Marking the centenary of the end of the Indian indentureship programme has become a most interesting exercise and more so for the Indian Guyanese community.
Myself, Ravi Dev and Swami Aksharananda were the objects of the usual spewing of hate – originating from Freddie Kissoon’s pathology of self-hatred – in a column published on March 7, 2017.
Whether Kissoon should be given a column to direct personal attacks in the name of responsible journalism is a consideration for his publishers, the Guyana Press Association, and for the Government, which is currently engaged in a nationwide programme to build social cohesion.
At the event held at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) which attracted so much media attention the Social Cohesion Minister was present and heard our remarks, as did other Ministers of Government and heads of diplomatic missions in Guyana.
That none of these intelligent and reasoned personages raised any alarm about any of our speeches inciting uprisings or societal explosions in Guyana could be a good indicator that it was an occasion that offered few surprises, if any.
Neither Dev nor I said anything new. In fact, we have been addressing these same concerns for years – along with leaders like Swami Aksharananda – about Indian Guyanese marginalisation. Newer ones like the closure of sugar estates at an event that speaks to Indian indentureship is hardly a surprise either.
What arose from Kissoon’s diatribe, however, was a decided fear among some of our community. He succeeded in getting Indian Guyanese to pull back into their corners and to fall silent. It always comes as a surprise that there are people who view Kissoon as an intellectual and moral giant even though his columns amount to little beyond glib name-dropping and personal attacks on anyone he deems unacceptable.
His success in intimidating some in our community into silence, however, needs investigation on this historic centenary.
Are we still ‘bound coolies’ allowing others to define us or are we free to think, analyse and speak for ourselves and about ourselves?
In our divided country, there are agents with their various agendas who want us to retain our bound yard status and to live in fear and silence. These include self-loathers like Kissoon and others who feel that subsuming themselves to a national identity of oneness is the only future on offer.
The Government’s and Opposition’s continuous message of respect for diversity is set aside as political rhetoric by these Indian Guyanese who might well be correct about this assumption. They feel comfortable with their chosen status which opens doors for them in every area of national life.
Our insistence on national recognition and respect for our Indian heritage and experience, therefore, makes them vastly uncomfortable. The other section of the bound yard includes Indian Guyanese who do understand and agree with our positions fully but remain closeted for fear of reprisal and intimidation by Kissoon and those of his ilk.
So much for our legacy of courage and resistance inherited from the many Indian heroes who fell right here on the sugar plantations in the struggle for justice.
The question for all Guyana is: when will Indian Guyanese be able to live as Indian Guyanese and without fear to think, speak and voice an opinion from their perspective without being condemned as racists?
This branding never occurs when Africans, Amerindians or any other group speaks on behalf of their communities. This is not a cry of victimhood but an observation about the obvious racism directed at the Indian Guyanese population which is designed to keep us voiceless.
I wish to say to those Indian Guyanese who are fearful of embracing their ethnic identity: we left the bound yard one hundred years ago.
We are free to give voice in music, dance, literature, etc, and free to express ourselves. The next step would be the inclusion of these and other Indian Guyanese expressions on the national stage beyond the tokenism that now exist.
President David Granger in his address at Leonora last Sunday to mark the abolition centenary not only expressed his appreciation for the Indian contribution to Guyana’s development but assured us that we are very much part of a united Guyana.
This even as the State-owned “Guyana Chronicle” participates in the assault on myself, Dev, and People’s Progressive Party MP Adrian Anamayah who also spoke at the NCC on behalf of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
While this assault directly contradicts the President’s own message of inclusion and respect for diversity, I want to believe that the President is sincere about his message to our community.
This should mean that all hate speeches and bigotry directed at any individual or group should be condemned and should have no place in Guyana.