Between 1838 and 1917, some 243,000 Indians were inveigled to Guyana to labour on the sugar plantations. Some of them returned to India, while the others remained to struggle and die to improve their lot and, not so incidentally, also develop their country. And develop their country they surely did!
They not only saved the sugar industry, which had been hit by a loss of its preferential market to Britain and faced competition from slave-grown sugar, but because they persisted under a regime of falling wages throughout the 79 years of the indentureship programme, the sugar industry was actually EXPANDED to twice its size from the days of slavery!!
But did they develop themselves? They did, but no thanks to King Sugar! They leased and bought patches of swampy land near the sugar plantations; and, using the knowledge the “agricultural Kurmi castes” brought with them from the plains of the Ganges, cultivated rice to supplement the slave wages they received. In fact it was less than “slave wages”, since the freed slaves refused to accept it, and walked off the plantations.
With their ingenuity and hard work, they created a new industry, one which supplanted sugar decades ago.
The immigrants from the Ahir caste, who reared cattle back in India, also parlayed their knowledge for survival by launching that industry that included selling milk to the rest of the populace.
Gold jewellery became another option, since Guyana had gold and the Soniar caste had the knowledge. Coconut oil was also made by the Teli caste etc…etc.
While it’s been the norm to castigate the Indian caste system for its backward features, the “trade guild” aspect has never been recognised for its role in transforming Guyana.
But with all of that achievement, since the middle of the 1960s, far more than the 243,000 Indians who came here packed up and left Guyana, mostly for the US and Canada. Why’d they do that? It was because the politics of the PNC set up a scenario in the land — for which they had sacrificed with their blood, sweat and tears — that made their existence here untenable.
The PNC nationalised the sugar industry, and scooped off the profits with a levy, ensuring their hard-earned profit sharing was made moot.
The rice industry was destroyed when the PNC mandated that all paddy and rice be sold to the Government for ridiculously low prices, and then kept the profits made from exports! Racial discrimination against Indians in the 80 per cent of the economy controlled by the PNC Government forced out the white and blue collar Indian Guyanese.
Today, the PNC of David Granger in sugar, rice and the public service is applying the coup de grace.
…in the AFC hierarchy
Nagamootoo had, in so many words, said the last elections were his last hurrah. In fact, he didn’t run for any position in the AFC’s Executive body, and was given an honorary “Elder” role. Not surprisingly, everyone concluded he wasn’t going to put his hand up for the PM slot, which in the new PNC dispensation meant an Indian Guyanese. After all, in addition to relinquishing any formal role in the AFC, which is the entity in the coalition with the PNC, he’d undergone open heart surgery.
Then in stepped Trotman, the current leader of the party, who declared that Nagamootoo ought to have a second stint as PM. Everyone knew where he was coming from: there was always a thinly veiled, low- intensity, internecine warfare waged by him against Ramjattan. It stemmed from Ramjattan’s refusal to allow him to renege on the agreement that the leadership be rotated between the two of them.
It’s now payback time. And with most of the Indian Guyanese decamping the AFC, Trotman will swing the vote against his bete noir!!
It’s sayonara time, Ramjattan!!
Ramjattan, however, isn’t going quietly into the night. He’s lining up support within the AF hierarchy to take on Trotman.
He backs the Telecoms Minister’s getting Govt contracts. And him a lawyer!!