Indian Council of World Affairs
Home | Sitemap | Contact Us
 
home about us aims Research events publications library Photo gallery Partners Contact Us
 
>> Indian Diaspora in Latin America & Caribbean

INDIAN DIASPORA CONFERENCE IN ST. VINCENT AND CARIBBEAN A GRAND SUCCESS!

The Indian Diaspora Conference in the Caribbean region, with the theme "The Indian Diaspora in St. Vincent and the Wider Caribbean", held in St. Vincent on the weekend of June 1 - June 3 was a grand success with participants and delegates from 14 countries. It coincided with the June 1 Indian Arrival Day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). The event was organized by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Chapter of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin International (GOPIO SVG) in collaboration with the SVG Indian Heritage Foundation, and support from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The primary organizers, Dr Arnold Thomas - GOPIO Regional Coordinator, Caribbean and Dr Kumar Mahabir - Co-Chair, GOPIO Academic Council & Professor at University of Trinidad & Tobago, are to be commended for their efforts in making the conference a huge success.

Photo above: Conference organizers with St. Vincent President Dr. Ralph Gonsalves at the inaugural ceremony, From (l-r): Dr Arnold Thomas, GOPIO Regional Coordinator, Caribbean (St Vincent); Mansraj Ramphal (Univ of TnT); Prime Minister of St Vincent, Dr Ralph Gonsalves; Fredderick Stephenson, Minister of National Mobilisation; Ena Maraj, Pres GOPIO Int'l Trinidad & Tobago Chapter; Ashook Ramsaran, President GOPIO Int'l (USA); Elmore Gymes, SVG Indian Heritage Foundation; Elvis Charles, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Culture; Lucienne Scarabany, Pres GOPIO Martinique.

The 3-day event included the Indian Arrival Day Commemoration and arrival re-enactment at the Argyle beach with participation by SVG Indian Heritage Foundation, GOPIO's SVG Chapter, Indian High Commissioner K J Sodhi, visiting delegates and PIOs from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This was followed by a well attended inaugural event on the evening of June 1st. with SVG Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, as the chief guest. There were cultural performances by local SVG artistes and visiting troupe from Trinidad and Tobago. June 2nd was a full day of Indian Diaspora conference including presentations by SVG scholars and experts on regional and international Diaspora history, experiences and issues. June 3rd, allocated for an all-day island guided tour for visiting delegates turned out to be a rewarding experience for everyone. Prime Minister Gonsalves also visited the delegation and participated in some of the events on that day.

Details of each day's festivities of this year's event are highlighted below.

June 1: Indian Arrival Day Commemoration and Conference Inaugural

The Inaugural Ceremony was held at Peace Memorial Hall on Friday, June 1 starting at 7:00pm with St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Prime Minister Hon Dr Ralph Gonsalves as the chief guest. Junior Bacchus and Dr. St. Clair Thomas were masters of ceremonies. Following an opening prayer by Glenda Joyette, there was a beautiful steel pan rendition of SVG National Anthem. Hansby Lewis - President of SVG Indian Heritage Foundation made the welcome remarks, followed by greetings by GOPIO International President Ashook Ramsaran who expressed "thanks to the Hon. Prime Minister and the people of SVG for being so supportive of GOPIO's efforts in SVG since we initiated the GOPIO chapter in 2007". Vibert Bailey - President of GOPIO SVG followed with remarks on GOPIO SVG and progress since the chapter was formally initiated. Dr Arnold Thomas - GOPIO Regional Coordinator Caribbean, gave an overview of the upcoming conference and was pleased to "welcome all attendees and delegates from SVG and abroad". Lucienne Sacarabany - President of GOPIO Martinique, brought greetings from the PIOs of the French speaking Caribbean.

