How do You define yourself as Indian?

The word Indian has multiple definitions in this day and age. It no longer just means Indians from India because Indians can be found all over the world.  There are now East Indians (India, Bangladesh, Asian, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, etc.) and West Indians (Caribbean Descent). Both these sections of Indians West and East are vastly different despite both dating their ancestry back to India. But what would cause Indians coming over to the Caribbean to change their livelihood?

It all started in 1838, when many plantation economies like Trinidad, found they were looking for alternative sources of cheap labor after the abolition of slavery in the British colonies. India at this time was in a state of unrest, and many parts of the country were suffering from food shortages and famine.

Many of the first workers from India who traveled to Trinidad came from the poorer parts of Uttar Pradesh.  According to the National Council of Indians Culture Trinidad and Tobago (NCICTT), 143,939 Indians arrived as indentured immigrants to Trinidad during 1817-1845. All Indians undertook a three-month journey with the knowledge that that after their five-year work stint was over they could re-indenture themselves or return to India.

This system stayed in place until 1917, when the colonies decided to offer land grants as an incentive for Indians who wished to stay.  The Indians proved effective on the sugar cane and cocoa plantations helping them return to prosperity.  Many took up the land grant offer and stayed to make new lives in their adopted homeland.  After 1850 indentured and time-expired Indians co-existed, eac

h contributing and affecting each other’s lifestyles. Some of the lifestyles that the Indians brought to Trinidad were agriculture, food, religion and education.  Their descendants still maintain traditions and too some extent language.

When the Indians first came to Trinidad they entered a cosmopolitan society, which according to the secretary of state was divided into castes as strongly marked as those of Hindustan. It consisted of people of English, French, Spanish and Portuguese descent in the basic three-tier structure of 19th century Creole society that was closely arranged by color, ethnicity and wealth.

Indians faced many struggles with the West Indies, they were coming to a society where there would be a language barrier, and in some cases many of those Indians were converted to Christianity. The living conditions were poor and life was generally difficult. Many Indians held on to their traditions and customs with their families. They persevered and toiled the land and ensured that their children were educated.

Many things had to change for the Indians that made the move; the biggest one might have been the family structure.  According to Lisa Rampersad the original Indian family has been described as a “Patrilocal joint family,” in which a line of brothers, their wives and children live in a common household compound with the men’s fathers as patriarch. This system was in place so that the family lived together in the same house, cooked in the same kitchen, owning property in common, pooling their incomes for common spending. The father was always the household head, but the brothers controlled and ran the affairs of the family property.

The indentured Indians however, from their initial entry to Trinidad, shared a different set of family relationships. Many of the main traditions like marriage customs, and other traditional restraints that slowly dissipated in Trinidad led to the eventual demise of the extended family.  Many indentured Indians entered common-law marriages that could easily be terminated.

Civil authorities did not recognize many Indian religious marriage ceremonies until after the indenture period had ended. Islamic marriages for example were declared legal in 1936, but Hindu ceremonies remained outside the law until 1946. This legal double standard could be a main reason why the marriage bonds weakened, since a discontented husband could easily abandon a woman who was not really his wife in they eyes of the law. Similarly the inter-caste marriage and cohabitation was unavoidable because of the scarcity of women.

Men lost their authority because they no longer had land or other forms of property to be in charge of, and women and sons now held the capacity to earn their own wages.  It can be argued that the break down of caste systems and the unavoidable inter-caste marriages is what led to the radical change to the Indian society. Although there are few specific features of the family system has maintained intact, the idea of extended family is almost extinct in Trinidad.

East Indians comprise about half the island’s population and are an integral part of Trinidad’s society. East Indian culture for example is a vibrant component of the national culture and you can find Indian festivals and music sharing center stage at all national events.

Today East Indians comprise about 45 per cent of the total population, according to NRIInternet.com. According to Statistics Canada In Canada as well East Indian’s make up one of the largest non-European ethnic groups within Canada. In 2001, over 700,000 people of East Indian origin lived in Canada, that year they made 2.4 % of the total Canadian population.

In the society we live in today Indians are a huge part of our world. You can see Indian culture all over in music, movies, TV, and fashion.  The traditions of India are still out there, there are still close family connections, but many things have changed. Unmarried boys can move out and make their own life out in the world. The Indian world is changing drastically, and making great strives in the worlds of Fashion, business, Music, Movies,  and Entertainment.

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