Few Indians Joined Black Power in 1970

Submitted by Dr Kumar Mahabir

Saturday April 21st marks the 48th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Emergency to quell the Black Power Revolution in Trinidad in 1970. The uprising was led by Makandal Daaga and his chey-la [disciple], Kafra Kambon, of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC).

This year also marks the 18th anniversary since Kambon and his gang of followers rowdily stormed out of a conference on the rebellion during my presentation at University of the West Indies (UWI).

On that Holy Thursday, I was simply trying to expose the popular, (politically correct) propagated myth that many Indians actively participated in the Black Power Revolution.

Seven years after Kambon and his gang noisily interrupted my presentation, Professor Bridget Brereton of the Department of History at UWI came out to support my position.

In an article entitled “Contesting the past: Narratives of Trinidad & Tobago,” Brereton wrote: “Most Indo-Trinidadians opposed the movement and rejected the label ‘black,’ which, most felt, subsumed their ethnic identity under a blanket term always primarily associated with people of African descent” (page 19).

At the Black Power conference in UWI in 2010, I began my presentation by saying: “I speak with the knowledge that there is an attempt by NJAC, and a few Indian militants, to sanitize what, according to historian Kelvin Singh was really ‘a bid by Afro-Trinidadians to dominate the multi-ethnic society in a totalitarian way’” (page 5).

In his book East Indians and Black Power in the Caribbean (1986), Professor Mahin Gosine stated that the participation level of Indians was very low. He wrote that Black Power meant a call to African people to return to their cultural roots, to reject White domination, and to seize political power through revolutionary struggle. The ideology, at its core, preached a return to the traditional African past.

Many Indians did not actively participate in the Black Power Movement because of the violence that was involved. Violence exploded on a large scale on the night of March 5, 1970. Each night, the number of targets hit by Molotov cocktails increased.

Indians feared that the violence would be turned against them, their families, their homes and their small business establishments. An Indian-owned factory was burnt in San Juan and four children died in the fire.

Although NJAC led a procession of 20,000 demonstrators to San Juan, and later to Caroni as an apology, and to signal Afro-Indian unity, the damage was already done to the psyche of Indians.

In his journal article entitled “East Indians and Black Power in Trinidad,” foreign-based researcher, David Nicholls (1971), agreed that the “majority of Indians looked with a certain degree of detachment and with some suspicion upon what was going on. They saw it as a confrontation between black demonstrators, black policemen, and a black Government” (page 443).

At the forefront of the movement were a few Indians. These were men like Winston Leonard who could not have claimed for himself to be either a spokesman or a leader of the Indian community. There was also Chan Maraj of the unknown Arouca-based National Freedom Association, whose fame to claim was that he was related to veteran politician Stephen Maharaj.

These men were aliens to the Indian community. Indeed the Indian community saw them as confused men without a cultural identity. They were token Indian symbols used by advocates of the Black Power Movement for strategic, symbolic and political purposes.

Like Raja Ramlogan, these Indian men did not talk about India, Indian history and Indian heritage with the same passion as their African counterparts talked about their ancestral past.

Indeed, while the Black Power leader, Daaga, and his chey-la, Kambon, were sporting dashiki with pride, Ramlogan was sporting dashiki too, instead of the culturally-acceptable Indian kurta shirt.

A few Indian university students were involved. They went beforehand along the Caroni route explaining the purpose of the proposed march. But they were not taken seriously by villagers since they were considered young university students who just had “more book sense that common sense.”

On March 12, 1970, Indian children came out on the streets out of curiosity to see the dramatic procession, complete with colour, props, chants and speeches.

Indian adults on the Caroni route came out not so much in support of the Movement, but more out of the characteristic Indian hospitality to give food and water to any passing stranger in need.

There was also the strong feeling of fear: Give these rebels what they want and let them go quickly.” If Indians did give a hand of support to the protesters, it was really in support against Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams and his ruling PNM (People’s National Movement) who were considered to be the enemies of Indians.

THE WRITER is an anthropologist who has published 11 books.


Correspondence – Dr. Kumar Mahabir, 10 Swami Avenue, Don Miguel Road, San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies. Mobile: (868) 756-4961 E-mail: dmahabir@gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Few Indians Joined Black Power in 1970

  1. What the author did not share with the reader is a sense of how things have progressed in T&T since the 70s and the Black Power movement.

