INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY
INDIAN ARRIVAL DAY
By Ram Jagessar
Indian Arrival Day is the annual commemoration of the arrival of Indians from the Indian subcontinent to other
countries in the world. It is celebrated as a public holiday on May 30 in Trinidad and Tobago , and on May 5 in Guyana,
and sometimes with varying names in the Caribbean nations of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St Vincent and the
Grenadines and Jamaica, as well as in the United States, Canada (South Asian
Heritage Month), Holland, Great Britain, and as far off as Australia. It has
taken on the character of a happy celebration of the “birthday” of the Indian community in the
countries, as well as a proud recognition of
the community’s presence and heritage. In some countries it is the only
unifying event for people separated by religion, country of origin (the former India
is now India, Pakistan,
language, class and culture.
Indians have been moving out to over 20 other countries since the early nineteenth
century, with East Africa, Mauritius,
Fiji, and 12
British, Dutch and French Caribbean colonies being the favourite destinations.
They went mostly as immigrants, indentured workers or merchants.
In several countries the dates of their first arrivals are well known, since
they arrived by ship and were recorded in ships’ logs, by local newspapers and
official bodies. Perhaps because of their low status, no attention was paid to
their coming until well into the 20th century, with the anniversary celebrations
of their arrival in the Caribbean Guyana
and Trinidad. These are the first known Indian Arrival
Day celebrations. colonies of
INDIAN CENTENARY IN GUYANA
1938, TRINIDAD 1945
The arrival of the ships Hesperus and
Whitby on May 5, 1838 in Guyana
(then known as Demerara), and the Fath Al
Razak (Victory to Allah the Sustainer- it is commonly called Fatel
Razack) in TrinidadMay 30, 1845 marked the arrival of Indians in the western hemisphere. They came as humble
contract workers for the sugar industries then facing a labour crisis with the
freedom of the slaves, and quickly achieved the promise to save the dominant
sugar industry. on
When the Indian community in Guyana
organized a massive Indian Centenary celebration in Georgetown
in May 1945 there was much to celebrate. The colonial governor, the plantation,
business and religious leaders of the times came out to join the East Indians
in marking the 100th anniversary of their arrival and their role in
It was one of the biggest public gatherings of Indians in the colony’s history.
Trinidad’s Indians held an equally huge Indian
Centenary seven years later in May 1945, with a large gathering of Indians and dignitaries in Skinner
event attracted national attention and was marked by the publication of a book,
Indian Centenary Review, which reviewed the achievements of the Indians.
TRINIDAD REVIVES INDIAN ARRIVAL CELEBRATIONS
After the end of World War 2 in 1945
the memory of the May 5 arrival of
Indians in Guyana
slowly faded away over the next 40 years.
In Trinidad there were sporadic, small scale celebrations of “Indian Emigration Day” for some years, but
the May 30 arrival of the Fath-al-Razak gradually disappeared from the public memory. By the
early seventies only the Hindu group the Divine Life Society of Chaguanas was
staging an annual procession and service for Indian Emigration Day.
By 1977 when even the Divine Life Society's annual march had been
discontinued, an Indian activist group called the Indian Revival and Reform
Association (IRRA) took up the challenge and set up a small committee to revive
The IRRA Newsletter of June 1978 reported under the title "A Good Start
to Reviving Indian Emigration Day", that "The response to our program
to revive Indian Emigration Day this year has been just beautiful. A lot more
people knew about the arrival of the first Indians in the Fatel Rozack on May
30, 1845 than we had at first believed- and practically everyone agreed that
this historic day should become part of our calendar."
The newsletter stated that, " To set things off this year the IRRA put
out a pamphlet giving some basic information about the indentured immigrants,
the achievements of Indians and listing the names of the first group of
Indians. This was distributed widely, and well received. The president of the
Association was interviewed by Gideon Hanoomansingh on the Radio 610 programme
"Cultural Traditions", again bringing a favourable response. On May
30 itself a short article prepared by the Association appeared in the (Trinidad)
Express and one on the voyage of the Fatel rozack by Dr Kusha Haracksingh was
printed in the (Trinidad)Guardian. A few schools in San
Fernando, including San Fernando Secondary, got together to have joint
celebrations. The Mastana Bahar show the following week was dedicated to Indian
Emigration Day. In short, a large amount of people heard of Indian Emigration
Day and its importance."
The two page IRRA pamphlet titled "Indian Emigration Day May 30,
1978" was "Printed and published by Ramdath Jagessar for the Indian
Revival and Reform Association, 13 Frederick Street, Curepe." Jagessar was
one of seven IRRA members who formed what became the Indian Arrival Day
Committee 1977, the others being Anand Singh, Khalik Khan, Rajiv
Sieunarine,Rajesh Harricharan, Azamudeen Jang and Michael Sankar. They were
soon joined by Rajnie Ramlakhan, Ashok Gobin and Anand Maharaj. All ten were
young people from the Curepe-San Juan area of North Trinidad.
The pamphlet declared that, "For us in Trinidad and Tobago the history
of Indians in this country begins on that historic day with that brave band of
pioneers from the Fatel Rozack. We must never forget that event, never forget
that group of our ancestors and those who came later... It all started with
those 220 who came here 133 years ago, on the day that is the birthday of
Indians in Trinidad." It went on to list the names
of the Indians on the Fatel Rozack and review the history of Indians in
Trinidad and their contributions.
The next year1979,
the IRRA committee decided to expand the celebration. It decided to contact
existing Indian organizations for support and started with the nearest, the
largest Hindu group, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), which was
headquartered in St. Augustine. SDMS secretary Sat Maharaj and his executive
responded strongly and positively, and the committee decided to go no further.
The Maha Sabha agreed to host a large public celebration on May 30, 1979,at its headquarters,
with the committee providing publicity and promotion. During discussions
between the committee and the Maha Sabha the point was made that Indians were
no longer emigrants to Trinidad, and the name Indian Emigration Day was no
longer valid. It was changed to Indian Arrival Day to show that it referred to
the anniversary date of the coming of Indians to Trinidad. The committee
changed its name to the Indian Arrival Day committee.
The 1979 Indian Arrival Day celebrations at the Maha
Sabha grounds were a huge success and aroused great interest nationally.