1. The Indian achiever from Guadeloupe Ernest Moutoussamy
2 The legendary Siewdass Sadhu, builder of the Temple in the Sea
3. Ria Ramnarine, Trinidad's first female world boxing champion
4. West Indies Cricket Eastern Roots
The Indian achiever from Guadeloupe
PONDICHERRY: For Ernest
Moutoussamy, the Tamil connection remains just in his name. Having grown up on
a sugarcane plantation where his father and grandfather worked, the Mayor of
Saint-Francois in Guadeloupe knows that his forefathers
came from India
and that is all.
A five-time member of the French Parliament (National Assembly), Ernest is
the first literate in his family. "When Indira Gandhi came to France,
I was the only person of Indian origin in the Parliament and she came and met
me. It was a great honour for me. I am the only person of Indian origin who has
been elected from Guadeloupe. Of the 90,000 voters in
his constituency only 15 percent are people of Indian Origin the rest are
Africans," said Mr. Moutoussamy.
"When I tried to trace my roots, I found only numbers and names of
people in the records and India
as place of origin. From the name I guess I am from a Tamil-speaking region
here. My daughter's name is Soraya Moutoussamy and my wife's is Monique
Moutoussamy. Though we are Catholics, we still have images of Hindu gods at
home. We celebrate all the Christian festivals but we don't celebrate
Deepavali. I am an Indian but then Guadeloupe is home to
me," he said.
Saint-Francoise is a seaside commune with a population of 10,000 people.
"There are three routes to Saint-Francoise, a sea side commune, and each
of them has statues of great leaders. One has Mahatma Gandhi's statue, another
has Martin Luther King's and the third road has Abbi Gregoire's statue.
"Though we have taken a lot from the other people, the Indian community
has given back a lot to them. The dish Colombu (kozhambu) is something that
everyone eats." Mr. Moutoussamy was here in Pondicherry
recently to attend a seminar organised by the Pondicherry
University and Paris-8 University.
This interview would not have been possible but for the help by R.
Kichenamourty, former Dean, School of
University, who translated Mr.
Moutoussamy's French to English. The five-time MP speaks Creole at home and
French officially. The Tamil words that he knows include the names of dishes
that his people have retained over the centuries.
Having done his bachelors degree in History, he went on to become a
professor. "My father was so proud when I became a professor. But I don't
know if he understood the hard work that I put in to raise to that level. I
stood for elections because of three reasons - ideological (he belongs to the
Left party), he wanted to show that a person of Indian origin could win and
also boost the confidence of people of Indian origin."
During his time as MP he created a sports association for his people,
brought about insurance for farmers and also introduced a family allowance for
all families irrespective of whether the father was working or not. "It
was only in 1946 that education was made compulsory. . I will contest the
elections the next time and I want to reduce the number of unemployed persons.
I also want to develop some infrastructure for culture and tourism," he
Mr. Moutoussamy has written several books including one on Creole cuisine.
Dharamveer Sewdass Sadhu:
A Caribbean Hindu Hero
|Courtesy: Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS, Trinidad)
constructing a Mandir five hundred feet off the shore into the sea at
Waterloo Bay, Central Trinidad almost single-handedly with
“Hanumanian” effort, steadfastness and indomitable courage, even
suffering colonial persecution, a poor and devout Sadhu has forever
challenged and propelled the collective will and psyche of Hindu
Trinidadians and indeed Hindus worldwide to infinite possibilities. The
very name SEWDASS SADHU (1903 – 1970) evokes rousing feelings of
unique admiration and awe and embodies the dreams and aspirations of the
Hindu Samaj yet to burst forth into unified glory.
legend! A National Hero! The indefatigable Sewdass Sadhu will forever
continue to shine brilliantly in our hearts. His BIRTH CENTENARY will be
observed from January 1st, 2002 – January 1st,
owe a debt of pious obligation and gratitude to Sadhuji and our Pitris (PITRI
RINA) to commemorate this momentous Centenary with all the pomp and
pageantry it richly deserves yet promoting the deep spirituality
espoused by Sewdass Sadhu.
spiritual and intellectual as well as cultural and social programmes can
be planned with some being effectively incorporated within our exciting
Utsavs, religious and cultural festivals for maximum effect.
DHURANDHAR (Defender of Dharma) Sewdass Sadhu is ours: to cherish with
pride and dignity; to present to the world as our Caribbean Hindu Hero
befitting our adoration and for us to be inspired by his brilliance and
forthrightness into assertive and noble action.
