By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.
“The political and social climate that prevails in the world today emphasises difference, disunity, and destruction rather than the qualities of unity and productive and constructive energy that are required to sustain human societies. These negative processes and forces have perpetuated our alienation from the basic material roots of our existence, the natural world of which we are a part”. —Roxande Lalonde (Unity in Diversity: Acceptance and Integration in an Era of Intolerance and Fragmentation, MA Thesis, Charleton University, Canada: 1994)
On Wednesday, May 30, the nation will observe the 173rd anniversary of Indians arriving in T&T. Like Lalonde, I believe that we can have “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation”.
Most of our forebears came from other parts of the world and they have all put their shoulders to the proverbial wheel to build this blessed country. The challenge for us is to work together to take T&T forward.
Years ago, I presented a paper at the Dattatreya Education Foundation Conference entitled: ‘Indians, you have arrived! Where do you go from here?’. Stephen Kangal and the late Dr Morgan Job also presented papers at this event.
I recall Stephen saying that “the achievement of real unity in diversity is a prerequisite for taking forward Trinidad and Tobago. Failure to do so will result in the preservation of the policy of rampant, divisive ethno-nationalism.”
Where are we going as members of a plural society in a globally connected, highly technological, rapidly changing world? Can we commit to promote mutual respect and harmony and embrace the concept of unity in diversity?
For nearly 56 years, we have had responsibility for charting our own course. Although there have been many areas of growth and development, we cannot say that we are anywhere near promoting sustainable development in T&T —which requires unity of purpose.
Every creed and race does not have an equal place here! My three years as a Lay Assessor on the Equal Opportunity Tribunal have come to an end. What I take away with me is that issues such as race and ethnicity must be addressed urgently if we are to build a cohesive, harmonious, equitable Mother Trinidad and Tobago which truly embraces the multiple strands in our rich tapestry.
As the writer, Zhang Yong-jun has said: “Social cohesion is an important foundation for a nation-state’s existence and development.” To what extent can we work together to achieve common goals, to build a cohesive society?
While we squabble about which ethnic group is getting more crumbs than the other e.g. for Emancipation Day or Indian Arrival Day, there are those who are intent on running away with most of the cake.
Are we focusing on the issues that should be of concern to us? I urge our politicians not to compound the issue, not to divide society, and not to pander to emotions such as fear of those who are seen as ‘other’.
I recall my father, the late Balgobin Ramdeen, telling us, his children, how sad he felt when, as an MP (1961–1966), he attended functions and the wives of the Democratic Labour Party, to which he belonged, would ignore my mother, because she was of African origin. Yet all the wives on the People’s National Movement would embrace her and include her in their conversations.
He was so hurt that he decided after a while that he would not attend these events. So, he would say he was not feeling well. My dear deceased mother, Ruby Ramdeen (nee Manning), would be aware of the reason for his “illness”. She would dress ‘to kill’, as she was wont to do, and she would find some way of encouraging him to take her to the function.
As for me, I could write a few books about my experiences, growing up as a ‘dougla’. I remember having tea with Lord Dilgit Rana at the House of Lords in London and having to tell him that I would not be able, after all, to accept the role as Co-Chair of GOPIO’s International Women’s Arm.
Lord Rana was the then President of GOPIO. His then wife, Lady Shruti, was Chair of the International Women’s Arm of GOPIO. After having delivered a paper at a GOPIO Conference in London, and after spending a few days as their guest in Belfast, I had been asked to accept the role as Co-Chair.
Well, all hell broke loose among some individuals of Indian origin in T&T. To cut a long story short, I was not prepared to go through what my mother experienced. I declined the offer.
LOVE is the answer to the question: “Where do we go from here?”