When Swami Aksharananda reminded his community that within the African community (specifically, the PNC and WPA) “a significant number of African intellectuals, scholars, and activists …are quite vociferous when it comes to ethnic honor, and for whom the furtherance and defense of African Guyanese interests, is an important plank in their political and public life.” … “this group of individuals seeks to connect ethnic interests with national interests” and that there is an “asymmetry in this position when it comes to Indians…
it wasn’t because they had forgotten. It was to keep alight the bitter rivalry that has been the signature of race relations in Guyana since the East Indians arrived in 1838 to join Africans as higher level slaves.
That in this day, politics is still plotted along this social axis underscores the fragile coexistence between these two races; first hatched in the minds of very contemptuous men whose morals allowed them to enslave others to enrich themselves.
It was the fact finding Moyne Commission, in its effort to find reasons why there was so much unrest amongst the slaves of the Plantocracy that exposed their description of the African Laborer, the black man, ‘essentially gay, light hearted emotional person, fatalistic in attitude of life, and as a rule, taking no thought for the morrow…his main requirements are food, shelter bright attractive clothing, a little spare money for rum and gambling and an easy opportunity for love making”.
And, it was Governor Collet, during the influenza epidemic of 1918 -1919 who argued that the ‘Indian labourer ‘deliberately underfed [himself] to save money …. when he receives higher wages, he wants to save them and grudges spending more on food than he used to’; implying that his weakened state from deliberately placing saving money ahead of buying food made him prone to the disease. Reverend HPV Bronkhurst concurred in offering “the Coolies of British Guiana are avaricious of dollars and cents”.
As early as 1889, The Daily Argosy noted: ‘…. it is a rare thing to find any resident blacks on an estate: from the driver downwards these people have either flocked into the towns or into some slum or village’.
And, it was Alfred Athiel Thorne, the black statesman of the 1930’s and 1940’s who argued that the ‘meager wages and returns from rice on which the East Indian exists would kill out the Negro population rapidly’.
The common thinking amongst the colonial masters back then, too, was that “Blacks associated labor in the cane fields with slavery; it carried a stubborn social stigma; it was ‘coolie work’, to be avoided, if possible.”
So, it is this collection of thoughts, this racialized identity that has followed these two ethnic groups in Guyana from their transplantation through current day; an identity that drove political choices, that steered social paths, that processed ethnic acceptance, that decided social exclusion, that created ethnic strangulation.
When Baytoram Ramharack, Indian intellectual, re-posits the question, “Where are the Indian intellectuals?”, given his academic background, we suspect that it’s more of a call to literary arms than it is to check for the geo- position of the people he feels can engage in an erudite exchange with these intellectuals he sees more as competition, as adversaries, than as Guyanese counterparts, with whom he must work to rebuild a country that has been decimated because of an inherited sociopolitical construct that promoted racial dominance and political xenophobia.
Therefore, instead of solutions and commitments to be Guyanese, to work with elected officials on a platform of shared governance, reflective of a cross section of the population that we have not seen since 1953, we get letters to the Guyana Chronicle, State Media, extolling, exalting, the East Indian, his work habits and his contribution to the country’s GDP; clearly a one sided praise report intended to subordinate the contribution of the five other races our country boasts.
So, because this is a response to Ramharack’s dog whistle call to incite the intellectuals in his community- like the Chandradat Deonandan who hastened to respond with his “Bridge the Gap between Indos and Afros” letter, rife with the accomplishments of his people in agriculture, submitting that the Indo-Guyanese worked from their youthful years whilst their counterparts (dog whistle for blacks) have been involved in corrupt practices, and threatening the government with Indian violence and immigration sabotage if Indians and their rice growing and family raising were separated –
I won’t tell him that agriculture in Guyana was founded on the backs of the very race he is suggesting is lazy. I won’t tell him that it is the revolts by the very race he is attempting to marginalize, which came long before and several times after the comparative demonstrations by his people,that caused the colonialists to review their treatment of slaves and indentured laborers alike, to improve living conditions, to abolish child labor, to make education possible. I won’t remind him that it was the Africans who, in spite of slaving for no pay, were the pioneers of pooling resources together to buy villages and establish businesses, farms, rice fields, while eating very hearty meals and yes, dressing in their colorful and stylish outfits.
