Reparations for Indians?
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SHOULD Indians in the Diaspora demand reparations for Indentureship? That’s the interesting question behind an equally interesting article entitled The Word ‘Indentureship’ Does Not Exist In CARICOM Ten Point Plan For Reparatory Justice by Lomarsh Roopnarine in the Chronicle’s June 12, 2022 issue.

Careful about being accused of misinterpreting or misunderstanding a word or words of what I read from what was written about what was seen and heard by the esteemed author, I noted his following points:

• The word ‘indentureship’ was not included in the title or text of the CARICOM 10-point Plan of Action for Reparatory Justice

• “…Reparations is, of course, with reference to Africans in The Americas…”

• Victims of slavery and indentureship had “a common oppressor…”

• “Achieving any form of reparation will require an approach of unity rather than being the victim of the divide and rule that so epitomised the colonial period.”

• There are “some challenges to overcome with the common oppressor’s understanding of reparation…”

• “…the unity approach of achieving some forms of reparation from the wrongs of slavery and indenture…”

• “…The Indian presenters were simply begging to have a seat on the reparation table and to be more actively included…”

• “Each historical wrong, whether based on ethnicity, race, class, or gender, should be discussed, planned, and executed on an individual basis rather than collectively since each of them, although sharing a common experience, is different…”; and

• “My suggestion is to examine the Indian indentured contract as it evolved/devolved during the indenture period to determine the induced violations or infractions and build a case that can potentially be heard in a court of law…”

I agree and disagree, understand and don’t accept some of these offerings, but I respect the writer’s right to his every view and will not here engage in any counter-argument(s).

Indentureship qualifies for Reparations and the issue is very much alive in discussions on CARICOM’s pursuit of Reparatory Justice from Britain and Europe for Slavery and Native Genocide, with a member of the CARICOM Reparations Commission (CRC) also participating in the recalled panel discussion.

The CRC, on which Guyana is also represented, is discussing the issue, while CARICOM is also reaching-out to India and Africa with a view to joining forces in common pursuit of Reparations for Slavery and Indentureship.

Reparations from Britain for India have for some time been discussed in the Indian Parliament and CARICOM and India are looking at synergy of approaches to pursuing reparations from the “common oppressor”.

CARICOM’s unprecedented decision in 2013 to jointly seek reparations from common former European colonisers that built empires through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade has re-ignited similar collective initiatives elsewhere, especially in the USA, where the birth in 2015 of the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) eventually also gave rise to the adoption of a similar 10-point Action Plan for Reparations, modelled on CARICOM’s and tailored for America.

CARICOM’s current engagements with African nations also led to the first CARICOM-African Union (AU) Summit last September 7, to be held annually on that date, also declared Africa-CARICOM Day.

Indentureship is a Caribbean-wide issue and not limited to Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago, as the slave ships also delivered indentured labourers to every other British West Indian colony where legal abolition of slavery demanded substitute labour — and hence the six-year Apprenticeship period of free labour to the former masters that was a condition for each ‘emancipated’ slave, a period that also gave the British time to arrange the Indentureship system.

Indeed, Guyana played a leading role in initiating Indentureship as a new system of slavery when John Gladstone, a British planter with much interest in British Guiana, successfully gained permission in 1837 to import “free labour” from India to ensure the survival of his sugar plantations after slavery was abolished.

Gladstone’s British Guiana initiative initiated Indentureship in the Caribbean and the issue is still one that needs public discussion in Guyana today, as evidenced by Mr Roopnarine’s article.

CARICOM’s 10-point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice, like Guyana’s Constitution, does not mention the word ‘Indentureship’, but that does not (in any way) mean that CARICOM or Guyana cannot or shouldn’t be interested in also pursuing reparatory justice for Indentureship, which lasted until 1917 in Trinidad & Tobago.

Besides the 10-point Action Plan, CARICOM has also adopted a template (based on the blueprint outlined in W. Arthur Lewis’ Labour in the West Indies (1939) to ensure that economic aspects of Reparatory Justice being sought reach all CARICOM citizens.

Indeed, the reparatory justice being sought by CARICOM is not just about money, but more about building sustainable development for all the region’s people, including those of African and Indian descent — and not excluding any other.

Guyana has a central role in the ongoing discussion on reparations for Indian indentureship and it’s a subject the country’s active national reparations body can join the University of Guyana (UG) to arrange a series of lectures by distinguished presenters on the related themes, in honour of Sir Arthur Lewis (UG’s first Chancellor) and through the restored Walter Rodney Chair.

The question equally applies to the descendants of Guyana’s First People, the indigenous so-called ‘Amerindians’ who, like the fellow Guyanese of African, Chinese, European, Indian and Portuguese origin that share the national patrimony of one nation with many people.

Also qualified to be considered for reparations from Europe are the Garifunas, originally from St. Vincent & the Grenadines and now 800,000 of whose descendants are concentrated between Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Ditto the citizens of the French Caribbean colonies (Overseas Territories) of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, etc., where, in many cases, popular calls for reparations from France preceded CARICOM’s historic 2013 move, including those of African and Indentured Indian descent.

Saint Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago were also colonised by France during slavery, so their legal case has to be against both London and Paris.

Reparations, therefore, isn’t only about “Africans in the Americas…”

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