In my first part of analysing ethno-local identity, I argued that historical isolation on the plantations, the nationalisation of culture based on all of us are one, and the dictatorial policies of the then PNC have led to the creation and persistence of Indian ethno-local identity in Guyana.
I will add that the policies of the PPP have also led to ethno-local identity. The PPP has done very little with regards to moving Indians from their insular rural domain into the public and private sector.
In this column, I will examine the positives and negatives of ethno-local identity. To many rural Indians, an ethno-Indian local identity is based on an elastic form of Hinduism which they consider to be sacred and pure. This identity does not only maintain certain aspects of custom and culture, Holi and Diwali, for example, but also provide strong personal and communal support to deal with human social ills like alcoholism, suicide, domestic aggression and abuse, particularly since these communities are generally without sound supporting networks and plagued by poverty and other forms of dissonance.
Rural Indian communities have developed impressive survival mechanisms by themselves for themselves. Instead of going to a modern medical doctor, for example, for certain illnesses, they choose the nontraditional medical practice of the “massage man” in their community to treat nara, belly pain.
The flipside of the above positives, however, is that ethno-local identity also reflects a sense of parochialism and insularity, which has given rise to internal and external problems. Internally, traditional roles within the family and community are questioned. Sons challenge the authority of fathers while daughters-in-law question their subservient roles in the family.
Subsequently, effective social integration from the inside is not always well as family, community, society are torn apart by the struggle for power and equality. It is not uncommon to see family members not speaking to each other for long periods, and in some cases, a lifetime, because of an argument.
Indians themselves are separated and even torn apart by their different identifications. Some urban Indians simply despise ethno-local Indian identity and see it as backward and barnacled to old customs that are inconsistent with the more influential Creole identity.
To illustrate, consider the following, which might be difficult for some to digest. After the post-2015 general election in Guyana in which the predominant Indian PPP lost to the APNU/AFC coalition, local Indians who retained their loyalty to the PPP were referred to as: “dem coolie stupid,” “dem coolie na want change,” “dem coolie think dem a live in India.” What these remarks highlight is an internal ethnic identity difference within Indians in Guyana.
While urban Indians have identified mainly with the national identity of their country, rural Indians with local identity see such aspirations as straying from one’s roots. Rural Indians see themselves as proud icons of Indian cultural resilience in a foreign land, particularly with regard to rejecting Westernisation and Creolisation.
To be sure, however, some urban Indians as well as rural Indians embrace a hybrid identity that combines elements of both identities. It is not surprising to find an urban Hindu magistrate upholding Western law in courts or a rural Indian exposing his children to Western mannerisms and education.
Externally, Indian local identity is perceived by the Creole society as unsupportive of the national culture or national consciousness, which is based on nationality rather than ethnicity. As a result, ethno-local identity can be marginalised from the national consciousness but at the local level share an interlocking interdependence with communities different from the Indians’ own. For instance, local Indians tend to seek out Westernised Indians as well as Africans for help in matters relating to Western institutions such school and court proceedings. In some ways, and even though, local Indian identity is insular, it is not always isolated.
By and large, identity by its very nature is consensual, conflictual, and relational. If ethno-local Indians do not have any meaningful relationship with other ethnic groups, it is implicitly relational since there is no relation.
Philosophy aside, what is more at stake is what will become of ethno-local identity in the future. Predicting the future is always a risky endeavour but we can say if inequities in the global system as well as political, economic, and social instabilities and tensions within the nation-state of Guyana continue, which arguably will, then ethno-local identity may disappear altogether like other localised culture in the global south.
Equally worrying is that unlike ethno-national identity, ethno-local identity has never been at the forefront of plans, policies and programmes of the nation-state of Guyana.
(send comments to: [email protected]).