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Arrival Day Message 2008

ON MAY 30, 1845, the Fath Al Razak docked at the Port of Spain Harbor with 225 East Indian labourers aboard to work in the sugarcane fields of Trinidad. Those noble souls did not find here the paradise they were promised. Instead they were subject to various kinds of injustice including physical, mental and sexual abuse, torture and exploitation.

Those 225 men and women came from different classes, creeds, castes, cultures and geographic regions. Their languages were different, as were their spiritual beliefs and manner of worship.

But in the 103 days they spent huddled inside a wooden ship crossing 14,000 miles of rough ocean waters they became indifferent to their differences. The 147,596 persons who entered indentureship contracts in the 70 years of the existence of that system came as individuals, worked collectively and benefitted as a community. They banded together in a common struggle – uniting for survival and for progress.

They made sacrifices and endured hardships so that future generations would have a better life. They struggled to give their children opportunities. They struggled to break free of discrimination, poverty, persecution and injustice.

Today, the fruits of that struggle can be seen everywhere. The children of the indentured are lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and professionals of all kinds.

But while many enjoy lives of relative comfort, there are thousands of others who are decaying below the poverty line. For them, the injustice continues. They remain exploited at the hands of an uncaring and unconcerned corrupt government. They see a bleak future for the present and future generations.

The noble traditions from which East Indians are descended teach the principles of dharma or sacred duty. The sacred duty of all persons is to persevere always for the benefit of truth and justice.

We must not, as citizens of this twin-island nation, sit down in our homes and watch the television chronicles of our home land being shredded to pieces by gang violence and state-sanctioned corruption. We must not roll up the windows of our cars and simply drive past the injustices that we see on our streets.

We must do more than shake our heads in dismay and disapproval. We must speak up. We must speak out. We must express our disapproval for that which is wrong. We must not abandon the ideals and dreams of our forefathers. We must repay their sacrifice in the spirit in which that sacrifice was made.

We must not be ignorant to the plight of our neighbours and our brothers and sisters. We must not deliberately turn our eyes away from the injustices we know are prevailing.

Newspaper headlines remind us every day that we are neither isolated nor immune from the madness that is ravaging our communities. They remind us that tragedy can knock on the door for any one of us at any time.

The struggle for equality and dignity for all is far from over.

It will not be over until we unite in common purpose.

Basdeo Panday

Leader of the Opposition

Chairman and Political Leader

United National Congress

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