Photo below left: Inaugural reception, (l-r): H. H Wicramsinghe (Sri Lanka), Dr Arnold Thomas (St Vincent), PM Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Ramnarine Bissoon (Trinidad & Tobago), Deo Gosine (Trinidad-USA); GOPIO Matinique delegation with President Ashook Ramsaran

Photo above: GOPIO Caribbean Officials (l-r): Vibert Bailey, Pres GOPIO St Vincent; Dr Arnold Thomas, GOPIO Regional Coordinator, Caribbean (St Vincent); Lucienne Scarabany, Pres GOPIO Martinique; Ashook Ramsaran, President GOPIO Int'l (USA); Ena Maraj, Pres GOPIO Int'l Trinidad & Tobago Chapter; Dr Kumar Mahabir, Co-Chair, GOPIO Academic Council (Trinidad & Tobago); Deo Gosine, Co-Chair, GOPIO Business Council (USA- Trinidad & Tobago); Dr Maurits Hassankhan, Chair of GOPIO Cultural Council (Suriname).

There were greetings from individuals and organizations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines: People of African descent; the Garifuna Heritage Organization; Mr. Frederick Stephenson - MP for South Windward Constituency & Ministry of National Mobilization; Hon. K J S Sodhi - Ambassador of India to Suriname and SVG, remarked how "GOPIO and this upcoming conference have put SVG on the map, and to become known to the Indian Diaspora". This was followed by cultural performances by local SVG artistes and visiting troupe from Trinidad and Tobago: singer Aykeel Ali and dancer Shenade Ganase; two SVG children gave a piano recital.

Dr. St. Clair Thomas - Chief Medical Officer of SVG, introduced the Prime Minister Gonsalves who thanked "GOPIO for bringing awareness to the Indians in St Vincent and the Grenadines" and being "proud to host this conference organized by two young organizations" (GOPIO SVG chapter and SVG Indian Heritage Foundation). He re-iterated, "SVG holds dearly its rich history of diversity" and "there is a special place for the Indian community as a vital part of SVG with shared values, even with differences due to heritage and origin".

The recently published GOPIO Book was presented by Ashook Ramsaran to PM Dr, Gonsalves who plans "to read and add to his library and knowledge of the Indian Diaspora". The Inaugural Ceremony concluded with thanks by Dr. Kumar Mahabir - Co-Chair, GOPIO Academic Council & Assistant Professor at University of Trinidad & Tobago.

June 2: Indian Diaspora Conference

The Conference Program held at Murray Heights Hotel, McKie's Hill, Kingstown started with registration at 8:30am and concluding at 5:30pm. The full day conference was followed documentary presentation on films and the Indian Diaspora in the Caribbean.

The specific conference sessions included:

Session I (9:00am - 10:00am: Diaspora and Arrival

Moderated by Dr Victor Ramraj (University of Calgary, Canada) with an "Overview of Indian Indentureship in St. Vincent" by Dr Arnold Thomas. Other speakers included: Mansraj Ramphal (University of Trinidad and Tobago, UTT) on Indian Arrivals in St. Vincent and Trinidad during the Indentureship Period: Names, Numbers, Death, Disease, Ships and Shared Experiences; Dr Kumar Mahabir (University of Trinidad and Tobago, UTT) on Narratives of Recent Vincentian Indian Migrants in Trinidad.

Session II (10:30am - 11:30am): Diaspora: Adapting and Transforming

Moderated by Dr Maurits Hassankhan (University of Suriname). Speakers included: Professor Lisa Lopez (University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras) on A Look into the Indentured System of Indian Workers in St. Vincent, Trinidad and Guyana; Jai Sears (Grenada Indian Cultural Organization, Grenada) on The Contribution of Indians to the Economy and Polity of St. Vincent and the Wider Caribbean.

