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Laudatory tributes were paid to UWI emeritus Professor Brinsley Samaroo. He was an outstanding scholar. But tributes did not point out his flaws, particularly supporting missionaries activities to convert Hindus. Generally, it is not good to ill-speak the dead. Thus, we didn’t hear or read any critical remarks or negatives on Dr. Brinsley.
The writers in the media and speakers at his memorial at Daaga Hall, UWI didn’t mention anything negative about Brinsley’s early youth -- his formative years, primary education and high school, especially the privileges he enjoyed as a Presbyterian at the expense of Hindus in his schooling and in his community. In private, Brinsley admitted that the missionaries were bigoted, discriminating against Hindus and Muslims denying them equal opportunities.
Brinsley’s grandparents who were from India were practicing Hindus. His parents converted in order to reap benefits that were denied to non-Christians. Those who became Christians gained prominence and enjoyed benefits that led to an improved lifestyle and higher standard of living. Becoming a Christian was a passport to a good job and college admission. Principled Hindus and Muslim Indians resisted conversion; they suffered enormously and remained on the plantations in farming and animal husbandry. There was no one to champion their causes and as Hindu leaders were not respected by the state. Hindus (and Muslims) suffered while Presbyterians benefited!
Brinsley had a ‘Presbyterian education’ not different from Winston Dookeran, Kenneth Ramchand, and other well-known Presbyterians who taught at UWI and or had a successful career in education. Brinsley ran the Presbyterian Sunday school, serving as teacher and lay preacher. Hindus were encouraged to attend Sunday school and to convert with promises of benefits. Hindus who went to school with them revealed that Brinsley, like Dookeran and Ramchand and other prominent Presbyterians were given preferences for enrollment at Naparima Boys and after high school they were given preferences for teaching, scholarships, and in college admissions at UWI. (Naparima was Presbyterian while Presentation was Catholic). There were no Hindu or Muslim schools until the 1950s.
Brinsley’s family grew up on Ecclesville Plantation in the Rio Claro area. But the family converted from Hinduism to harvest benefits particularly to get an education, a job, proper housing, land, etc. A certificate and adherence to the Christian faith (Presbyterianism in that area) was a passport to get jobs in the teaching profession from which Hindus and Muslims were barred. Many Hindus in Ecclesville and in the Rio Claro converted to Presbyterianism for economic reasons. In other areas, Hindus converted to Catholicism and Anglicanism to reap the same kind of benefits as the Presbyterianism. The Dookeran’s (Winston) and Ramchand’s (Ken), among other Presbyterians, belong in the same category as Brinsley. Dookeran later returned to his ancestral roots as a Hindu though he is not known to have a pandit or performed puja. Dookeran’s wife is a practicing Hindu. V.S Naipual wrote much about how Hindus converted to Presbyterian and other faiths for economic survival.
It took a very strong and dedicated Hindu not to convert to Christianity given the kinds of benefits were offered to lure them to faith not of their civilization. Africans, Mixed, Whites, near Whites, Mulattoes or Coloreds were Christians; so they were given preference in employment in all sectors. There were many Hindus who were far more accomplished and qualified than Presbyterians. But they were not given equal opportunities in school or in employment. In school, at Naparima, for example, Presbyterians were given privileges and promoted and given attention including extra lessons while Hindus and Muslims were neglected and marginalized. In terms of employment, in one particular case, Winston Dookeran’s sister was given preference as an educator over a more qualified Hindu. Presbyterians and other Christians were placed in authority of hiring and they deliberately excluded Hindus from being hired as teachers or state jobs.
While Brinsley in private would condemn what (hurt and discrimination) the Christian missionaries did to (unleased on) Hindus in Trinidad and in other colonies, he would not write or say it publicly. Brinsley conceded that the missionaries were bigoted although he was a beneficiary of their bigotry. Similarly, in private, he condemned the racism experienced by Indians in Trinidad but he would not say it publicly or put pen on paper on the anti-Indian discrimination in his homeland. It must be mentioned that although in his later life, Brinsley gravitated away from Presbyterianism and attended Yagyas and poojas and Indian conferences and his writings were on Hindus, at the tribute for him and at his funeral service, there were no Hindu bhajans or prayers.
Hindus and Muslims must be saluted for their perseverance and dedication in their faith. Handouts didn’t buy them out. They didn’t think with their belly; they thought of their ancient civilization and worry about betraying their ancestors and resisted conversion. Brinsley also gave praise to Hindus and Muslims for resisting conversion. Hindus hold no ill feelings for Brinsley and others who embraced Christianity. It is noteworthy that Brinsley’s closest friends in his later life were Hindus.
In spite of flaws in his life, Brinsley is commended for his contributions to academia, particularly on the history of Indians in Trinidad.