*** Where ARE you ... Who ARE you ***
Funny thing. While there's no doubt in my mind that I was a Trinidadian bastard, most others around my workplace thought of me as an "outsider". To some you had to be a slave or the descendant of a slave, a "massa" or "massa's" descendant or a bastard. It all meant that the indentured Indians and their descendants had "no claim" to this 'Rainbow' country.
Did these indentured Indians who could not read or write English make any contribution, at all, to the development of Trinidad and the enjoyment of the peoples of Trinidad? Frankly, it seems not ... fact is, from day one they were "cowed" under the "sardars" dominance of their lives. The irony of the situation was that "they came to do what those who came before them could not do, but this they had to do, while those who came before them served over them as sardars and formen."
And when it became obvious that these "stubborn coolies" who chanted chowpies and dohas from the Ramayan and the Hanuman Chalisa, would not "back back" under the sternest pressures from the blazing sun above and their sardars on horseback; their womenfolk were forced to bear the brunt of plain and simple, harrassment.
Even before the five year indentureship was over for several of them, the numbers had already swollen ... several of them could not even identify their father while some others were not wholly acceptable in any of the existing ethnic groupings.
And then, there were the open attacks:
And it was, perhaps, because of this perception that "Indians" were described as "transascients", that in the bid by the British to grant "adult franchise" to the people of Trinidad and Tobago in the mid 1940's, a serious attempt ... subsequently described as an oversight ... was made to exclude over 78% of the adult Indians from the "voters" list.
What was proposed as adult franchise was that "only those who could read and write" English would be allowed to vote. For the Indians, including owners of businesses and properties and who could even, fluently read and write Urdu. Arabic, Hindi or Sanskrit would have been excluded, even though that time, property owners enjoyed the right to nominate and vote for representatives on various local boards.
Indians who had heretofore remained dormant and docile about such issues, rose against the proposal. With meetings throughout the land, they cried "foul" until the clause was amended to include all people.
The voter must "mark an X " against the candidates name "with the pencil" provided in the voting booth. Yes, the people with the right to cast a vote were getting the opportunity to have a say in the governing of this, their own country.
More than ever before the role of the individual became more clear .. they NOW enjoyed the right to cast a vote .. and the need for widespread education or at least to write an "X" clearly became urgent. Hundreds of young folks, as volunteers, went out evening and weekends, training the aged and not so aged one to write an "X".
in this land I was born.
To THIS land I belong.
Whatever NAME I'm called,
cannot change the FACT
HERE I belong.
With the coming of adult franchise and the establishment of our own Legislative Council with elected representatives, non-Christians made a major lead up the social ladder:
Before the end of the forty's, legislation was approved to recognise as lawful, marriages performed by non-Christian priests, provided that the priests (Imams, Pandits etc.) had applied for, through their respective denominations, and granted by the Governor, appropriate licence to perform and/or register such marriages.
This recognition regularised a number of troublesome issues and family disputes, since it went one step further: Registration was retro-active i.e. Marriages prior to the enactment of legislation, could also be registered under the respective denomination and all "heretofore bastard" children, automatically became legitimate.
To this day, a near concept of the Panchayat system is seen in Village and Community Councils, but the "spirit" that lent honor and respect to it, is by now "dead". The main motivation of the village council today is to compete annually for the Prime Minister's Trophy, mostly in folk singing and dancing, launched during the late Dr. Eric Williams' era. As an adjunct to this are a few Community Centers were classes in handicraft and domestic sciences are held. In the majority of councils, not more than a sprinkling of the villagers participate and in most cases, most villagers find themselves excluded while a selected few dominate the Council's activities.
The panchayat system as existed in Trinidad until a decade or two ago, had instilled within its individual community the "one for all, all for one" concept that at times made some areas to be feared. It formed the "much encouraged vigilantes" of today; settled and or recommended to the Courts of the day, reslutions for the settlement of civil as well as criminal and/or family disputes; encouraged and provided group activities including entertainment and most of all, joined forces to execute tasks .. be it building a house or cultivation in the fields .. for each other, whenever the occasion arose.
It happened at Gasparillo.