Session III (12:30pm - 1:30pm): Celebration and Speculation

Speakers included: Prof Lindsey Harlan (Connecticut College, USA) on Indian Arrival in St. Vincent and Trinidad: Fluid Discourses in the Celebration of a National Holiday; John Mair (London Metropolitan University, UK ) on Cricket in the Indo-Caribbean Imagination: The View from Two Sides of the Wicket; Dr Vijay Ramraj (University of West Indies, TnT) on Nebulous and Intangible but Real: Speculations about the Meaning of Pt. Samsundar Parasram's 'punditaye' experiences in St Vincent.

Session IV (2:30pm - 3:30pm): Diaspora, Religion and Culture

Moderated by Dr St Clair Thomas (Chief Medical Officer of SVG). Speakers included: Sylvia Gilharry Perez (Corozal Organization of East Indian Cultural Heritage, COEICH & GOPIO Belize) onThe History of East Indian Seventh Day Adventists in Belize (with reference to St. Vincent); Dr Victor Ramraj (University of Calgary, Canada) on Early Diaspora Indian Pragmatic Religious Conversion.

Session V (4:00pm - 4:30pm): Diaspora, Religion and Culture (Cont'd)

Speaker: Primnath Gooptar (University of Trinidad and Tobago, UTT) on Indian Movies as a Medium for Continuity of Indian Culture in the Caribbean.

Session VI (5:00pm - 5:30pm): Panel Presentation, Discussion & Wrap-up

Moderated by Ashook Ramsaran (President, GOPIO International - USA). Panelists: Dr Gideon Lewis (SVG Indian Heritage Foundation); Jai Sears (Grenada Indian Cultural Organization, Grenada); Vibert Lewis (President, GOPIO of SVG chapter).

Session VII (6:00pm - 8:00pm): Film Screening

Caribbean Interpretations of Bollywood Films (dir: Primnath Goptar); The Madonna Murti (dir: Sharon Syriac); Hosay Cedros (dir: Ann Marie Samsoondar).

June 3: Island Tour

On Sunday June 3, there was an all-day island guided tour from 10:00am to 8:00pm that included visits to various natural heritage and historical sites such as monuments, museums, beaches, events with ceremonies, picnic and activities. Prime Minister Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves visited with the delegates and attendees, and shared in a portion of the events of the day. It was a fun filled day and gave the visiting delegates a first-hand view of major points of interest, including the areas that are considered PIO communities.

The next Diaspora Conference - Caribbean is tentatively scheduled to be held at Paramaribo, Suriname in June 201

INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY CELEBRATED BY INDO-CARIBBEANS
Indians, who migrated to the Caribbean countries, since the 19th century, celebrated Arrival Day in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and other island nations. The Diaspora who have further migrated to the US and Canada also celebrates the event. Below, we provide celebrations in difference countries.

INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY COMMEMORATION IN TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

The 167th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad & Tobago was commemorated in highly visible and prominent ways on May 30, 2012 with commemoration events at Diwali Nagar and the Mere Desh at the Chaguanas Mid-Centre Mall, among others. Notable civic, cultural organizations and groups, officials, families and individuals participated in these events which included recitals of the Jahaji journey and experience of indentured laborers in Trinidad & Tobago, songs, dances and speeches.

Five people received awards at the annual Mere DeshIndian Arrival Day celebrations for their contributions to the promotion of Indian culture, songs and music in Trinidad & Tobago. Coordinator of the Mere Desh committee, Ajeet Praimsingh, said that "the awards reflect the deep appreciation and worthiness of the works of these people, namely Auntie Girlie, Errol Singh, Kunzur Sammy Chinpire, Viki Ramdass and Balliram Mansaram". He continued "They have excelled in every aspect of life including religion, education, agriculture, commerce, politics, medicine, sports and culture. The celebration was held under the patronage of Mayor of Chaguanas Orlando Nagessar.

GOPIO International Trinidad & Tobago chapter participated in the Mere Desh event with a GOPIO booth organized and coordinated by its chapter executives with special support and assistance from chapter PRO Karran Nancoo. GOPIO International President Ashook Ramsaran presented the recently published GOPIO Book to Mayor Nagessar. Congratulatory remarks were made by GOPIO International Trinidad & Tobago chapter president Ena Maraj and GOPIO International president Ashook Ramsaran.

