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The year 2021 marks the 175 years of arrival of Indian in Jamaica . There are several reasons for India and Jamaica to celebrate this event. As both countries with shared colonial history can better understand each others needs and aspirations. The presence Indian community in Jamaica acts as a bridge to strengthen our ties and bilateral cooperation. Both India and Jamaica are members of UN , G-77 , WTO,NAM WIPO, hence wider area to cooperate.
The landing of 261 Indian in SS Blundell at Old Harbour Bay on May 10th 1845 marked a new chapter in Jamaican social, political, economic and cultural history. These Indians were brought to work on sugarcane, and banana plantation in Jamaica to meet the economic needs of the British Raj and fuel its Industrial Revolution. Around 37000 Indians were brought to Jamaica between 1845-1916. After the abolition of slavery they required a hardworking, well disciplined workforces to work on plantations and India, a jewel in British crown came to rescue British economy with its supply of laborers on these plantations. They were mostly recruited from agrarian areas of Awadh , Bihar and Eastern India where rural distress and land revenue settlement of British Raj acted as a push factor for their migration to an unknown land. An important constituents in this group of migrants were women who embarked on this journey. Since then Indian community has enriched Jamaican history and culture immensely. Today they are third largest ethnic group in Jamaica.
Indian communities’ contributions to Jamaican identity formation
Indians have enriched various aspects of Indo Jamaican identity formation whether it is religion, food, dress, jewellery, dance , music etc. They brought with themselves religious texts like Ramayana (in hindi and urdu), Bhagwatgeeta, Sursagar etc. Indian community has preserved its Indian traditions culture in Jamaica and it has evolved from the time they landed in Jamaica without changing the basic principles and methods of celebration e.g. celebration of Phagwah, Diwali, Hosay, Roti festival etc.
Indian contribution to Jamaican cuisine has been immense whether its is curry rice, daal roti, eggplant, mango, betel leave(still has religious and cultural importance in Awadh), chutney etc. Indians were first to introduce rice cultivation in Jamaica (a crop still grown predominately in Indo Gangetic plains of Awadh and it is an important part of diet along with other cuisines mentioned).
Indian contribution to Jamaican religious identity formation has been immense and more visible as can be seen in Rastafari or Rastafarianism . Rastafarianism developed in 1930s in Jamaica when Indian traditions and cultural practices were well established in Jamaica. Rastafari’s practice of having hair locks (jata, a feature associated with lord shiva in hindu mythology), use of maurijauna, musical offerings are greatly influenced by Indian form of worship, kirtans etc.
Indo-Jamaica relations in present time
India opened a Resident Indian Mission in Jamaica after the visit of Late Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi’s visit to Kingston in 1975. Since then the relations between the two countries has strengthened.
Today there is presence of around 70,000 Indian origin Jamaican who are very crucial in strengthening and nurturing this tie. Recognizing importance of Indian; Jamaican government in 1995 declared 10th may as Indian Heritage Day.
Past has always acted as a precedent in building strong ties . The presence of Indian community in Jamaica gives India a sense of belongingness and edge over other countries. And building on these ties India and Jamaica are working together in fields like education, health, IT sector, environment and energy cooperation. India is cooperating with Jamaica under its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation in skill building and capacity enhancement. Indian athletes also getting trained in Jamaica. Jamaica has joined International Solar Alliance . It will strengthen cooperation in fields of renewable energy and climate change issues. In 2018 April July total bilateral trade was about US$ 17.65 million.
India has supported COVID19 vaccine program of Jamaica under its Vaccine Maitri Initiative. India and Jamaica must utilize historic ties to work together along with global partners for COVID19 Vaccine patent waiver at WTO for just and equitable distribution of vaccines across countries specially developing and least developed countries.
PhD Scholar (Department of Western History)
University of Lucknow