Without labour the sugar estates broke down, and since sugar was Trinidad this meant the end of the country. The planters were desperate. They tried everything, like blacks from the other islands, Portuguese from Madeira, Chinese, even white workers from England end Scotland. Nobody gave satisfaction until the Indians came. Those 219 who arrived on the Fatal Razack on May 30, 1845, the day we now celebrate as Indian Arrival Day, were the first of 143,000 who gave new hope to a dying Trinidad, FROM WHERE? Indians came to work in Trinidad from 1845 to 1917, at an average of about 2,000 a year.
Most came from North India and left from tine port of Calcutta, and about 5,000 came from South India, leaving from the port of Madras. Those from North India came mostly from the plains of the Ganges River, in what is now Uttar Pradesh, with some from Bihar and Bengal. The name Beharry in Trinidad comes from Bihari, meaning a person from Bihar. In 1871, to take a year at random, those who left from Calcutta to work overseas were 41 per cent from central India, Agra and Oudh, 29 per cent came from Bihar and 22 per cent from West Bengal. Those who came to Trinidad would have been in about the same proportion from those parts of India.
An interesting point is that the very first India’s up to the l850’|s many of the Indians who came were “hill coolies” or Dhangars from Chota Nagpur. But they were not satisfactory as agricultural workers and few were chosen later. A very few Christian Indians came from the Malabar Coast. RELIGION, LANGUAGE, CASTE In those parts of North and Central India from which our ancestors came the division of Hindus to Moslems was around 85 per cent to 13 per cent. That is about the division of Hindus and Moslems who came to Trinidad. The main language was a dialect of Hindi called bhojpuri.
This is what people in Trinidad still speak. Bhojpuri is a little different from pure Hindi, with some words and ways of saying things being different. If Trinidad English is a dialect of BBC English then bhojpuri is a dialect of Hindi. Some other languages from India were spoken such as Urdu Tamil (by the Madrasis) and Malayalam. It is not known for sure how much Bengali or Gujarati was spoken, as little or nothing of those languages survives. A few people could read and write in Hindi and Sanskrit. Most of the Indians were men, young men too, since strong labourers were what the planters wanted but some women came too.
At first men outnumbered women by three to one, and later it was two to one. But they never came in equal amounts. This was to cause a lot of changes and problems. Because of the demand for them women became more independent than in India, with their ability to work and support themselves being another reason. In spite of the shortage of Indian women, however, Indian men refused to take Negro women as wives, unlike the Chinese and Portuguese. There was stiff competition for the Indian women, sometimes leading to fights and murder. India at the time had many castes and sub-castes.
The four main castes of brahmins (priests and teachers), kshatriyas (warriors) vaishas (traders and service people), and sudras (farmers and labourers) being divided into 2,378 sub castes. In India in 1901 the brahmins were the biggest caste with 14 million members, chamars coming next with 11 million and rajputs (landowners) with 10 million. As one would expect, successful people in India did not come to Trinidad to work as laborers, so very few brahmins, kshatriyas and vaishas came to Trinidad. Usually those coming toTrinidad were the lower castes.
Chamars (shoe makers and drum beaters) were a big group, as were agricultural castes like ahir (cattle farmers), kahar and kurmi. Over the years people with a wide range of jobs came to Trinidad, and many carried on their trade here. Most Indians at that time had a single name, though some had caste names like Singh or Panday. A second name was taken at the demand of the planters, and most people just added on their father’s name to their own name . WHY DID THEY COME? Naturally there would be many reasons why 143,000 people different people did something. Some Indians were just looking for work, or had fallen on bad times.
There were people who had drifted into Calcutta, Some were fleeing the famines and floods common at the time or were people who had lost their land. Some found the promised wages of 25 cents a day much better than the third of a cent they could get in India. Some were just looking for adventure, others were encouraged by relatives, and some were getting away from family problems or crimes. But very few knew of the actual conditions in Trinidad. They were cheated and fooled about that – some thought they were going to another part of India. After the 1857 Indian Mutiny some were just escaping the persecution of Indians.
Whatever the reasons, they came, and suffered much even on the way. In the beginning it was a long, miserable journey of about 100 days in small, cramped sailing ships. Later, steamships would cut the time by half and reduce the discomfort. The death rate was usually below 5 per cent but could climb high in some cases. On the first ship the Fatel Razack five out of the 225 passengers died but on a later occasion 124 passengers out of 323 on the Salsette (bound for Trinidad) died on the way. To compare, note that the death rate for British criminals being dumped in Australia was under one per cent.
Shipwreck, fires, pirates, disease, poor food, cold and heat could all affect the trip. On one occasion a shipload of Indians was abandoned at sea by the English crew after the ship caught fire- they took the lifeboats leaving the Indians to burn or drown. But there was one result of the trip – a deep bond developed between those who travelled together. They called themselves jahagi bahin or jahagi bhai (ship sister or ship brother) and often remained friends for life in Trinidad. The Fatel Razack landed directly in Port of Spain harbor, but later ships would land first in one of the islands of the Bocas.
Indians spent a few days there trying to get used to the climate (and usually a few died here too). In one year, 1862, a full 9 per cent of the new arrivals died here. Those who lived would be parcelled out to the estates to begin what was later called of a new system of slavery LIVING CONDITIONS Life on the estates was hard and miserable. They lived in the old slave barracks, lived in the old slave barracks, the “nigger yards”, in little rooms with no privacy, no real cooking facilities. They had to use the bush for latrines. Water supplies were often polluted, nd the food was dull and below standard. Work started at the break of dawn and went on for 9 hours, six days a week. In the crop they could work up to 15 hours a day. After this they were often cheated of the 25 cents a day by being overcharged for food, or being regularly fined for minor offences. Sometimes the money was just not paid, and they had nobody to complain to. On the estate the white planter was like a god. Diseases were everywhere, to an extent we cannot imagine now. There was yellow fiver, malaria, dysentery, cholera, hookworm, to name a few.