The annual Indian Arrival Day event at Diwali Nagar, organized by the National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC),also commemorated the day with songs and dances as well as speeches by Deokinanan Sharma, president ofNCIC, Dr Suruj Rambachan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Indian High Commissioner to TnT Malay Mishra, as well as several others. In his speech, Minister Rambachan remarked that "we celebrate their spirit of fortitude, their resilience in tough circumstances and thank them for the religious institutions, cultural and social systems they introduced, which have given to so many of us our self-definition and the ability to understand ourselves".
Photo above: Photo 2 (l-r): Mayor Orlando Jagessar; Ena Maraj, Ashook Ramsaran

GOPIO International president Ashook Ramsaran presented the recently published GOPIO Book to Minister Rambachan. On May 31, Ashook Ramsaran and Ena Maraj were guests at a live 1-hour interactive television and radio program discussion on history, culture and GOPIO's positive role in TnT, a multi-ethnic society.

GUYANESE CELEBRATED INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY

In Guyana, the Indian Arrival Committee (IAC) hosted a number of activities to commemorate the 174th anniversary of East Indian arrival throughout the country. IAC organized a grand international mela that was held on Saturday, May 5, at the Albion Community Centre in Berbice. The cultural program featured members of the Shakti Strings Orchestra and other local Guyanese artistes, as reported on the online Guyana Times newspaper.

The celebration continued on Sunday, May 6, with a cultural parade that was held on the Essequibo Coast, started at Affiance and ended at Anna Regina Community Centre ground. Entertainment was provided by the Sangeet Rhythm Band. Admission to both the Berbice and Essequibo events was free.

For the first time, IAC hosted a food fair as part of its activities to commemorate this historic event, which was held on Saturday, May 19, on the lawns of the Indian Cultural Centre. The newspaper added that cuisine from a number of local restaurants was on sale and patrons was treated to a rich cultural evening, featuring members of the Shakti Strings Orchestra, students of the Indian Cultural Centre and leading dance troupes. This was a ticketed with redeemable chits.

NEW YORK INDIAN COMMUNITY CELEBRATED THEIR INDENTURED ANCESTORS' COMPELLING HISTORY TO THE WEST INDIES

The Sanaatan Dharma Mandir of New York organized an event to celebrate the "Indian Arrival Day" of their Indian Indentured Ancestors to the West Indies. It was a rich history, spanning 174th years. The event was held at the temple in Richmond Hill, Queens, on Sunday May 6and was planned to coincide with the "Indian Arrival Day" celebrations in Guyana, which was observed on May 5th.

Celebrations as these were held in different countries in the Global Indian Diaspora where British plantation owners recruited Indians from India as indentured laborers to "toil and sweat" in their sugar plantations.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Basdeo Mangru who is of Guyanese origin. He is one of the West Indies' most distinguished historians, specializing in the draconian Indentured system in Guyana, previously known as British Guiana. Dr. Mangru is the author of several books written on the Indentured laborers' history. He talked about how the recruitment process for the laborers started in India, the many voyages made across the "Kala Pani" (which means Black Water) and the indentured laborers difficult struggles against the indentured system. It was a concise but well-documented history lesson on the indentured laborers' experiences that many in the audience was not aware of.

The program was sprinkled with children of the temple reading empowering statements about the rich characteristics of their indentured ancestors, the sterling contributions they made towards the socio-economic and political development of their adopted country and their fight for a free Guyana. The event was ended with an informative slideshow that depicted their hard but humble lives on the sugar estates. Pictures were shown of the ancestors cutting and loading canes, living in their grass houses and fetching loads on the donkey-carts, among others. Mention was also made of the Kolkata Memorial and museum that are being built in India and which is being spearheaded by GOPIO International in honor of the Indentured ancestors. History books written by Dr. Mangru were on sale and people who bought books had it signed by the author.

