unlike that of our ancestors.
After 174 years the discussion must not be about arrival but about contribution and citizenship, not in terms of legal definitions of citizenship but in terms of psychology and emotions. The East Indians must become even more proactive as citizens. We must as citizens assume responsibility and intervene in the social chaos that threatens to overpower the forces of law and order and of decency and peace. We are a people (East Indians and non-East Indians) renowned for talking, but woefully short on action that drives change. The East Indian community must not be passive onlookers to what is happening in T&T. They must become vocal and provide leadership and vision for a better society and future.
The boat arrived a long time ago. It also departed a long time ago. Let us preserve the elements of the tradition and culture which will make us a more productive and prosperous nation but one that balances the secular with the spiritual, for it was the spiritual which came as part of the “jahaji bundle” which inspired hope and kept alive the vision of our ancestors for a better life for all citizens of T&T
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