  2. The implicit message in this post is that African Caribbean and Indo-Caribbeans do not have any common ground. At the time the author is speaking of, the early 1970s, Trinidadians and Guyanese Indians in London (Roy Sawh, Clement Maharaj, Rudi Narayan et al) were very active in the Black Britih community, in many instances taking on leadership.
    So, clearly, he as addressing a uniquely Trinidad (and may be Guyana) problem. It also raises another question: if the underlying impulse of Trinidadian Indians is separate ism, why then have so many use the cover of Caricom’s free movement to re-locate in other black-majority Caribbean nations?

  3. Mahabir is a light weight apologist for a vicious class construction in Trinidad and Tobago, in particular, and the wider Caribbean more generally. His perfect world!

    The current make up of T&T is not as Black and Indian as he presumes. In fact, there is a certain level of miscegenation.

    The hard lines he recognized as erected between Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians/Tobagonians are only relevant if one has a clock which goes back to the arrival of East Indians and the ending of chattel slavery.

    More fundamentally, any significant cultural elements which Mahabir now claims to be distinctly Indian, should his anthropological clock be able to go back far enough, he would find are African in origin. Real anthropologists have long known that the first Indians in India were in fact Africans.

    This demonstrates the shortcomings of academicians like Mahabir. They are merely ‘bits and pieces’ men/women whose ‘scholarship’, if we can call it that, is about reinforcing recent power relationships.

    • @Pacha

      Agree with you, it is why the blogmaster asked about why the conclusion of the submission did not located to present day reality.

  4. David

    Bushie will confirm that Africa, even in his book, was called Asia Minor.

    Meaning that Africa people populated all of Asia before they went anywhere else using well recognized migration patterns. PS – there is no continent called Europe

    This surface deep ‘bull’ which popularly passes for anthropology is merely the marketing of a current ‘reality’.

    Look at people like ‘their’ Buddha, he is just one of the four (4) phenotypes coming out of Africa. These original ‘Indians’ built all kinds of monuments which are still there today.

    We invite you to go and see them.

    And the so-called Dalits, 200 millions, who these Hindus, largely, continue to suppress, are just one representation of the Asiatic Africans.

    David, this is the problem we have always had with those who seek to promote a self definition of the Caribbean. A definition which builds a present on a foundation of emptiness.

  5. Meaning that Africa people populated all of Asia before they went anywhere else using well recognized migration patterns. PS – there is no continent called Europe


    Actually, Africa is a part of South America and India!!

  6. No. We are talking about a more recent epoch than when there was a single landmass on Pachamama.

    Do you really think there could be anything about ourselves that you can teach us. We are Pachamama.

    FYI, when there was a single landmass, Bushie BBE did not even dream about the humanoid as yet. That was billions of years prior.

  7. No. We are talking about a more recent epoch than when there was a single landmass on Pachamama.


    How much more recent …. 5,00, 6,000 … maybe 10,000 years ago?

  8. http://www.caribbean-atlas.com/en/themes/waves-of-colonization-and-control-in-the-caribbean/waves-of-colonization/the-experience-of-indian-indenture-in-trinidad-arrival-and-settlement.html

    The reason Trinidad and Guyana received large numbers of East Indians after 1845 was because they were both in the process of development as sugar producing areas in the British Empire.

    There was no need for them in Barbados because of its tiny size.

    It was already fully developed for the period and the technology available and had an oversupply of labour.

    Trinidad became British c. 1797 …


    The increased acreage allowed a large growth in sugar output and many Barbadian families went there with their slaves to take advantage of the opportunity.

    Haiti had been destroyed by its slaves and 40% of sugar output to Europe disappeared so there was money to be made in sugar in Trinidad and Guyana and no limitation on the size of the possible output like miniscule Barbados.

    Many of the “black” population in both Trinidad and Guyana are descended from Barbadian slaves alive in 1797.

    The East Indians arrived two generations later after slavery had been abolished.

    Again, had Trinidad and Guyana been large sugar producers at the time they would also have had large black populations as a result of slavery but they did not.

    So, East Indians came to fill the need for labour.

  9. The writer of the article is correct. I actually took part in the demonstrations and in the last train ride from Tunapuna to Port of Spain and the march to San Fernando. The Students took over the train and we all went to the capital. Geddes Granger,Winston Suite and Winston Smart were leading members of the demonstration. Lloyd Best tried hard to get the security forces to arrest him. He declared the St. Augustine Campus liberated territory and talked about setting up a Constituent Assembly like that which was established in the French Revolution. He actually closed the gates by Milner Hall and the Campus police fired shots in the air. I was there. Very few Indians were involved in the revolution. As some one who took part in the revolution and who lived through a dusk-to-dawn curfew, I would suggest that commentators do some research.

    Robert D. Lucas, PH.D.

  10. Very few Indians were involved in the revolution.


    Completely different origins!!!!

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