• 20 Jul, 2024

The Camille-Kamla Name Spat; Ridiculing Indian names must be condemned

The Camille-Kamla Name Spat; Ridiculing Indian names must be condemned

The Camille-Kamla Name Spat; Ridiculing Indian names must be condemned

The Kamla-Camille imbroglio has dominated the media over the last several days. It is the most talked about personality political conflict not only in T&T but in the diaspora as well and in other Caribbean territories. Minister Camille Robinson-Regis poked fun at the middle name of Kamla Susheila Persad Bissessar. It is offensive towards all Indians. It embodies racism. In sociology, it is called racial micro-aggression, the hurling of negative slights toward people of another group. All must decry such acts of racist behavior. Poking fun or seeking to ridicule Kamla name is wrong. It is no different from ridiculing my name.

We lived with racism in the Caribbean and North America over name and faith. Blacks experienced racism over their race.  During slavery, their names and faiths were changed. Some fittingly have gone back to their original names and faiths that their ancestors brought with them from African hundreds of years ago.

There is no doubt that Minister Camille Robinson was/is responsible for initiating this uncalled verbal spat. The public feels it was deliberate. What was Camille thinking about when she ridiculed Kamla’s authentic traditional Hindu name? Was it deliberate in order to stir up the ethnic base at a time when supporters are losing confidence in government? Should she be reprimanded? Why hasn’t her party and the media condemned her and urged her to apologize? In another country, she would have been forced to resign from office.


Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

I had spoken with many individuals, Indians, Africans, Mixed, Trinis, and Tobagonians on the Kamla-Camille spat. Almost unanimously, they condemned Camille. Kamla, the official opposition leader, fittingly did not take it lying down. She ‘giveth’ as she ‘taketh’.  Few blamed Kamla for her response to Camille for poking fun at Kamla’s name. She responded though inappropriately. “You have the name of your slave master”.

The public viewed Camille’s mis-pronouncement of Kamla’s middle or ‘call name’ as a derogation of not only Kamla’s but Indian peoples’ name in general. If she could not pronounce that simple name, then she should not have said it. And if she can’t pronounce such a simple Indian name, what does that say about her representation of Indians in her constituency or in government or in her Ministry?

Hindu names are assigned from the scriptures after parental or family consultation with a pandit although not all Hindus follow the practice. So Hindus would have a legal name and ‘a call or rassi name’.

One must not poke fun at peoples’ names. Indian names and their faiths (Hinduism and Islam) were historically laughed at ever since they arrived in Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Grenada, and elsewhere. This caused many to change their names as well as their Hindu (and Islamic) faith. That was a bygone era. It is unfortunate, that Camille brings it up again when it appeared dead. It is regrettable that Camille should still hold a colonial mindset sixty years after independence to ridicule Indian names. We must eschew such behavior.

It is no laughing matter to ridicule Indian names or those Blacks who have African names. I am proud of my ancestral name and so should everyone else. People of all ethnicities are proud of their name and heritage. Blacks have accepted the names assigned to them by the slave owners of their ancestors. We must not condemn them for it. Indian, like African (from Africa) and Asian names are heritage linked. African names are beautiful — such as Kwame, Oheene, Kwayana, Mbutu, Ogunseye, Apata, Obama, etc. 

The public said that the Minister was wrong in poking fun at or ridiculing Kamla’s Hindu (assigned by the scripture or Rassi) name. Almost everyone I spoke with – from both sides of the political aisle – condemn the Minister. I am most disappointed by Camille’s behavior; she is among the most liked within her party and seen as a potential successor to Dr. Rowley should he not seek a third term as PM. That she would debase her public standing and roll in the gutter shocks many including myself.

While Kamla is not wrong (historically accurate) to say that Camille has a slave name, in this era it is inappropriate and insensitive to say someone has retained the name of a slave master.

Read More Articles From  Dr. Vishnu Bisram 

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a fourth generation Indian. His great grandparents from both his mother and father’s sides were born in India -- Gurbatore from Ghaizpur, Amru from Azamgarh, Sau from Chapra, Mangri from Mau, Bhuri and Bhura Singh from Bharatpur, among others. They all came at different times to then British Guiana (1880s and 1890s) to work on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. After serving ten years, they were freed laborers. They remained on the colony rather than returned to India, married and had children. They used the savings from indentureship to purchase landholdings to cement their ties to their adopted land. They were not given free land. Vishnu Bisram is ninth of twelve children of Gladys and Baldat, rural farmers, she also was a seamstress and he a taylor and they attended to a kitchen garden as well. Vishnu attended the St Joseph Anglican (called English) primary school from 1966 to 1972. In 1972, he passed the annual nationwide Common Entrance exam winning a scholarship place to attend the government Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, some 17 miles from his home village of Ankerville, Port Mourant. He declined the placement scholarship and opted instead for the private Chandisingh High School to which his family pad to pay a tuition. He entered for eight subjects at the Cambridge University Exam in 1977. Vishnu migrated to the USA in 1977 to further his studies. He enrolled at the City College of City University of New York September that year at age 17, studying Bio-Chemistry and also completing a major in Political Science. After his BSc in Bio-Chem, he pursued graduate studies in International Relations earning a MA. He went on to complete multiple post graduate degrees including doctorates in Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science and Educational Administration. Dr Bisram taught for over forty years in various subjects in the US. He also served as a newspaper reporter and columnist for over four decades and is a well-known pollster in the Caribbean region. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling extensively around the globe to research and write about Indian communities. He published countless articles on various subjects in the mass media, journals, and books. He also organized international conferences on the Indian diaspora and presented papers at many conferences. He was a guest lecturer at universities in Mauritius, India, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, USA, and other countries. He is a well regarded political analyst on American and Caribbean politics. He makes him home in Guyana, Trinidad, and America and travels frequently to India.