A Conversation with Professor Patricia Mohammed on the State of East Indian Women in the Caribbean

Oct 01, 2020, 09:53 PM

Season 1, Episode 1.

Are East Indian women better off in the Caribbean now than they would have been had their ancestors remained in South Asia?

Vinay sits down with Patricia Mohammed to answer, or at least make sense of, this very complex question. They begin with the circumstances prompting the arrival of Indian women in the Caribbean from India. It turns out that while indentureship certainly oppressed women, it gave them some unprecedented freedoms. These allowances would shape female identity both on and off the plantations, especially with how they navigated their positions as wives and daughters. Discussions on how gender roles would take root in Trinidad and Guyana would not be complete without considering the emerging class and religious differences after indenture ended. As both nations barreled towards independence, women would inevitably have to negotiate and renegotiate their standing in society. While formation of national identities would undoubtedly suppress certain aspects of Indian culture, women would find themselves in public discourse through vehicles like chutney music. Sexuality and income, apparently, would chart a new course for Indo-Caribbean women. Such conversations cannot be had without acknowledging the growing feminist organizations and emergence of icons like Drupatee Ramgoonai and Professor Mohammed herself. All of these developments would have significant impacts on Indo-Caribbean femininity, an identity that is rapidly changing still to this day. Professor Mohammed is an example of the strides women in the community have been able to take. Her exceptional educational profile and recent work as a filmmaker illustrate how wide the generational gaps in progress are between Indo-Caribbean women.

Professor Mohammed is an Emeritus Professor at the University of West Indies and a key thinker in feminist theory, particularly in the Caribbean. Full Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies since 2005, she has supervised and taught on gender and development, and devoted decades of service to the University, including the development of educational courses and programmes, and serving as Director and Chair of the Campus Committee of the School for Graduate Studies and Research. Her scholarly contributions include over 100 publications in journals, edited books and media, including self-authored books Imaging the Caribbean: Culture and Visual Translation (2010; Macmillan Education), and Gender Negotiations Among Indians in Trinidad: 1917-1947 (2001; Palgrave). Forthcoming works include a collection of essays co-edited with Cheryl Ann Boodram (Connecting the Dots: Life. Work. Balance. Ageing, Ian Randle Publishers) and Writing Gender in the Caribbean: Selected Essays 1988-2019 (Hansib Publications). Since 1986, Professor Mohammed has also been involved in the production of films and other media on gender and women’s issues. In 2019, she was awarded a National Gold Medal from the President of Trinidad and Tobago for her contribution to the country on Women and Development Issues, and in 2018, she was recognised as one of the University of the West Indies 70+ Outstanding Women graduates of UWI in its 70th anniversary.

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