Alcohol

While patriarchal reassertion was a primary cause of such Indo-Trinidadian male violence (Mohapatra 1995), alcohol consumption was an important lubricant. Mohammed (2002) reported that, during the indentureship period, “Intemperance became a major problem among Indian men, fuelled by a massive network of legal and illegal sources of alcohol” (Mohammed 2002, 45). Except for these passing mentions by Mohammed, there was little mention of alcohol or its role in plantation life and/or gender relations in these early feminist histories. Today, this seems like an amazing omission, bearing in mind the prevailing stereotypes of Indo-Caribbean men in relation to alcohol and violence. A more recent reading of historical and contemporary material by Gaiutra Bahadur (2013) underscores that, throughout the plantation world, this legacy of violence is still being felt. In Trinidad and Tobago, a quintessential phenomenon is that of the mur- der/suicide where men kill their partners/spouses, sometimes their children, and then themselves. This occurrence of murder/suicides in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries is reminiscent of the end of the nineteenth century.8

Alcohol has an important history in most colonizing and colonial experiences. Bahadur notes that it was introduced to migrants before leaving the depots at Calcutta. Consumption by indentured men was present in all the plantation sites including Reunion, Mauritius and British Guiana (Bahadur 2013, 202). In Trinidad and Guyana, alcohol (specifically rum—a byproduct of sugarcane, the main plantation crop) replaced marijuana or ganja which was brought to the region by Indians themselves. The use of alcohol to pay laborers of color in colonial contexts is legendary, but so far, there is little clear evidence of this in the Caribbean plantation context. Nevertheless, in this location, alcohol was not only another “opiate of the masses”; it was also a central component of the plantation economy, and worker consumption would have been an important financial contributor. While Indo-Caribbean masculinities have been strongly associated with alcohol consumption and the negative behaviors associated with it, Bahadur argues and I concur that this has now extended to the entire male population in Guyana, and I would add Trinidad and Tobago. Once again, this could be understood as an enduring social, economic, and political legacy of the plantation; a reflection of the fragilities of subordinated masculinities in the colonial and postcolonial context and with continuing impact on women in their struggle for autonomy over their lives and their bodies (Reddock 2000, 21).

This theme would continue in the new Indo-Caribbean feminist writings of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, especially in relation to domestic violence. In Matikor, violence and alcoholism were running themes in many of the pieces. Drawing on her 1989 study on Guyana (Danns and Parsad 1989), Basmat Shiw Parsad suggested that alcohol provided Indian males with a convenient means of lowering inhibitions and setting the stage for explosive violent behavior often in the presence of others (Shiw Parsad 1999, 49). By raising the specter of marital infidelity of wives (Parsad 1999, 48) as an explanation for these murders, the question emerges once again whether such infidelity was indeed prevalent or whether we see the continuation of the plantation legacy of women murdered for presumed or suspected infidelity.

In her short story, Rum Sweet Rum, Rosanne Kanhai presents a tale of alcoholism and associated domestic violence against a backdrop of the lack of support provided in this case to the victim Dolly by the police, her parents, and in-laws who all advise her to return home as “it is your husband, it is your luck” (Kanhai 1999, 8). This theme also appeared in other pieces in Matikor as in the case of Nesha Haniff who wondered aloud at the inactivity of Indian men in the face of such violence against women—their mothers and sisters (Haniff 1999, 25-26). The public exploration of these themes by these women writers was a new assertion of Indo-Caribbean women’s voices in confrontation with established family structures and patriarchal norms. It was also a historic insertion of their issues into the existing feminist landscape.

 
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