Legendary Sewdass Sadhu
a man is born, whoever he may be, there is born simultaneously a debt to
the devas, to the sages, to the ancestors, and to men.” – Yajur Veda
century ago, Bhaarat (India) witnessed the birth of a son whose name
today evokes rousing sentiments of awe and admiration among Hindus in
Trinidad and Tobago. Sewdass was born on January 1, 1903 to Boodhram and
Bissoondayia. At the tender age of four, he came aboard the SS Mutlah
bound for a new land. He was accompanied by his parents and two younger
brothers. Along with his parents, young Sewdass toiled under the
Indentureship scheme at the Waterloo Estates in Central Trinidad.
dwelled in a small village named Barrancore, known today as Brickfield,
for a number of years. After the death of his parents and having served
the period of his indenture, Sewdass returned to Bhaarat for the first
time in 1926. He first journeyed back to Bhaarat on a Dutch ship. The
First World War was just ending. The voyage was perilous. Whilst in
Bhaarat, he received benediction from a pandit who was 120 years of age.
Sewdass was moved to pledge to construct a mandir on his safe return to
Trinidad. He subsequently visited Bhaarat on four more occasions –
1940, 1946, 1963 and 1970.
to bear the separation from the country he had come to love and respect
as his own home, Sewdass returned and settled among the residents at
Waterloo Village in Central Trinidad. During this time, he established
and managed a small grocery at his home. He held firm to his strong
moral beliefs and spiritual practices. He was, hence, nicknamed Sadhu,
or religious one, by the villagers.
time passed, Sewdass Sadhu continued to nurture the dream of one day
building a mandir through which he could impart the spiritual doctrines
and millennia-old traditions and customs of his ancestors to the
children of his village.
realization of this long cherished dream commenced in October 1947.
Sewdass Sadhu purchased a small parcel of land from Caroni (1975) Ltd.
at the edge of the Waterloo Bay and began the Herculean task of clearing
the land, constructing the mandir and installing the murtis (icons) for
worship. For four years, residents of the village and neighbouring
villages came and performed poojas at the mandir.
in 1952, Sewdass Sadhu was ordered by Caroni (1975) Ltd. to demolish the
mandir. With a heavy heart and tearful eyes, he refused to destroy this
abode of God. His refusal to comply landed him in jail for 14 days with
a fine of $400 for trespassing on State land. While held captive in
jail, the company employees tore down the mandir and cleared the land of
all evidence of its existence.
on his release, Sewdass Sadhu declared, “You broke the mandir on the
land. Then I will build my mandir on nobody’s land. I will build a
mandir in the sea.”
17 years after, Sewdass Sadhu continued the construction of his
“Temple in the Sea”. His tools were simple – two buckets and a
bicycle with a carrier at the back. In the buckets, he placed rocks,
sand and cement. Balancing the buckets on the two handles of the
bicycle, Sewdass Sadhu would push the bicycle out to the mandir site
located some 500 feet off the shore into the sea at Waterloo Bay.
Sometimes family and villagers assisted him, but largely, it was an
almost single handed “Hanumanian” effort.
“Temple in the Sea” today stands out as a lasting legacy of
Dharmaveer Sewdass Sadhu.
Sadhu passed away in 1971. In 1995, a concrete statue of him clad in
traditional dhoti, kurta and mala standing with his hands clasped in the
reverential pranaam posture was unveiled before the 5,000 Hindus
Hindus in Trinidad and the world over, this Dharma Dhurandhar (Defender
of Dharma) stands as an embodiment of indomitable courage, strength and
determination – in fact, the quintessence of the fulfilment of the
jahaajis’ mission to the Caribbean. A poor and devout Sadhu has
forever challenged and propelled the collective will and psyche of Hindu
Trinidadians and, indeed, Hindus worldwide to infinite possibilities.
Sewdass Sadhu is ours to cherish with pride and dignity, to present to
the world as our Hindu Hero befitting our adoration and for us to be
inspired by his brilliance and forthrightness into assertive and noble
Temple in the Sea
300 mandirs are sprinkled throughout the landscape of the islands of
Trinidad and Tobago. Undoubtedly, one stands out above the rest for its
innate exceptionality of history, design and location. It is known
worldwide as the famous “Temple in the Sea”. Dharmaveer Sewdass
Sadhu commenced the initial construction of the original mandir in 1952.
