East Indians in Trinidad - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Few of the traditional Indian socialstructural elements received any recognition or support within the Trinidad legal or social system, and few survived for long. Nevertheless, in the newly emerging East Indian settlements, powerful—if informal—sentiments maintained such practices as caste endogamy and neighborhood exogamy for decades. Leaders—called "big men"—emerged in most areas, maintaining peace in their communities by settling disputes and by punishing (sometimes by beatings, more often often by the imposition of fines or ostracism) those who violated tradition.

Political Organization. By 1956, the People's National Movement (PNM), under the leadership of Dr. Eric Williams and supported by most Afro-Trinidadians (and many Christian and Muslim Indo-Trinidadians), began to dominate the political scene. Hindu East Indians, however, preferred to support "Indian" parties over the years, beginning withn the Democratic Labour party (DLP) led by Bhadase Sagan Maraj. The death of Williams in 1981 and a continuing economic recession precipitated by falling oil revenues led to a realignment of voting blocs and to the fall of the PNM in 1986. After considerable turmoil, including, in 1990, a violent effort to topple the government by Black Muslims (during which the prime minister and half the cabinet were taken hostage), the PNM regained power in 1992, an outcome largely attributable to the widely detested austerity program imposed by the then-governing National Alliance for Reconciliation. Party fragmentation and realignment along ethnic and interest-group lines continues.

Social Control and Conflict. Bhadase Sagan Maraj and the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha received and maintained widespread loyalty because the Maha Sabha, with Maraj's financial support, had provided East Indians with non-Christian-controlled schools. By the 1980s, however, opposition to the Maha Sabha (and Brahmanical control) was developing among the educated youth and the wealthier and more cosmopolitan elite within the Indian community. New and independent political bodies and religious organizations appeared on the scene, although the Maha Sabha maintained support among the less educated, poorer, and more rural Indo-Trinidadians.

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