The Indo-Trinidadian Community Welcomes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago for the 21st Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) has prompted numerous articles about the survival of Indian culture and traditions in the diaspora. The prime minister was welcomed at a reception in his honor hosted by High Commissioner Malay Mishra and other representatives of the Indian community. Devendra Duggal, President of the Gurudwara Sahib in Trinidad and Tobago and former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Winston Dookeran, a political leader and an economist, and Dr. Suruj Rambachan, author of seven books on the Ramayana, among others, expressed their pride at receiving his visit and spoke about the trajectory and survival of Indian culture in the land that has been called “Little India.”

Starting from 1845, around 147,600 Indians went to Trinidad over a 70-year period. Most of them went from the present Uttar Pradesh and Bihar States on a 10-year contract but very few could return. According to Dr. Rambachan, there are about 300 temples and 50 mosques dotting the island nation. He says that although some may have forgotten the language, Indian culture has survived: “We follow the religion, the rituals have been retained though there have been changes in the presentation.” Conversation also turned to politics and economic opportunities. “Although Indians constitute the majority 47 per cent of the population, the community has not been able to assert itself politically” and sometimes feels marginalized in matters of employment. However, Indians are still dominant in the medical, legal, and engineering fields. As Rambachan states, since the days when their forefathers went to work in the sugar plantations after the abolition of African slavery, Indians have contributed tremendously to the development and progress of the island. He also points out the importance of cricketers like Rampaul, Ramadin, and Adrianne Bharat, who have played for the West Indies, and the legendary Brian Lara, who hails from Trinidad and Tobago.

Addressing the Indian community, Prime Minister Singh stated, “Today’s India is on the move, just as the people of Indian origin are on the move. India is reaching out to the world with confidence. You (NRIs and PIOs) are, for millions of Indians, the most visible symbol of our globalization.” “If the 21st century is being projected as the ‘Knowledge Century,’” Dr. Singh said, “India today is viewed as a ‘Knowledge Economy’ because of the reputation that the people of Indian origin worldwide have earned through their creativity and diligence.”

He added that “Indianness is like a large and all-encompassing banyan tree. It offers shade to everyone who comes in search of it. It has deep roots at home and branches that in turn go to great distances and strike roots there,” underlining that the Indian community in Trinidad and Tobago has “demonstrated the unique liberalism and pluralism of Indian civilization” by successfully blending Indian culture and values with the local cultural and social environment.

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