Located some 500 feet off the shore into the sea at Waterloo Bay in
Central Trinidad, the mandir was built when the sea tide was low.
day, for almost five years, Sewdass Sadhu transported stone boulders,
gravel, sand and cement in two buckets hanging from the handlebars of
his old bicycle. Steel oil drums, filled with concrete, formed the
foundation of the structure. Eventually the mandir began to take shape.
The area of the original structure was 1,200 square feet.
mandir consisted of three sections – a pooja area, a kitchen and an
unfinished room which was intended to accommodate guests. Murtis were
installed and an OM symbol stood atop the roof. The mandir was dedicated
to Lord Shesha Naaraayana – the one who dwells in the sea. For 17
years, Sewdass Sadhu laboured continuously on the construction of the
the news spread of this “Temple in the Sea”, curious visitors and
devotees throughout Trinidad began to flock to witness this spectacle.
The mandir became transformed into a teerath or pilgrimage spot for
devotees desirous of performing pooja and during the Hindu festivals of
Kartik and Shiva Raatri.
the passage of time, the ravages of sea blasts took its toll on the
structure. The foundation has eroded considerably. With the demise of
Sewdass Sadhu in 1971, the mandir fell into neglect. The structure
deteriorated, paint peeled, murtis were broken and the walls began their
plea was made to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to recognize and
preserve this national symbol. Construction of the present mandir
commenced and was completed in 1996.
the statue of Sewdass Sadhu with his hands clasped in the reverential
pranaam, which was installed in 1995 by the Hindu Seva Sangh together
with over 5,000 Hindus, greets the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and
tourists who journey the world over to worship at this famous “Temple
in the Sea” and to pay homage to the legacy of this historic figure
and national legend Dharmaveer Sewdass Sadhu.
Sadhu - Dharmaveer
life of Sewdass Sadhu and his achievement of building the “Temple in
the Sea” could serve as a catalyst for change not only for Hindus but
for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and Hindus of all the Girmitia
countries throughout the world. The temple epitomizes the monumental
struggle of one man of immense courage who sacrificed all to fulfill his
struggle of devotion and sacrifice has now become a much larger symbol
of a people’s struggle to retain their cultural and religious
tradition against hostile forces and also reflects the struggle that all
indentured labourers from Bhaarat had to face in the respective
countries they were sent to.
We need genuine heroes to inspire and motivate
us thereby awakening the dormant spirit within us. Heroes are somewhat
extraordinary and perform astonishing deeds, far beyond the capabilities
of the average person. They have to stand apart from the everyday world
and embark on trials, dangers and adversities.
Sewdass Sadhu was all of these and has blazed a trail for all of us to
follow. The following inspirational, lasting and powerful messages have
emerged from his actions:
at all times. Never give up even when the struggle may seem impossible.
The ability to accept setbacks and overcome all challenges to secure
victory and success for ourselves and our society.
have a deep sense of belief in ourselves and with undying faith rooted
in our Sanatana Dharma and culture, miracles can be achieved.
bravery and courage at all times, even under the most adverse
concerned about the welfare of others and do things that would also
benefit others by undertaking sacrifices.
was a man devoted to his swadharma and served principles larger than
himself. He took the divine energies within him and brought it to
manifestation in the form of the “Temple in the Sea” so that we
could all benefit. The above values if inculcated in our lives will
serve us well and could also develop us into good citizens for the task
of nation building.
AND HIS TEMPLE IN THE SEA
By Susan Gosine
Indian immigrant Siew Dass Sadhu has become somewhat of a legend in Trinidad and
Tobago. He has a $1.5 million temple in the sea named after him and a pristine
statue of himself clad in a dhoti, (loincloth) standing reverently at the top of
a pedestal at the entrance to the temple.
On Indian Arrival Day last year, Prime
Minister Basdeo Panday unveiled a plaque at the base of the statue in Sadhu's
honour. It is now a tourist attraction and a shrine for worshippers.
Each year, hundreds of people gather at the
site to celebrate Indian Arrival Day with the Hindu Seva Sangh. And the smiling
Sadhu welcomes them with clasped hands.
At the age of four, a young boy by the name of
Siew Dass accompanied by his parents left their homeland in India and sailed
across the ocean to a destiny unknown. Little did he know that his name would be
whispered with reverence on the lips of many or that he was destined to change
the lives and history of the people in a humble village in Central Trinidad.
Siew Dass was born in 1901. He came to
Trinidad under the indentureship scheme.
After the deaths of his parents and having
served his indentureship period, Siew Dass accepted his return passage to India
but was unable to stay away from the country he came to love and respect as his
He returned to Trinidad, and settled among the
residents in Waterloo Village in Central Trinidad.
