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Dougla, a word used by people of the West Indies, especially in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. It is used to describe people who are First generation Afro-Trinidadian-Indo-Trinidadian descent. It is a non-hereditary means of naming people; that is, dougla progeny would usually be categorized as another race based on the progeny's appearance even, in the case of dougla-dougla unions.[1]

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Origins and Etymology

It comes from "dogala." This is a Bhojpuri and Hindi word which has many meanings such as; many, a mix, or much. Some of the connotations of the word such as bastard, illegitimate and son of a whore are secondary and limited to sections of North India where the term may have originated.[2] The term itself has a puzzling connotation, for it has very limited use within the subcontinent for the purpose that it gained in the West Indies. In other words, there is no recorded use of the word other than that which the definition describes, and yet, there is little or no record of such a defined use anywhere on the continent. Originally, the use of the word in the West Indies was only used for Afro-Indo racial hybrids, despite its origin as a word used to describe inter-caste mixing. However, over the years the word has come to be used generally for ANY person of mixed race. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh it is considered highly offensive, as it denotes that one is of mixed caste or a half-breed.

The Genealogy of the Dougla subject

The fundamental reason why Douglas are considered contentious minorities within the territories in which they live is due to the Indos' recent arrival into the territories which they were sent to labour.The dougla, as a subject under Colony control, was created out of the practices and institutions which the colony used to keep the Indo Indentured labourer as a working subject within the Plantation Economy. Afros and Indos did not have a long history of miscegenation. The dougla, at the beginning of Indo arrival, did not exist. As a matter of fact, there exists records, albeit sporadic, of Indo-Euro Unions, forced and unforced, before such of any Afro-Indo miscegenation or Union, forced or otherwise. Note too, that there was a severe shortage of Indo-women. Many did not take the voyage across the Atlantic, for several reasons; some among them being that women were considered unfit to take the voyage and to labour in the canefields. The obvious the fear was that they might have been hurt and/or exploited.[3]. However, this did not mean that the dougla did not emerge early. On the contrary, it was probably more due to the existence of the Indo-male and the Afro-female which opened the gate for the arrival of the dougla in the first place. However, this 'arrival' of the Dougla was not met with open arms, especially by the Indo community at that time.

The first reason for such a hostility was socio-religious. The Hindu religion is one where religious practices are paramount. Upon arrival, the aim for many Hindus was to preserve this practice as much as possible. Obsessions with purity and fear of loss of cultural, religious and ethnic practices was prominent on many minds of those wtihin the Indo community who thought that the preservation of Hindu culture was necessary for survival in a foreign land. When Hindus got involved with those outside the community who, they thought, engaged in Adharmic practices, it meant that, at least to them, that the attempt of preservation and attenuation of tradition was compromised.

The second reason was socio-economic. The arrival of Indians to Trinidad and Tobago's shores, as well as those of Guyana and elsewhere throughout the British Caribbean was not meant to be permanent. The aim of arrival, for many Indians, was to gain as much material wealth under contract and leave with such wealth, to their respective homelands. The dougla, for many, was seen as meaning that the aim of arrival, as well as the commitment to go back home to India would be changed irrevocably, postponed, deferred or annulled. Also, too, the status and name within the Indo-society, would have been deprived, since the dougla progeny meant a violation of economic customs among the jatis.

The third reason was racism. Trinidad, as well as other territories in the Caribbean, had a dynamic of power which was based on the colour of one's skin. This reinforced the rules by which Indo society functioned in excluding the dougla. It also was responsible for putting the other Indo based types of miscegenation (Indo-Chinese, Indo-carib) under pressure, to re-emerge as one of the older ethnic types: Afro, Indo or Euro or passing as one of them. Doing so conferred economic and social benefits not necessarily conferred to by being Afro or dark-skinned.

These three forms of cultural logic determined in a large part how the dougla would be perceived inside the Indo community and, to a certain extent, how the dougla would be perceived within the Outer community as a whole. Such a consideration also formed, to a large extent the way which douglas were and still are perceived, even up to the present day.[4]

Douglas in Trinidad Culture

One calypsonian, the Mighty Dougla (Clatis Ali), described the predicament of "douglas" in the 1960s:

"If they sending Indians to India
And Africans back to Africa
Well somebody please just tell me
Where they sending poor me?
I am neither one nor the other
Six of one, half a dozen of the other
So if they sending all these people back home for true
They got to split me in two,"

Dougla in other Caribbean Islands

In the French West Indies (Guadeloupe, Martinique), and to a further extent, it is said, Haiti they used to be called Batazendien or Chapé-Coolie, those who have escaped the disagreeable Indian condition by becoming hybrid. This alludes to the persecution of Indians by the Blacks in post-slavery times, which pushed many Indians to confront their fate by marrying Blacks so that their Indian look might dissolve through progeny.

As in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Grenada and the other 'smaller islands' of the Caribbean, citizens of mixed Afro-Indian blood in the French West Indies, and the numerous ones with white ancestry too, now tend to be well considered, as having the favourable attributes of their multiple origins. In Guadeloupe especially, and progressively in Martinique, their number is constantly increasing due to cross-breeding.

Contrarily to places where Afro-Indians feel uncomfortable, in the French West Indies they are now treated in a more positive way by other categories of the population and no longer face the cruel existential dilemma of post-slavery times. Sure enough, non-Indian candidates take part in events like Miss Sari Pageant, and the Colombo (Creole Curry) is definitely considered by all Guadeloupeans and Martinicans their 'national' dish. Indians and part-Indian citizens also play a significant role in politics, trade-union activity, art, education, agriculture...

The uncommon phenomenon of mutual acceptance and cultural exchange now attained, called by some 'the Guadeloupe Model', has widely contributed to the rare harmony of the multiracial French West Indian communities. Interestingly, the negritude champion writer Aimé Césaire, who had Indian blood too, was keen on interacting with Indians both from Martinique and Tamil-Nadu.

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