Ballot Box Martyrs remembered for sacrifice towards Guyana’s democracy
July 16, 2021, marks the 48th death anniversary of 17-year-old Jagan Ramessar and 42-year-old Bholanauth Parmanand – the “Ballot Box Martyrs”.
On Election Day, July 16, 1973, Bholanauth and Ramessar were part of a crowd that had gathered outside a polling station at Number 63 Village, Corentyne, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), in the form of a protest. They were at the time protesting the removal of the ballot boxes from the place of poll at the end of voting.
The protesters wanted the ballots to be counted at the place of poll before the ballots were taken away. As such, during the protest, Bholanauth and Ramessar were shot and killed by a member of the Guyana Defence Force. This was during an era of the People’s National Congress (PNC) regime.
The 1973 incident was one of the many struggles to restore democracy to Guyana.
The two were remembered at a simple wreath-laying ceremony held at their graves at the Number 66 Cemetery on Friday where Executive Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Zulfikar Mustapha referred to them as heroes who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for Guyana’s democracy.
“What they gave up their lives for, today we are enjoying it because we have freedom and democracy being restored to our country.”
According to Mustapha, during that era, many other Guyanese fought to ensure freedom and democracy were restored to Guyana.
“We in the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, during that time we were led by the father of the nation Dr Cheddi Jagan. During those dark days when many persons were forced to migrate overseas, some of us stood the test of time and remained in the country; we fought and today we are enjoying freedom,” the Party’s senior official said.
However, he warned against forgetting the experiences of Guyana. Historically, Mustapha said, the PNC has rigged elections and flouted the Constitution of Guyana. After 1992 he said democracy was restored to Guyana and it was lost again in 2015.
“Then after the General and Regional Elections of 2020, we have seen how they ride their utmost to remain in power and violate the Constitution.”
He took the opportunity to thank those who supported Guyana and fought for a democratic process.
As such, he noted that the PPP will continue to fight for electoral reform.
“We must ensure that never in our history again, in our country that we must have those events that took place last year where our freedom and democracy were threatened and many persons would have given up hope.”
Further, he stated that the Party remembers Ramessar and Parmanand and will continue to remember all the martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Special mention was made of Michael Ford who was killed by a bomb on July 17, 1964. “Because of Michael Ford, our Party is surviving.” He explained that when the bomb exploded, Ford was trying to remove it from the bookstore.
At the time there were many senior Party officials in the upper flat of the building.
“If that bomb had exploded many of our leaders at that time would have died. So, that is another hero that we have and tomorrow we will be remembering him.”
Meanwhile, 68-year-old Tyrat Ramessar, the brother of Ramessar reminisced that on the dreaded night, they were standing in protest to make sure that the ballot boxes were not removed from the polling station until each ballot was counted.
“While we were there standing up for democracy then came the GDF (Guyana Defence Force) the Police and they start shooting up.” He recalled seeing his brother being shot and killed.
Many of them, he said, were beaten and some arrested. Some, he noted, had to hide in nearby bushes including himself. They had to remain in hiding for two months.
However, he returned home for his brother’s funeral.
“They were looking for us, for what reason I don’t know, so we had to move away. They were looking for us but they didn’t catch us,” the brother revealed.
At the time of the shooting, he was merely a teenager who was fighting for democracy.