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Trinidad PM may set off rush to discover roots - The Telegraph

Sujay Gupta ()
30 January 1997

Title : Trinidad PM may set off rush to discover roots
Author : Sujay Gupta
Publication : The Telegraph
Date : January 30, 1997

Vasudeo Pandey's journey from Port of Spain to Azamgarh in search
of his roots will not remain an isolated incident.

If Shamsuddin, a research scholar based in Trinidad, is to be
believed, "countless Indians occupying significant positions in the
government and the bureaucracy there are looking forward to
discovering the past."

Shamsuddin's project, Roots involving the study of family trees of
prominent Trinidad and Tobago Indians, helped the Prime Minister,
Mr Vasudeo Pandey, unite with relative in Lakhaman-pur village
here. Shamsuddin teaches philosophy at the Univer-sity of Trinidad
and Tobago and started research two years ago.

Shamsuddin, a guest of the district administration, said: "Most
Indians in Trinidad and Tobago are either from Bihar or eastern
Uttar Pradesh." These states had two things in common: poverty and
Bhojpuri.

The British, two liberated Trinidad and Tobago from the Spanish in
1797, abolished slavery in 1838. This meant local labour was no
longer available on demand to the British for their sugarcane
plantations and rice fields. It was then that they looked to India
for cheap labour and hunted the poorest parts of Bihar, Uttar
Pradesh, Bengal and Orissa.

Shamsuddin, whose family belonged to Ashrafpur village in Azamgarh,
said: "I am proud to say that, like the Prime Minister, my
ancestors too came from country."

He said thousands of Indians shipped to the Caribbean were made to
sign a five-year contract, requiring them to work for a particular
landlord. After the contract period ended, they were paid off and
were free to return to India.

"Many writers and political scientists called this contract labour
"new slavery" replacing the slavery the British had abolished in
1838," Shamsuddin said.

The Prime Minister's grandparents, too, were products of this
system. Ms Arti Janki Jagirdar, a journalist working for a Trinidad
daily, Newsday, said: "All these Indians, after their contract,
bought land and made maximum use of it. The second generation
worked on the land and, at the same time, focused on education. The
second generation, therefore consists of doctors, lawyers,
businessmen and journalists."

Ms Jagirdar herself is an Indian. Her grandfather was from Jaunpur
near Varanasi and her grandmother from Mathura. Trinidad and Tobago
has a population of 15 lakhs, of which six lakhs are Indians. Hence
they dominate public life. The Vasudeo Pandey Cabinet has 15
Indians, including the Prime Minister. About 30 per cent of
bureaucrats are Indian.

One aspect of Shamsuddin's research has raised a controversy. He
firmly believes the Prime Minister's father, Sukh Chand Pandey, was
a Brahmin. But locals and historians dispute this. They say
Brahmins almost never migrated from here. The Yadavs did, and they
came to be known as pani/Pandeys because they would serve water on
ships.

This theory also gains weight if one goes by the local literature,
folk songs and films. Bhikari Thakur, a folk lyricist of Bihar has
talked migration to parades. Most of his songs talk about ships and
the sea. They also mention Indians who served water on the ships.
Rashbehari Pandey repeats this in his history of Bhojpuri
literature. Films like Ganga Maia, Do Bigha Zameen and Devdas also
talk of migration.

Though the conflict remains, Shamsuddin's research is helping
Indians, who went to the Caribbean in the early 19th Century, trace
their history.

And, for Indians, Brian Lara and Gavaskar's double century at Port
of Spain will no longer be Trinidad and Tobago.


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