T&T ARRIVAL DAY CELEBRATED IN NEW DELHI

The Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad & Tobago was celebrated in New Delhi at a beautiful ceremony marking the occasion. The Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad (ARSP), also known as the International Council for Cooperation, organized the screening of a nostalgic documentary 'Yatra' and a High Tea event in association with the High Commission of Trinidad & Tobago in India. Speaking on the occasion, H. E. Chandradath Singh, High Commissioner of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, said culture, traditions and entertainment have played a vital role in keeping the Indian Diaspora connected with motherland India through generations. 2012 marks the 167th year of Indians arriving in that country. Importantly, he said the island culture that took tens of years to evolve created a wonderful and level playing field for the two dominant communities in his country - Indians and Africans.

The documentary titled 'Yatra - The Journey of Indian Presence in Trinidad and Tobago' was screened. Producer, Anita Chandradath, traced the story of the arrival of Indians in 1845 until the 150th year of arrival in 1995.

Audience praised the documentary that in the High Commissioner's words demonstrated that their ancestors were amongst the poorest and most illiterate people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as indentured labor to successful Indians ruling the country today. The new Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Kamala Bissessar is the first PIO female and the second PIO administrator of the country.

ARSP founder and General Secretary Baleshwar Agrawal couldn't attend the function because of his illness but thanked the High Commissioner and wife Anita for their contribution to the strengthening of relations between the two countries. In his message to Munish Gupta, GOPIO International's Coordinator for Africa, Aggarwal expressed his happiness that GOPIO International President Ashook Ramsaran was in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent June 1st through 3rd for a GOPIO seminar on the Indian Diaspora. Aggarwal thanked PIO TV for its coverage of Diaspora events during a brief meeting with K .N Gupta, Chief Editor PIO TV and GOPIO International's Director for Government Liaison in India.

The function was held at the Pravasai Bhawan constructed and run by ARSP in New Delhi that also houses a mini conference area in the basement for such special Diaspora events.

INDIAN DIASPORA HIGHLIGHTED BY GOPIO AT OAS CONFERENCE IN EL SALVADOR

At a June 27, 2012 conference in San Salvador on "Education in Central America: Engaging Diasporas, Governments and the Private Sector in Education for Development", the Indian Diaspora and GOPIO's role were highlighted by a notable presentation by GOPIO International President Ashook Ramsaran who was invited by the Organization of American States (OAS), the government of El Salvador and the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF) "to share the best practices, lessons learned and the impressive work of GOPIO".

It was an impressive gathering of government officials, members of private and public sectors, and several prominent civic organizations, and it was a tremendous opportunity to learn from the experience of the Indian Diaspora and the successes of private, public and NGO partnerships. "There is a lot of awareness of the Indian Diaspora and GOPIO's significant role in shaping it while working in close collaboration and partnership with the Government of India, in particular the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs", said Ramsaran.

Photo above: Conference speakers at Organizaiton of American States, Frpo, l.to.r., Photo (l-r): John Sanbrailo, Executive Dir of Pan American Development Foundation; Hon Atala Perez, Dir of education & Culture, Secretariat of Foreign Relations, Mexico; Ashook Ramsaran, president of GOPIO International; Marielo Franco, Social Entrepreneur of BancoAgricola, El Salvador; Consul General of ColumbiaHatem D. Quiceno.

Recently published GOPIO book (containing a lot of information about Indian Diaspora and GOPIO) were presented to: Organization of American States; Pan-American Development Foundation; Hon Hugo Martinez, Min of Foreign Affairs, El Salvador; Hon Erlinda Hanal Vega, Vice Minister of Science & Technology, El Salvador; Hon Juan Hose Garcia, Vice Minister, Min of Foreign Affairs, El Salvador.