A trail of trials, traumas and tribulations

Dear Editor,
May 5, 2023 denotes the 185th anniversary of the arrival of East Indians from India in the then British Guiana as Indian indentured labourers. A colony that was last ruled by the British saw the abolition of slavery in 1833, the emancipation of slaves, and the end to the chattel slavery system. The Africans, forcefully brought from Africa to work for the colonial masters, were then freed from slavery, and finally given freedom and the choice of living independently. Many left the sugar plantations and diversified to other opportunities, and that created a vacuum to replace the loss of the labour force.
There are two months in which the culture of Afro-Guyanese is highlighted. While February is celebrated as “Black History Month”, August also commemorates the anniversary of Emancipation for Blacks.
The importation of indentured labourers from India was conceived and implemented, but the conditions were concealed; and on arrival, the Indians found out that they were deceived when they saw and experienced the deplorable living and arduous working conditions.
Incidentally, May 2nd also commemorates arrival of the Portuguese/Madeirans, and January 13th commemorates the arrival of the Chinese. West Indians and some “others” were also imported under this context. September signifies the observance of Amerindian Heritage.
Doubt is still entertained about the ambiguity of this day, 5th May, whether it is to commemorate and generalise the arrival of people from all races, indentured labourers, or specifically to celebrate the historical arrival of Indians only. A transparent pronouncement is yet to be officially made, and officials have evaded this clarification by preferring to shelve the issue.
East Indians have struggled from day one in this country, and were viewed with skepticism by others, patronised as unwelcome, and regarded as job-grabbers. They came with tangible wealth, being their few pieces of clothing, their religious books, and their culture. Hundreds died on the dangerous journey known as the “Kala Pani.” Toiling under the hot sun, and enduring much use and abuse, they had to tolerate a new strain of slavery, another form of British hardship, and they quickly had to adapt to a different way of life in order to accommodate a means of survival, losing an accustomed social respectability in the long run.
Not deterred by the presumptuousness of being referred to as “Coolies”, grinding away from Monday to Saturday, bearing strain from the whims and fancies of the British, who enjoyed punishing them for the flimsiest of excuses, and being agitated with numerous anomalies, they survived all disadvantages and oppression to establish themselves at the forefront, to gain the resentment of others. With a cultural hallmark of praying, working, playing, saving, being conservative, investing wisely, and building slowly but surely, this methodology transcended a fusion of lifestyle, aspiration, dedication, and cultivation to catapult suppression to impression.
Bonded with togetherness and banded with mutual compatibility, a primary generation of simpletons converted a despicable situation into a promising generation of prosperity. Today, being the envy of illusionists, there is the unfounded accusation of “wealth disparity” being sourced and funnelled by propagandists. Emerging from a level playing field, or perhaps an unfavourable circumstance not privileged by those earlier settlers, the false hue-and-cry of favouritism is being beaten on a drum, resounding in a tasteless melody.
Such has been a trail filled with trials, traumas and tribulations; a journey saddled with many blocks and hurdles, and a pathway strewn with holes and thorns; but never undaunted or deterred by the improbable, generations of Indians have battled the stormy seas and have not withered with the tempestuous weather. They preferred to toil the soil with their inherited cultural proclivities and agricultural skills, invest in their children’s education, and confine any exuberance with compassion and satisfaction.
A buddy system practised from the days of yore, this concept afforded the extension of a helping hand to take care and look out for the senior and junior members of the family. This principle has adumbrated the successive genealogy for success, and has manifested high dividends.
With the passing of time; inclement economic situation enforced by dictatorship; sidelining of unilateralism; prejudice, racial discrimination, political favouritism, social upheaval and religious suppression; Indo-Guyanese, with other ethnicities not favourable supporters of the then demeaning administration, were unavoidably migrating to greener pastures. They were all escaping from the devaluation of the dollar; the restricted foreign exchange system; the banning of food items; nationalisation and its repercussions; the paramountcy of the PNC party; the evil of Burnhamism; the party card passport; the political domination in the Ministries, Public Sector, and agencies; the downsizing of the economy, and the ultimate collapse of a nation under siege by a cabal led by the Kabaka. The “Sanctimonious Gangster” also alluded to this infraction.
With the turning of the tide, Indo-Guyanese have proliferated, persevered, and propelled to a stage of predisposition, whereby everything must be relished with reservation. At each turn, a perilous trap is anticipated, and nothing can be accepted as granted. Many have sold out the rights of East Indians for personal greed, employment opportunities, financial satisfaction, and social advancement, all at the demise and expense of the struggling class. No wonder Indo-Guyanese are spectators and not consumers in the celebration of Republic Day, Mashramani and Independence Day. Not being fooled or tranquilised by magicians; circus performers; and dirty, dangerous, and devious ring leaders, they fashion a head on their shoulders, and can smell a rat from a mile. Any decoration of “mental laziness” is certainly supercilious from any irresponsible party, and castigates, chastises, and chars the dignity of individuality.
Arrival Day should be renamed as Indian Arrival Day to underscore the reflection of the sacrifices of the ancestors of East Indians from India, and their contribution towards the peace, progress and prosperity of all Guyana.

Yours respectfully,
Jai Lall