Origin of Indian Arrival Day
“Indian Arrival Day was first celebrated in Skinner Park, San Fernando, as the East Indian Centenary on May 30, 1945 which marked the hundredth anniversary of the coming of Indians to Trinidad. The Acting Governor representing the Government of the United Kingdom attended indicating the significance of the observance. Other local dignitaries who addressed the large crowd included Timothy Roodal, George Fitzpatrick, Adrian Cola Rienzi, and Murli J. Kirpalani. Greetings were also read from Mahatma Gandhi, Lord Wavell, and Colonel Stanley, the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
After the 1945 Centenary extravaganza, however, the celebration of the anniversary of May 30 gradually declined. By the 1950s, the East Indians who followed the Fatel Razack as immigrants to Trinidad were brought over not as free immigrants and farmers, but as “coolies“. By the early seventies only the Hindu group the Divine Life Society (led by Bramchari Hari Ram who became Swami satchitananda) of Chaguanas was staging an annual procession and ceremony under the name Indian Emigration Day.
Indian Emigration Day, as it was called then, had been celebrated by various organizations after 1945 with limited success. By 1973 the latest was organized by the Divine Life Society, which had organized small annual processions in Chaguanas for Indian Emigration Day. By the late seventies even that small remembrance was dwindling.
In 1976 the Indian Revival and Reform Association (IRRA) was formed. They were concerned about racism against Indians and were interested in developing ideas, writing pamphlets to bring about an Indian revival and renewed pride in Indian heritage and Indian culture. The IRRA wanted to preserve the good things about Indian heritage and reform the ones that were no longer useful or relevant. The anniversary of the coming of Indians to Trinidad was one of the good things that came to the IRRA notice.
In 1977 IRRA formed committee was established to revive the memory of the coming of Indians to Trinidad on May 30, 1845 – Indian Emigration Day. The initial historic Committee comprised Anand Rameshwar Singh, Khalique Khan, Ramdath Jagessar, Rajiv Sieunarine, Azamudeen “Danny” Jang, Michael Sankar and Rajesh Harricharan. The following year Rajnie Ramlakhan, Anand Maharaj and Ashok Gobin joined in the group’s celebration.
The first active step was taken in early 1978, when they produced and distributed an onepage pamphlet with the title “Indian Emigration Day May 30, 1978”. It gave a brief account of the coming of Indians in 1845, and the importance of the event. The names of the first pioneers on the Fath-al Razack were listed, and there was a short description of the achievements of Indians in Trinidad since 1845. The Trinidad Express carried a press release, and the Trinidad Guardian printed an article by Kusha Haracksingh on the voyage of the Fath-al Razack. Mastana Bahar dedicated a show to Indian Emigration Day. San Fernando Secondary School organized a celebration.
A major turning point occurred in 1979 when the group expanded by approaching the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. The SDMS Secretary General Satnarayan Maharaj receptive to the idea, agreed to organize a major celebration at Lakshmi Girls College on May 27, 1979. IRRA and the SDMS in discussions agreed that Indians were no longer emigrants to Trinidad, but citizens who had arrived 134 years before. Coming out of this discussion the name was then changed to Indian Arrival Day.
The 1979 celebration was a great success and included the presence of some of the original immigrants born in India. Government ministers Sham and Kamal Mohammed were there, as was the Indian High Commissioner and Presbyterian Church moderator Idris Hamid. The event was widely covered by the local media and immediately knew about the event. In fact it took just two years and an idea to revive the memory of the Arrival of Indians in Trinidad to awaken the entire Indian community in Trinidad.
Subsequent years the Hindu Seva Sangh and other smaller groups approached the IRRA for guidance in developing in various communities throughout Trinidad. By 1980 Indian Arrival Day celebrations were held at the Spring Village, Cedros, Penal, San Juan, Chaguanas, and many other parts of the country. The National Joint Action Committee, the Catholic Church, libraries, mosques, mandirs and schools at this point joined in the observances. In a remarkably short time, Indian Arrival Day was sweeping through the country. By 1985 there were more than 10 significant Indian Arrival Day celebrations taking place. The Hindu community took the lead in the development of the celebrations.
In 1991 Members of Parliament Trevor Sudama and Raymond Pallackdarrysingh first introduced to the House of Representatives the concept that Indian Arrival Day should be made a national public holiday. This call to make Indian Arrival Day a public holiday continued to be unheeded until 1995 Prime Minister Patrick Manning declared that the 150th Anniversary would be a public holiday called Indian Arrival Day, but thereafter the holiday will be called Arrival Day. The 1995 celebrations surpassed the 1945 celebrations with the Maha Sabha having major celebrations in Trinidad.
In 1995 Prime Minister Basdeo Panday declared that 30 May would be known as Indian Arrival Day and not Arrival Day. Ironically, in the birthplace of Indian Arrival Day – Trinidad – there is a lobby to remove the word ‘Indian’ from the name. In the 1990s the Maha Sabha expanded the Indian Arrival Day celebrations and dubbed May as “Indian Heritage Month” which ends on Indian Arrival Day.”