He loved the lush green sugar cane in the
village and the clean fresh air. It was near the sea where he could perform his
poojas undisturbed by the intrusion of noise from the town.
Siew Dass was of strong religious and moral
beliefs. When he returned to Trinidad, he brought with him the "firm
religious beliefs and traditions of his forefathers" and fought desperately
to hold on to those beliefs against a society that scorned and ridiculed him.
He was nicknamed Sadhu (religious one) by
villagers who laughed at him because he stood up for what he believed. Today,
the name Siew Dass Sadhu is looked upon with great respect and awe.
Sadhu has come and gone, but his memory
lingers on in the minds of those who were fortunate to know him. He has left an
indelible mark on the earth when he single-handedly took tons of sand, cement,
stone and bricks into the Gulf of Paria, to construct a mandir 500 feet into the
sea at Waterloo Bay.
His dream was to build a temple and teach his
children and the young ones in the village the principles of Hinduism and how to
worship and perform poojas.
This dream brought him humiliation and shame,
but nevertheless bore fruit before he bade this "cruel" world
good-bye. In 1947, Sadhu asked Caroni (1975) Ltd. To purchase a parcel of land
at the edge of the Bay, to build a temple. His wife, Samdaye, said he was given
verbal consent by a Mr. Mark Millan, to build the temple.
An elated Sadhu began the herculean task of
clearing the land and building the temple. For four years the temple with its
murtis was used by residents and people from neighbouring villages to perform
In 1952, Sadhu was ordered by Caroni Limited
to demolish the temple. With a heavy heart and tearful eyes, he told the
authorities that the temple was a House of God and was built for worship.
"I cannot break it down," he said.
Sadhu's refusal to comply landed him in jail
for 14 days. He was fined $500, which he paid at $20 a month. While he was in
jail officials of Caroni Limited demolished the temple and cleared the debris.
Sadhu told Samdaye: "They say the land is
company land and they don't want me to build my temple on it. Then I will build
my temple in nobody's land. I will build my temple in the sea where nobody will
have to break it down and nobody will say the land is theirs."
One week after his release he began to build
his temple in the sea. Each day for almost five years Sadhu journeyed from his
home to the site on a bicycle with two buckets of material which he dumped into
the sea to build a road.
He was laughed at and called a "mad
man" by villagers as he toiled day and night. Finally the work was done,
and Sadhu stood back and looked at his work with pride.
The stone temple had a kitchen and rest room.
Murtis were in place and the symbol Om beckoned from atop the roof. It was time
to perform pooja. News of the temple in the sea spread to all corners of the
country and visitors and worshippers travelled long distances to see the
Many visited the temple on Sundays to perform
prayers. For over 30 years the temple in the sea was used by devout Hindus and
served as a pilgrimage spot during Kartik and Shiva Raatri. His dream realized
and his heart content, Sadhu quietly passed away in 1971.
In May 1993, he received recognition for the
first time when the Hindu Seva Sangh held a march in honour of his memory. Over
5,000 followers walked from St. Mary's Junction, Freeport, to the banks of the
Waterloo Bay where an inaugural ceremony was held by the late Swami
Satchichnanda at the temple ruins. The procession made a brief stop at Sadhu's
Ria Ramnarine is the first Indo-Caribbean world boxing champion
With an indomitable
spirit and the heart of a lion, Ria Ramnarine has been able to
achieve success against all odds. Born on 12 October 1978 in a very
humble home, Ria was the last of four children to Narad and Dulcie.
Nowadays Ria looks back on a childhood that was very difficult but
one she isn’t ashamed of. “Things were really hard and my family
had to work together to make a living” says Ria . The long days
toiling in the garden or selling fruits and vegetables by the
roadside built her resilience. The hours trekking through the
mosquito-infested mangroves in search of oysters made her strong,
mentally and studying under the flickering flames of a kerosene lamp
or a flambeau made her determined. Determined to excel in school, get
a good job and be successful, successful enough to give back
something to her parents.
In 1995, Ria graduated from
Holy Faith Convent with eight passes in the field of science, which
included three distinctions. Enrolling in a private school, in 1998
she copped two more distinctions in Business and in 2000 earned her
Process Plant Operations diploma from the John Donaldson Technical
Institute and was immediately recruited as an “On The Job Trainee”
by National Flour Mills Ltd. She worked her way up to Plant Operator
1 after two and a half years.
