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Important elements are missing from the reparations dialogues

Dear Editor,

I note with much interest some recent lively discussions about slavery, indentureship and reparations. It disappoints me, however, that a certain school of thought feels that they have an exclusive right to pronounce and advocate on these issues on pure subjective grounds, while the main objective and undisputed reasons are not stated or clearly expressed – the facts that slavery preceded indentureship, lasted for a much longer period, and the method of capturing was more violent and traumatic. In following these discussions, I also noted that two or three important elements have either been (conveniently) missing from the dialogues or have been taken for granted, which may have contributed to the insular attitude of parties of the disgruntled school. 

First of all, Indians are not in competition with Africans regarding the cause of reparation. Indeed, apart from Dr. Bisram stating once or twice that reparations should be made to all races enslaved and indentured, I know of no claims or vociferations by any other groups. I also don’t know of any Indian individual or group opposing the idea of African reparation. On the contrary, there has been clear and unambiguous Indian support. Me, personally, when I came back from visiting India, I knelt and thanked God that my foreparents paid the price for my first diaspora removal. (Sometimes I think I should thank Forbes Burnham for my second.)  Secondly, Slavery and Indentureship may be mutually exclusive events, systems or modes of production occurring in a chronological continuum. But they cannot be divorced from any sociological, pathological, or political discussions.

Indeed, John Gladstone was a common denominator in both slavery and indentureship, as well as in political currencies. He had steel rope connection to the British Government. He owned more plantations and slaves than any other West Indian planter. He practically “owned” both the British West Indian and the British East Indian Trading Associations. He initiated and was the mastermind behind Indian indentureship to the West Indies. He (representing his West Indian interest) wrote a letter requesting approval from himself (his powerful British influence) to import from himself (his own agents in India) Indians for his plantations. And all this was done when he had just, only a few years earlier, suppressed the most brutal slave uprising at his Vryheid Lust Plantation. There are hundreds of thousands of pages of documents available at anyone’s fingertips if they honestly want to engage in.

Thirdly, Indentureship is a corollary relationship to Slavery. It explains why plantocracy was failing as an economic system under slavery but flourished for another hundred and fifty years after slavery. Even the British Government, whose initial concern was whether paid indentureship would revive failing sugar plantations, was surprised.  It’s like considering Eric Williams’, Capitalism and Slavery – the most erudite analytic of African Slavery ever written, explaining that it was not humanitarianism that ended slavery, but economic decline, as the “Old Testament”. The supplementary, “New Testament” explaining how sugar was resuscitated being Hugh Tinker’s, A New  system of Slavery, which is an equally erudite analytic. The two must go together.

Fourthly, noting that British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has only recently dismissed a call for his government to apologize and pay reparations for the UK’s historic role in slavery, it means those calling for reparation need to consolidate, cooperate, and unite with and accept all groups in solidarity with them.  As a chess player, (and chess is best described as a way of life, as almost all life’s lessons are learned from the chessboard) I consider insularity – as in aimlessly moving pieces, stupid moves since all pieces on the board must coordinate and synchronize and economize in their common goal of capturing the king, even though each piece is different from the rest. It must be a powerful, unified, nationally, and internationally supported and accredited group to confront not only the UK, but also other powerful European nations.

Reparation requires the widest representation. And, that impetuous, hot-headed group that went to the Gladstone Apology at UG all prepared with placards to denounce without listening, needs to learn some lessons on diplomacy in dealing with this historic, sensitive, and international issue. That lesson is also in chess – a friendly game of war.


Gokarran Sukhdeo

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