Diaspora determined to keep Indian culture, traditions alive in Trinidad

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Port of Spain, Nov.27 (ANI): Interacting with the Indian Diaspora on the sidelines of the 21st Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here, the feeling that comes out is that they extremely proud and have fond memories of India, its culture and traditions, despite years and decades of living away from their motherland.

This feeling came out strongly during the reception hosted by the Indian High Commission for Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the eve of the CHOGM Summit.

Devendra Duggal, President of the Gurudwara Sahib in Trinidad and Tobago and former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Trinidad and Tobago, said there were just ten Sikh families in Port of Spain.

He said there was just one Gurudwara in the Tunapuna area, a two storied air-conditioned building.

"There is no granthi, but they follow all customs and traditions. The gurdwara has been there for 80 years," Duggal said, adding that the Prime Minister, his wife and daughter are planning to visit there today.

Winston Dookeran, a political leader and an economist, is a third generation Trinidadian.

He said he has a sense of pride that Dr. Manmohan Singh was here in Port of Spain.

"Indians may have lost touch with the language, but not with the culture and traditions," Dookeran said.

His wife Shirley Dookeran said that the Indian Diaspora has preserved Indian culture for several generations.

Their children have gone abroad, but they have the wealth of both traditions Indian and Trinidadian, she added.

Earlier, expressing his delight at attending a reception for the community hosted by High Commissioner Malay Mishra, Dr. Singh said he was happy to be here to participate in the CHOGM.

He said that whenever he meets people of Indian origin around the world, he celebrated not only India's pluralism, but also its great civilisational inheritance.

"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," adding 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.

Stating that India was on the move and reaching out to the world with confidence and in a spirit of live and let live, Dr. Singh said: "You (NRIs and PIOs) are, for millions of Indians, the most visible symbol of our own globalisation."

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.

Indians, he said, have travelled the world as both traders and teachers, and at one time in history, were the envy of the world. But, in the last twenty to thirty years, Indians have lost ground both because we failed to incentivise our institutions to become global players and because foreign universities became more aggressive in marketing.

Trinidad and Tobago is little India in the Caribbean, with around 41 percent of its population of ethnic Indian origin, and an equal percentage of African origin.

They are descendants of immigrants from India who went there when it was a British colony to work in the plantations there after the abolition of African slavery.

Starting from 1845, around 147,600 Indians went to Trinidad over a 70-year period traveling by boats for 36,000 kilometers,. Many died on the way.

Most of them went from the present Uttar Pradesh and Bihar States on a 10-year contract but very few could return. What is remarkable is that, unlike other countries like Guyana, ethnic Indians in Trinidad held onto their culture, establishing temples, masjids and a gurudwara, patterned on their Indian replicas.

When they left the shores of India, some carried with them copies of the Tulsidas Ramayana, the Hanuman Chalisa, and the Bhagwad Gita. The Muslims had with them copies of the Quoran in Urdu. These helped them to hold on to their religion. Hinduism for most of the Trinidadians today is derived from the Tulsidas Ramayana.

The island had around 100 families of non-resident Indians, mostly professionals - doctors, engineers and the like. Ispat, owned by Laxmi Mittal, who is now one of the richest persons across the globe, employed many of them. Laxmi Mittal took over an ailing steel plant around 1990 and has now developed a non-oil industrial complex. Later the Essar group won a contract to build a 1.2 billion steel plant.

Indian goods are popular, but the cost is prohibitive. The complaint, often heard, was that the Government of India did not have any facility to transport them to the Caribbean region. The university in the island is associated with Indian counterparts like Manipal and promotes specialized courses. The people of Trinidad are also keen to come to India for higher studies-including study of religion, to become 'qualified' teachers in religious institutions in the island territory.

Ethnic Indians have earned a name for themselves, the foremost being V.S. Naipaul. Today, many Trinidadians have become doctors and engineers and occupy important positions in the island territory and in the United States and Canada. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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