But during that time, Ria
had her sights set on other goals too. August 1995 she joined Fine
Line Fight Club, paying her first fees with one dollar bills and
coins. To avoid her father’s fury, she didn’t tell her parents
about the gym. Weight-lifting was her main objective but she soon
started aerobics and karate as well. With classes going later and
later, Ria was forced to tell her parents and as expected she met
with a wall of disapproval. “Mom almost freaked out and Dad ranted
and raved” she recalls. Of course she refused to stop, disregarding
the continuous arguments and threats from her father. By that time
she’d graded for her yellow belt and was successfully competing in
karate tournaments. But now her heart was set on something else, she
wanted to kick-box. The full contact scenario of kickboxing beckoned
strongly but it took two years before her father agreed with some
persuasion from Sensei Bharrath Ramoutar, owner and instructor of the
gym. Today, Mr. Ramoutar continues to be Ria’s coach, manager and
Being the only female in the
class wasn’t a problem. “Actually I think that worked for me
because I had to train as hard as the guys, or even harder to be able
to keep up with them. Soon enough I was neck to neck with them and
even left a few behind in the physical workouts, that way I learned
to train hard and smart from the beginning”.
Ramnarine made her
kickboxing debut in 1998 and did not lose heart when the fight which
most thought she’d won, was ruled as a draw. Instead she trained
harder and in her next outing to the ring, knocked out her opponent.
Some months later with just two fights under her belt, she journeyed
to Calgary, Canada and weighed in thirteen pounds less than the World
Champion, Vanessa Bellegarde. Standing toe to toe with the champ, Ria
lost the fight, but won the admiration and more importantly the
respect of the pro-Vanessa crowd.
Less than two weeks later,
Coach Ramoutar signed Ria on for her pro boxing debut, which she won
by third round knock out. She went straight to the professional ranks
without the benefit of any amateur experience “Since then there’s
been no looking back. I’m glad that I have a good coach who allows
me to explore my options in the different fields of Martial Arts”,
But there have been moments
and days when it would have been easy to give up. Having to train,
study and work was draining her energy. Ria admits, “I would be so
tired sometimes that I’d fall asleep in taxis or lie behind the gym
counter for a ten minute nap before training started”. Then there
was the problem of sponsorship. Ria and her manager prepared several
packages which were sent to different companies but these would go
unanswered until 2004. Because of the lack of funding, she was faced
with the problem of inadequate fights. To compensate for this, Ria
accepted several fights where she was mismatched either by weight or
experience or in most cases, both.
One particular fight that
stood out was against world featherweight champion Leona Brown in
2001. Ria looked almost tiny to the big and brawny New York native.
After four rounds the referee stopped the contest in favor of Brown.
She (Ria) was fortunate to come out of the fight unscathed. That was
something of a turning point. Was it really worth fighting girls who
were so much bigger and experienced? Thereafter Ria tried to stay at
least within her own weight class.
In 2001, Ramoutar accepted a
new boxing coach, Darren Vidale, into his gym. With both coaches in
her corner, Ria scaled another level and went on to knock out another
kickboxing opponent and then outpoint Guyanese Shondell Thomas in
Guyana. However 2002 proved a slow year as there was only one fight,
a rematch with Thomas that ended in a no-contest. March 2003 saw Ria
resigning from her job at National Flour Mills. Not only was she a
female in a male dominated industry, she was the only female in her
department, and a very successful one as well. Instead of being proud
of their co-worker, they despised Ria for her ability to learn and
adapt quickly to the demands of the job; she had mastered both
operations of the plant in less than three months. The mental stress
combined with the night shifts and exhausting work began to take its
toll, hence her resignation.
Through his kindness, Mr.
Ramoutar allowed Ria to manage the gym. To supplement her income, she
offered private tuition to schoolchildren. Though it turned out to be
a hectic schedule, Ria had enough time to train and in July 2003, she
unanimously out-pointed a game Vicki Boodram to win their six round
contest. Her classic boxing display that night somewhat propelled her
in to the spotlight and “Ria Ramnarine” was starting to become a
household name. She also broke into the top ten rankings in the world
in both boxing and kick-boxing.