Chiggers, not known in Indian plagued the barefoot Indians, as did other insect pests. There were hospitals but very bad ones, and still Indians usually went to hospital on average twice a year. In 1895 there were 10,770 Indians working on estates, but there were 23,688 admissions to hospitals. In Usine Ste. Madeleine (estate) from 1892-5 sickness caused workers to work only 53 per cent of the possible work hours. A feature of the estate was a jail, for punishing Indians. They could be jailed for leaving the estate, refusing to start or finish work, insolence, vagrancy and many more, or jailed AND fined.
Overseers could set the task so hard that people could not finish it in time – and then they could fine the Indians for failing to finish the job. An Indian who failed to finish his task got nothing at all. Next day he had to start new again on another task. Heavy fines were a popular way for planters to avoid paying wages to the Indian workers, as was overcharging for food sold to them. When Indians became really sick, planters would often turn them out to starve. Their bodies or skeletons would be found by the sides of the roads and the paths. If these people tried to go into the towns to beg they were beaten and chased out.
Christian charity was not for “heathen” coolies. Still, these coolies saved sugar. Sugar exports, which had fallen to 10,399 tons in 1833, went up to 53,847 tons in 1896. Later, Indians would be sent to the cocoa, coffee, and coconut plantations, and they helped save those crops too. BUILDING THE SOCIETY Indians were entitled to a free return passage back to India after five years service, but only one in six took it . Many decided to settle in Trinidad, especially after 1869 when the passage could be exchanged for a land grant. But few got the grant of land.
Many surviving indentured servants said they never received any land. They had to save money and buy their own land . From very early they started growing cane for themselves and selling to the estates, and planting food crops. Indians refused to live in towns. They went out and opened up the country. Hundreds of villages and towns like Curepe, Chaguanas, Princes Town, Rio Claro, and Penal were started by Indians with no outside help. Many returned to old caste jobs like kumhar (potter), nau (barber), boatman, bania (grocer), mallah (fisherman), sonar (goldsmith), cart men, and farming.
Those Indians were a proud people. From society they got only scorn and hostility. The whites and blacks laughed at their clothes, religion, language, customs, names, even their food. But Indians did not change to please other people. They passed on their religion, language and culture, their identity to their children under great pressure. They kept their roots, their culture, their pride. That is their greatest gift to us the present generation of Indians. We must never let their sacrifices be in vain and abandon this Indian heritage. After a time bad reports caused an outcry in India.
In 1917 a motion by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya to end indentured Indian labour was passed in the Indian parliament. The system was over but Indians had found a new home in Trinidad. It is their coming we mark on Indian Arrival Day, the birthday of all Indians in Trinidad. Prepared by Ramdath Jagessar, Secretary, Indian Arrival Day Committee Indians were brought to the colony of British Guiana for one simple reason: experimentation demonstrated that they were the only people who could have withstood the rigors of plantation work and who could have provided an adequate, reliable and pliable labor supply. Was the venture a successful one?
By the time of Emancipation in August 1838, the sugar industry stood on the verge of collapse. It was troubled by falling prices, a credit crunch, rising costs of production, a in series of commercial crisis in Britain during 1847-48, which constrained the supply of working capital, and the repeal of the Navigation Acts in 1849, which provided British colonies with a protected market for their produce, including sugar. None of these by themselves threatened the viability, and thus survivalability, of the sugar industry. That threat came from the dire (but contrived) shortage of labor. The conundrum was solved by Indian immigration.
With such a durable solution in place, sugar barons began a process of consolidation and modernization of factories to improve efficiency and push down costs. Prosperity retuned to the sugar industry in 1854 and lasted until 1884, brought to an end by stiff competition from (i) rival, non-British colonies/countries, such as Cuba, which, in addition to using slave labor, were geographically larger, more fertile and employed “infinitely more advanced technology” (Williams, 1993:151), and (ii) countries, such as Germany, which produced beet by employing more advanced science and technology in both field and factory.
The competition of Cuban cane and German beet, in combination with the incredibly selfish policy of the British Government, pushed the West Indies to the brink of collapse in 1897. British Guiana economy was essentially a sugar enclave. Destruction of the industry would have been equivalent to destruction of the economy, which would have brought untold misery to Africans. Fortunately, this did not happen and sugar continues to exact a stranglehold on the economy to this day.
Ironically, Indians gave a new lease on life to an industry in the 19th century that was used to suppress and exploit them in the 20th. Someone said that Indians were too successful for their own good. The attempt to diversify the economy was not an official one; Indians themselves undertook it. For example, the rice industry – one of the three pillars of the Guyanese economy – owes its existence and viability to the efforts of Indians. Indians are also responsible for the coconut industry, the cattle industry and the private sector, especially manufacturing sub-sector.
It was the achievements of Indians, especially in the economic field, that prompted Barbadian novelist George Lamming to observe: ““Those Indian hands—whether in British Guiana or Trinidad—have fed all of us. They are, perhaps, our only jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only with a high sense of communal responsibility can. ” If all Indians in Guyana were to disappear suddenly, starvation, chaos and untold poverty would descend upon the land.
Aside from their economic contribution, Indians were among the first Guyanese scholars; they have contributed as medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, politicians, engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Some of Guyana’s most famous cricketers were (and still are) Indians. In the field of culture, the presence of Indians is ubiquitous – music, architecture, cuisine, clothing, language and landscape. Modern Guyana, its economy and society, owe much to “those Indian hands” and minds.