How do you commission a monument in memory and in tribute of a group of people, but make no effort to ensure they are an important part of the commissioning? The most noteworthy part of the commissioning of the Indian Arrival Monument was the almost total absence of Indo-Guyanese. Most of the people present at the ceremony were not Indo-Guyanese. The fact that those people present were dressed in traditional Indian wear cannot hide the reality that the descendants of those Indians who arrived more than 181 years ago were excluded.
The country’s largest ethnic group is Indo-Guyanese; Region 6 is overwhelmingly Indo-Guyanese; and Palmyra, the village where the monument is located, is almost exclusively Indo-Guyanese. It was a strange sight, therefore, to see the commissioning ceremony for the Indian Arrival Monument with the visible absence of Indo-Guyanese and the visible presence of Afro-Guyanese dressed in Indian clothing. This commissioning ceremony should have been an occasion for Guyana to display its ethnic and cultural diversity. The Government squandered a great opportunity for national cohesion.
On May 5, Arrivals Day in Guyana, the David Granger-led APNU+AFC Administration commissioned the Indian Arrival Monument at Palmyra in Berbice, exactly three years after it was scheduled to be commissioned. But better late than never, it was a proud day for all Guyanese, particularly for Indo-Guyanese. The monument is Guyana’s recognition that the people who first arrived on May 5, 1838 became productive and valuable citizens of Guyana. Their descendants have made remarkable progress and have contributed significantly to the upward mobility of Guyana, even if Guyana is still a poor country.
President Granger rightfully and generously acknowledged this truth, and even named some of the successful Indo-Guyanese. But many noteworthy names of Indo-Guyanese were not included in President Granger’s list. While I want to believe no one was deliberately excluded because of political considerations, it cannot escape anyone that President Granger failed to acknowledge the important contributions of people like Cheddi Jagan, Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar, all former Presidents. There are other notable Indo-Guyanese with distinguished careers who were not mentioned. I believe this is yet another opportunity for cohesion squandered.
The May 5th date for the commissioning was the right date, even if it was several years late. The actual statues were in storage in Guyana for more than four years. It is therefore gratifying, even if it is three years too late, that the Indian Arrival Monument is a reality. APNU+AFC would have insulted people if it had carried through with the original date it proposed – April 27. It is said that the Indian High Commission had expressed disappointment with the proposed April 27 date, given that Indian Arrival Day was just eight days away. Good sense prevailed because, had the Government persisted with the April 27th date, it would have been another misstep and insult. Still, it is a mystery why, with May 5 a mere eight days away, the Government would have even contemplated April 27th. The mere contemplation demonstrates yet another example of a deliberate insult to the Indo-Guyanese population.
Sadly, the Indian Arrival Monument was commissioned with the wretched backdrop of the descendants of those who began their arrival on May 5, 1838 either being excluded or staying away in protest of the unfair and discriminatory treatment meted out by their government. The vast majority of Indo-Guyanese believe they are being treated as second-class citizens. With this backdrop, one would have expected the Government to ensure inclusivity and a commissioning ceremony for the Indian Arrival Monument that celebrated our diversity while promoting unity.
The Indian Arrival Monument stands as a vivid recognition and symbol of the importance of May 5, 1838. The Indians who arrived that day in Guyana were not the first immigrants to arrive in Guyana; but, like those who came before and after, their history and contributions represent an integral part of what Guyana is and what Guyanese are. We came at different times and under different circumstances, but we together make up this land. The future of our people depends on us proudly embracing Guyana’s diverse ethnicities and culture. Our strength, our future, lies in our diversity. Thus while the Indian Arrival Monument symbolises the importance of the Indo-Guyanese people, past and present, in this rich diversity, it is a proud proclamation that the Guyanese people are blessed by our ethnic, cultural and religious diversities. These events must be a powerful stage for unity, not another battleground for polarisation. By the deliberate sidelining of political opponents, Guyana missed another opportunity to stand united in diversity: one nation, one destiny.