Indian diaspora in West Indies

2006 Jun 05 by DreamCricket

Chanderpaul, Sarwan, Ramdhin, Mohammed and Ganga are keeping up a glorious tradition started by left arm spinner Sonny Ramadhin in 1950.

The fact that five of the 14 West Indian players named for the first Test match against India beginning on Friday are of Indian descent is the culmination of a remarkable trend that first began over 50 years back.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dinesh Ramdhin, Dave Mohammed and Daren Ganga are keeping up a glorious tradition started by left arm spinner Sonny Ramadhin in 1950.

Ramadhin with fellow-spinner Alf Valentine bowled the West Indies to their first series victory in England. He was also the first cricketer of Indian descent—, locally known as East Indians, —to represent the Caribbean island.

Their ancestors had been shipped to the Caribbean from villages in India, mostly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, by the British as ‘indentured’ labourers.

This was really a euphemism for slavery which by then had been legally abolished. But they were forced to work in the sugarcane fields of Guyana Trinidad and Tobago in the most oppressive of conditions. Treated like second-class citizens at best, these East Indians—, who never forgot their roots back home —worked their way to the top of society by sheer dint of hard work and sacrifice.

The most famous of their ilk is of course Nobel Prize winning novelist Sir Vidia (VS) Naipul from Trinidad while many others have risen to positions of eminence in politics, even leading their adopted countries.

It was the first visit of the Indian team to the West Indies in 1953 that electrified the East Indian community across the island nations and inspired many to take to cricket. The East Indians found in cricket a means to make a name for themselves internationally.

The team, led by Vijay Hazare surprised one and all by losing just one of the five Test matches. Further, they were widely considered as the finest fielding side to visit the shores.

Ivan Madray, Joe Solomon and Rohan Kanhai followed Ramadhin into the West Indian team and it was finally in 1973 that Kanhai became the first from his community to lead the side. He was followed five years later by Alvin Kallicharan. Before Brian Lara took over the captaincy for the third time last month, Chanderpaul was the captain.

Once Viv Richards assumed the captaincy from Clive Lloyd in 1985 he publicly stated that the West Indian team was a “symbol of the Afro-Caribbean people.” True to his word, not a single East Indian could get a place in sides led by Sir Viv.

It is indeed an ironical twist of fate that if cricket is still alive in the West Indies today, it is largely due to the interest among the East Indian community.

The Afro-Caribbean people have developed other more lucrative interests that have lured them away from cricket and this is evident in the decline of the West Indies as a world cricket power over the last 10 years.

In approximately the same period, nearly half of the total number of East Indian players (10 out of 24) to play Test cricket over the last 56 years, had made their appearances, plus two who have played ODIs only--fast bowler Ravi Rampaul and Sewnarine Chattergoon.

Sadly, famed West Indian cricket historians such as CLR James and Michael Manley simply failed to acknowledge the role of the East Indian community.

Now in the midst of another series against the land of their forefathers, it is perhaps the right time to pay tribute to one of the Indian Diaspora'’s greatest success stories.