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Indo-Trinidadians long to visit India

Indians in Trinidad stay connected with India by watching Bollywood movies and observing all religious ceremonies.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2006 18:34 IST

Ethnic Indians in Trinidad & Tobago yearn to visit the land of their forefathers, deterred only by the distance and the lack of easy communication between the two countries, said Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Leader of Opposition in Trinidad & Tobago.

Easy travel facilities and direct flights between Trinidad & Tobago and the land of their ancestors will greatly facilitate our visits to India," said Persad-Bissessar.

"You see, for us, it is not mother India but grandmother India," she added.

"Trinidad is the land we were born in and this is our motherland. India is our grandmother just as Africa is to our Afro-Trinidadian brothers and sisters," she elaborated.

There are around 520,000 Indian origin people in Trinidad & Tobago and comprise a little over 40 percent of the country's population of around one million.

Most of them are descendants of Indians who had come here in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work as indentured labour in the sugarcane plantations here.

"Every time you think of going to India you also think about taking a long arduous flight via either London or Paris," she said. "It is a big deterrent."

Persad-Bissesar, 54, who belongs to the Indo-Trinidadian-based United National Congress (UNC) political party, has several firsts to her credit in Trinidadian politics. She was the first woman to serve as attorney general, acting prime minister and leader of the opposition in Trinidad & Tobago.

She assumed the post of leader of the opposition in Trinidad & Tobago's House of Representatives in April this year, after her predecessor, Basdeo Pandey, also of the UNC, got embroiled in a court case. Pandey later lost his seat in parliament.

Persad-Bissessar lamented the fact that she missed out on looking at the Air India aircraft that had brought Indian Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and his delegation on a three-day trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

Asked how much of Indianness is left among today's generation of Indo-Trinidadians, most of whom can't even speak Hindi, she said, "Oh, but we stay connected with India by watching (Bollywood) movies and listening to Hindi songs. And we are also very particular about observing all religious ceremonies.

"We celebrate Diwali and Phagwah (Holi, as it is called in Trinidad & Tobago) in a big way. Why, I am sure, there are a number of festivals we celebrate here which are not even observed in India."

On the reported ethnic tensions between Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians, she said, "There is no ethnic tension between the common people here. We are all at peace with our African brothers and sisters. If there is any tension at all, it is the creation of political parties.

"It is, however, unfortunate that the there were reports of ethnic tension in Felicity when the Indian vice-president was here," she said, referring to an incident at a place called Felicity in which an Indian origin businessman shot dead an Afro-Trinidadian youth when the latter tried to kidnap the former's son.

"But then that is a failure on the government's part. The prosecutor released the Indian businessman but it is the government that has to ensure that such incidents don't happen," Persad-Bissessar said.

Asked why a high number of Indian origin people end up being victims of crime in Trinidad & Tobago, she said, "Oh, it is not that Indians are targeted because they are Indians. Indians are economically better off here and so, happen to end up as targets of criminals."

On the reported apprehension among Indo-Trinidadians about a proposed constitutional amendment that will see a presidential form of government in Trinidad & Tobago, she said, "It is just a proposal. They have set up a commission and it is supposed to submit its report by December. Nobody is sure that this proposal will actually go through."

So, does she have any plans of going to India in the near future?

"Yes, of course, I will be attending the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (the annual conclave of the Indian diaspora) in New Delhi next year. You know, I love going to India," she signed off.

First Published: Nov 20, 2006 18:34 IST