Despite their intentions not
to accept mismatches, Ria and her coach journeyed once more to
Calgary. This time in November 2003 to match fist and feet with World
Muay Thai Champion, Erin Linley. “At least, we were the same
weight,” Ria quipped. Fighting Muay Thai for the first time was not
an easy task against a world champ and although Linley won the bout,
Ria again won the hearts of the people for her courageous
In 2004, Ria changed jobs
again. Although she had no accounting experience she was offered a
job as an Accounts Clerk and always one to explore new territory, she
accepted the offer. Within a few days she demonstrated her capability
and was an immediate success in the company. After another cancelled
bout because of a lack of sponsorship, Ria and her manager
desperately sent out more packages in hope of finding a sponsor. Ma
Pau Members Club, a private gaming establishment, came to the rescue
and exclusively sponsored Ramnarine’s next bout against the gritty
Japanese-American Deidre Hamaguchi. The Women’s International
Boxing Association (WIBA) Mini-Flyweight Iberian-American title was
at stake and according to reports the two women fought like Roman
Gladiators, throwing everything they had at each other. In the end,
the Trinidadian’s clean combinations and solid defense won her a
unanimous decision and the title. Later on that year, when her
original Puerto Rican opponent had problems with her boxing license,
Ria stepped into the ring with an opponent who was thirty pounds
heavier and emerged victorious.
Holding the number three
spot in the WIBA rankings, Ria was eligible to contest for a world
title. Ironically the opponent mandated by the WIBA was none other
than southpaw American Yvonne Caples, a former world champion who had
a solid amateur background and seventeen pro fights, six of which
were world title bouts. Ria had never encountered a southpaw nor had
she ever gone ten rounds in any of her ten fights. Hardly one to be
fazed, Ramnarine handled the tough training regime meted out to her.
“I am thankful for the way Sensei (Ramoutar) trained me, both
mentally and physically. Although my other coach, Mr. Vidale was no
longer at Fine Line, Sensei assured I was totally prepared and with
all the long, hard hours I trained I felt quietly confident.
On May 28th 2005,
Mr. Ramoutar promoted the first ever female world title bout in
Trinidad and Tobago and Ria became the queen of the mini-flyweights
when she out-pointed the slick and crafty Caples to win the WIBA
Mni-Flyweight World Title. Being first female Trinidadian to win a
world boxing title, Ria reveled in the moment. But her joy was
tainted with the onslaught of uninformed criticism. Professional
jealousy reared its ugly head and those who couldn’t bear the
thought of the petite, 105lb Ramnarine being the first women in the
country to win such a title wagged their tongues mercilessly,
referring to the victory as a ‘very controversial decision’.
Needless to say, Ria handled the situation with the savvy and aplomb
of a true world champion.
“I know I won the fight
without a doubt but certain entities couldn’t handle the truth of
me being a world champion. They had come expecting me to lose and I
‘d disappointed them. I never ask for favors from anyone, in or out
the ring. And certainly not from judges or referees, in fact, as far
as I have observed I am given a harder time from certain officials in
my own country. I was also to learn that a certain notorious
matchmaker had put out a hit on me, just to prevent me from creating
that piece of history.
Despite the efforts to
discredit her, Ramnarine was honoured by the President of the
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Professor George Maxwell Richards,
at the 2005 National Independence Day Awards. She now has HBM
attatched to her name to represent the Humming Bird Medal that she
received. Additionally she has been recognised and awarded for her
achievements and contribution towards sports by various organisations
that include, the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin
(GOPIO) Trinidad Ltd, the National Youth Action Committee, the Couva
Chamber Sugar and Energy Festival Committee, the Hindi Nidhi
Foundation and the T&T Kick Boxing Federation. She emerged as one
of the First Citizens Sports Foundation top ten sports personalties
for 2005, although many sporting affecionados thought that Ria’s
accomplishments was more than enough to win her the coveted
Sportswoman of the Year award. For her first world title defence, the
opponent ‘ran away’ mere minutes before the fight. Many were
confused as to why Marianne Chubirka opted not to fight since she was
seven pounds heavier than Ria!
Nothing was enough to
distract the determined Ramnarine and she religiously continued her
training. 2006 was to be a whirlwind year for Ria. Travelling to
Hungary in April to face another world champion, Ria and her coach
were stranded in England due to the lack of proper travel
arrangements made by the promotion team in Hungary. ‘That really
hurt because I’d prepared so hard for the fight. I knew Kristina
Belinzsky would have been a good test and I cried my eyes out in the
airport when we got stranded”. The next stop was her title defence
in July, which she won by unanimous decision, again creating history
by being the first Trinidadian, male or female, to make a successful
world title defence in boxing. Then in September she was given the
opportunity of a lifetime to fight Europe’s boxing queen, the
legendary Regina Halmich. A German with a record of fifty wins,
fifteen knockouts, one loss and one draw who fought at 112lbs. (Ria
had less fights than Regina had knockouts).