I won’t tell him that because I may become just as stupidly impassioned as he has demonstrated that he is and talk about the race oriented leadership of his party which replaced inherent patriotism with the advancement of systemically disenfranchising a people, whose journey through colonization was even worse than theirs. I may want to tell him that twenty three years of government under his party and by his race was worse collectively and in part than twenty eight years under the rule of the race he is belittling, especially since it was this race, the African race and party that is the corner stone of the most indelible milestones in Guyana’s history – emancipation, independence and becoming a republic.
But I won’t say all those things because my aim is to get past the palpability, the visceral presence, the rawness of racism that is the legacy of Colonial masters who saw us expendable, barbarous, would-be peoples, a means to an end.
Instead, I’ll say to Deonandan, Ramharack and the Swami that we are fifty years post Independence and have stood still in race relation time because our colonial masters implanted that seed of detestation, distaste, dislike, into the minds of their slaves and indentured laborers purely for manipulation; to keep them enemies because a divided population was less likely to revolt against their subhuman treatment.
And, when those masters lost power to the Emancipation Act and long after they were gone, it was the insidious reach of divisiveness of race that gave us two leaders who were revered more for their ethnicity than their vision for country.
I’ll say to him, also, that I would be disappointed in the Guyana Chronicle, the State news paper, for carrying this letter which is overtly racist and disrespectful of the government that this news paper should be supporting in its publication, if it were possible to be more disappointed. We expect the Sate News organ to give us news that is representative of State agenda. There are a few ways to compromise journalistic integrity. One is to under represent your employer. The Chronicle has mastered this deficiency.
I’ll say to him this is a new opportunity for us to understand that the division that was used by the colonialists as a weapon to keep us apart, to separate us, was selected because they knew it was the one thing that could unify us – the commonality of us being brought from our homelands and being forced to work for them under abhorrent conditions. They drove a wedge between us because they knew that in as much as the African was never paid like he, the Indian was, we had the common grouse of being treated in sub human manner, of not wanting our children to provide slave labor, of wanting to be able to provide for our families.
I’ll say to Deo that the time has come for us to dislodge that seed that was engineered to create a schism between two peoples who suffered woeful atrocities by the very people who taught us how to hate each other and for every one of their martyrs, every thirty year old Lalla Bagie, every nineteen year old Pooran, every Rambarran, Dookhi, Harry, there are several Quaminas, Jack Gladstones, Manuels who were slaughtered fighting for improved conditions that led to improved conditions of all labourers, including East Indians.
I’ll say to him to reach out to Ramahrrack and the Swami and sound the clarion call to the intellectuals as well as all members of his community for us to sit down as Guyanese and analyze what the race framed arguments and the racialized politics have done for us as a nation, how it has graduated from overt distaste to more tempered race baiting with subtle references to stereo types, how it drives political campaigns, how it predetermines the lot of large swaths of Guyanese who are expected to contribute to the country’s growth.
And, I’m not done.
I’ll ask him to present a goal for our country and to chart a course along which we should travel to get there. I’ll ask him to look at the job market and the education system and offer ideas on how they can be revised for the benefit of all Guyanese.
This is how we need to move forward as a country, shelving the misdeeds of the past and not retrieving them for quick frames of reference; talking as one people and one nation with one destiny.
So, it is with this new front in mind, this new approach to nationalism, this fresh attempt at shared governance that I pose the question to, Deonanadan, Ramharrack and the Swami, where are the Indian intellectuals?
http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/2700/1/WRAP_THESIS_Shiwcharan_1990.pdf (pg 81, 87,, 139
The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature edited by Michael A. Bucknor, Alison Donnell
Guyana: From Slavery to the Present: Vol. 1 Health System By Ramesh Gampat