ST. LUCIA, CARIBBEAN, February 2, 2013 (The Voice): The local East Indian community is preparing to host a forum to discuss a number of issues affecting them. The event will be held on Sunday, February 10 from 1:00 pm at the Augier Combined School.
Among the topics to be discussed are:
*The positive contributions the East Indian population has made to Saint Lucia over the past century and a half
*The formation of an official organization to bring East Indians and other ethnic groups closer
*Seeking ways to keep the traditional values of Saint Lucia and the Indian Diaspora alive
*Creation of a database to document the family names within the local East Indian community
*Sourcing funds to undertake various projects that will benefit of Saint Lucians in general
*Keeping the channels of dialogue open in an effort to widen the social network
Last Sunday afternoon, scores of Saint Lucians of East Indian descent and other ethnic groups took part in a familiarization exercise at the Bexon Primary School. During that meeting, attendees were given a brief historical account of the East Indians arrival in Saint Lucia. Indian foods were also part of the highlights, as well as recognizing the elders present.
According to an account published by Richard B. Cheddie and James Rambally, 318 East Indian indentured laborers arrived in Castries, Saint Lucia aboard the ship, "Palmyra", on May 6, 1859. There were 240 male adults, 58 female adults, 2 male minors, 11 female minors, and 5 children (2 unaccounted for).
The "Palmyra" was the first of thirteen ships that brought 4,354 Indians to Saint Lucia. These Indian laborers were assigned to over 23 different estates and domiciles across the island to work in the sugarcane industry that was Saint Lucia's principal economic crop at the time. They all received wages according to the type of and number of tasks they performed and were also afforded certain basic human rights.
At the end of their initial contracts, some re-indentured while others did not. During the latter years of indentureship, free Indians could accept a parcel of land if they chose to remain in the colony, or apply for free passage back to India. It was these factors that set them apart from being slaves, although the work and the punishments were no less harsh. By the time indentureship ended in Saint Lucia, 2,560 Indians had returned to India, while the remainder of them stayed behind to help build their homes.
Today, the East Indian population in Saint Lucia is estimated to be between 8% and 10%, many of whom include people of mixed races. According to attorney Clarence Rambally, the new movement in no way attempts to create division among the various ethnic groups in Saint Lucia. Instead, he told The VOICE last Sunday, it aims to focus on how East Indians have been able to integrate themselves into the Saint Lucian society to the extent that racial discrimination is almost non-existent.
"This is a Saint Lucian thing, not just an Indian thing," Rambally said. "Nevertheless, we're noticing that the East Indian values are sort of dying out. For example, our foods, our dances and the things we do that are different and unique to us are dying out. This whole idea is to make the point that when our history is read down the line, we want to be seen as a people who embraced their culture while at the same time embraced the other values and peoples that reflect our national identity."
Organizer Benny Ghirawoo told The VOICE that the forum is not restricted to Saint Lucians of East Indian descent - all are welcome to next week Sunday's meeting. For further information, Ghirawoo can be contacted at 287 7664.