“The purse was the highest
ever offered to me and with no other fight in immediate sight, I
accepted the offer. Besides, Regina was someone I admired and saw as
a great ambassador for women’s boxing since the beginning of my
career. To step into the ring with her was almost unreal”. Barely
making the minimum weight of 110 pounds, Ria was at one of the worst
disadvantages she’d ever been at in the ring. Yet she was
undisturbed and gallantly matched gloves with the Box-Queen. Though
Regina was stronger, Ria was giving a good account of herself when
the referee stopped the fight in the sixth round. Ria was furious.
The headbutt she had received earlier caused a nosebleed but she was
fine and more than able to continue. “It was bizarre. I saw the
tape and we won’t even in a clinch when the ref stopped it. Of
course, they gave their own account and now it’s water under the
bridge. But I must say that like in all the other countries I fought,
I gained respect. The fight fans supported their girl 200 % but they
also applauded my efforts. It was certainly a privilege to travel to
Germany and fight the Boxing Goddess herself and I even got to meet
my German penpal of over twelve years, Nina”.
In October Ria retired from
her job, citing personal reasons. Hardly had she dealt with this,
when she gave up her world title on November 7th. The
glaring inequality in treatment to the female boxers in Trinidad
proved too much. The Sport Company of T&T said she was not
qualified for assistance; the same company that pumped over a quarter
million dollars into other womens’ bouts. The Ministry of Sports
meted out very meagre amounts, ten to twelve thousand, for her fights
whereas they fully supported certain other womens’ bouts. Ria is
still awaiting (as of feb 2007) a mere twelve thousand dollars from
the Ministry of Culture and Gender Affairs that was promised since
December 2005. This is the very same ministry that gave another
female boxer sixty thousand dollars overnight after continuously
supporting the very said boxer in all of her fights. (It is certain
Ria is of the right gender, maybe she doesn’t have the right
culture). Emphatically stating her fustrations, Ria literally threw
her world title belt in the garbage can. Needless to say, it sparked
heavy controvesy. For the next month, interviews through all media
avenues were taking place. While some condemned her actions, most
applauded it. She finally got to meet with the Minister of Sport, a
year and a half after winning her world title. It took this sacrifice
to get a hearing from the Minister. After talks that were described
as “fruitful” she is still awaiting answer on her projections for
Also taking place in 2006
was fulfillment of a different kind. In the latter part of 2004 and
2005, Ria was pooling her resources together with her parents to
build a new home. For the past fifteen years, they lived in a wooden
house without running water and electricity. Her siblings were now
married with families of their own so basically it was up to Ria to
help her parents. Taking a loan (which she and her father is still
paying), she kickstarted plans for the house. In January 2006,
although it was incomplete, Ria and her parents moved into their new
home. Whatever earnings she made, either from boxing or work, she put
it all into finishing the house. After the Halmich bout, Ria was able
to cover the cost of the electrical wiring, pay off the hardware
bills and pay some money on the land. She had made good on her
promise as a child.
At present, the little giant
is preparing for a kickboxing world title bout that still has to be
confirmed. She prefers to be ready for a fight that doesn’t take
place rather than be unprepared for one which does take place. As far
as boxing goes, she waits on word from the Ministry of Sports. It is
too costly now for she and her manager to finance the bouts. Her new
job in a Metal Export Company as a Field Manager takes up a lot of
time, but she juggles it with her training. “My job is paying my
bills at the moment and though it can be difficult at times, I
willingly make the sacrifice. All the years into my sport has paid
off to an extent but not to the financial extent”! The athletic
Ramnarine is an Honorary Member of the Sixth Trinidad Sea Scouts,
Angel Fish Patrol and is a member of the KFC Angel and Saints Dragon
Boat Racing Team. She goes to the swimming pool whenever time permits
and has started participating in 5 Km runs. (Though she jokingly
admits she isn’t too much of a runner).
Ria is often called upon to
give motivational speeches at community events and particularly at
Sports days. She received the Vocational Award from the Rotary Club
of Penal in 2006 and was nominated by the WIBA for fighter of the
year in 2006 as well.
Because of her assertiveness
and reliability, she is the Secretary of Fine Line Fight Club (where
she trains) and is the Interim Assistant Secretary for the Trinidad
and Tobago Kick Boxing Federation. Additionally, Ria is trying to
find the time to complete her course in Freelance Journalism, a
distance learning option from The Writer’s Bureau in England. Her
dream is to win a kickboxing world title, her only elusive goal. She
believes she has made her mark in boxing and is satisfied with her
black belt in Karate. As for a husband and children, Ria doesn’t
plan to get married soon, if ever at all. “I don’t think I can
get a guy to treat me the way my mother does, and no I am not spoilt,
I just earned the right to be pampered”, she smilingly quips. She
loves kids but isn’t too inclined to have any of her own, not yet
This young lady has
certainly come a long way and has achieved what some others can only
dream of. She is an intelligent person whose outgoing yet quiet and
humble demeanour makes her the people’s
champion that she is. Her
ethics and aptitude to face all challenges openly makes her a
trainer’s dream, a family’s idol and a people’s hero.
Her advice to Indian women
and girls is simple. “Don’t ever be ashamed of your ancestry and
cultural background. Do not be afraid to step into areas where people
think Indians have no right to step into. Whatever you venture into,
be it sports, music, academics or any other area, know that you have
the right to do so. When you set your goals, pursue it
wholeheartedly, without the fear that others will condemn or
criticise you. And most importantly, believe in yourself and the
strenght and greatness of your people.
Generally, men respect Ria.
Of course, there are those that heckle her about being in a man’s
sport. Indian men however are extremely proud of her, she has done
what no other Indian has been able to do in Trinidad and Tobago, take
boxing to a next level on an international stage and win a world
title. She is their champion.
Windies' eastern roots
is one of seven 'East Indian' players
As the two teams prepare for a Test series, guest correspondent Gulu Ezekiel
looks at the increasing influence of players of Indian origin on the West Indies side.
After a barren period in the 1980s, the
Indian influence in West Indian cricket has reached its peak.
Many names in the rival camp will be
familiar to Indians as their team tours the Caribbean for the eighth in 50 years.
'East Indians' since
Not since the glory
days of Joe Solomon and Rohan Kanhai have so many East Indians (as the
community is known in the Caribbean) made it to the Test side.
Mostly from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, a total of 20 have represented their adopted
land, with as many as seven making their debuts since 1994.
Generally from the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, these cricketers are the descendants of
indentured labourers brought over by the British in the 19th century to work in
the sugarcane fields.
Outside of cricket, perhaps the best
known of these immigrants is the Nobel Prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipul.
Today East Indians make up slightly
more than 50% of the population in Trinidad and Tobago and 42% in Guyana.
Two of those 20 captained the West Indies, first Kanhai and then Alvin Kallicharan.
Traditionally batsmen or spin bowlers,
the first from his community to play Test cricket for the West Indies was Sonny Ramadhin.
Bowling both off and leg-breaks, he
made a huge impact in tandem with left-arm spinner Alf Valentine on his debut
tour of England in 1950.
The two inspired the Calypso, 'Those
two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine'.
There are no Calypsos today sung in
praise of the likes of batsmen Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Daren Ganga and
But the trio have been mainstays of the
current West Indies squad.
The recent resurgence of East Indian
representation has coincided with Afro-Caribbeans increasingly turning away
from cricket to more financially lucrative sports likes soccer and basketball.
In a role-reversal, all-rounder
Rabindra (Robin) Singh was born in Port of Spain but returned to India in the 1980s to study, and starred in the
one-day side for much of the 1990s.
He is currently captain of the Tamil
Nadu Ranji Trophy team and has settled in Madras.
It was the very first Indian team that
visited the West Indies in 1952-53 that sparked interest among the East
Under the captaincy of Vijay Hazare,
the visitors did well to lose just one of the five Test matches and made a huge
impression with their dazzling ground-fielding.
Traditionally, Indian (and Pakistani)
touring sides have received tremendous local support from crowds at Port of Spain.
Indeed this is the only venue where India has won a Test match, both in the 1971 and 1976
Kanhai was the first of the great
batsmen to emerge from the community in the 1950s and went onto play 79 Test
matches, captaining his country from 1972 to 1974.
His exotic batsmanship was mirrored in
the left-handed Kallicharan, also from Berbice in Guyana.
Kallicharan, who went on to play 66
Tests, made a huge impact in his maiden series against New Zealand in 1972 with centuries in his first two Test
He briefly led the side during the
period between 1977-79 when the cream of the team was contracted to Kerry
Packer's World Series Cricket
And he was the first from the West Indies to play cricket in South Africa during the apartheid era.