I reproduce a letter from May 11, 2000 to someone who disagreed vehemently with our calls for an “Indian Arrival Day” holiday.
“The history of the Indians in Guyana has been almost unrelievedly a history of exclusion and rejection. This history has varied from a denial of their very humanity [“They are only coolies”], through a rejection of their culture [“uncivilized”] and their religions [“heathen”], to their citizenship [they are not the real “Caribbean Man”]. The response of Mr. Robert Williams [the Deputy Mayor, and newly appointed PNC member of the Elections Commission] to calls for the designation of Indian Arrival Day as a national holiday is only the latest salvo in this war of attrition. [Chronicle 11/5/2000 “We object to this proposal”]
“Mr. Williams’ group [GGG] is “alarmed”, and they view the requested holiday as opposed to their belief in “unity, peace and love” and a “moral and spiritual revival”. Why does Mr. Williams have this apocalyptic vision of disunity, war and hate unleashed in Guyana by Indian Arrival Day, which would destroy our moral and spiritual values?
“Firstly, Mr Williams suggests that the day was “based on a colonial imperial agenda” and therefore should be “not that important”. This is a most peculiar argument. Was not Emancipation Day based on a “Colonial imperial agenda”?? Is it therefore not worthy of commemoration? What about Boxing Day? What is more Colonial than that? Why does not Mr. Williams rise up in righteous indignation and smite that most imperial shibboleth?? Or is it that Indian concerns and aspirations can be more easily attacked without fear of reprisals?
“What I would say to Mr Williams is that “historical” holidays simply commemorate events of great historical significance. Would Mr. Williams deny, by whatever yardstick he chooses, that the arrival of Indians was of great historical significance to Guyana? I am disheartened by the meanness of spirit that forces Indians to have to continuously justify their legitimacy by speaking of their contributions to this land. Mr Williams thereby attempts to manoeuvre Guyanese into a position where other immigrants, such as Portuguese and Chinese, would feel compelled to extol their virtues. Mr Williams explicitly proposes that in the name of “justice, fair play and balance”, these groups would demand holidays when Indians celebrate their arrival. Is this building the “unity, peace and love” that Mr. Williams professes to be his goal?
“All of the previous arguments were a smokescreen for Mr. Williams’ real fear: that there may be “a group aiming for Indian hegemony” [overwhelming dominance]. I believe that this fear/ concern may be quite widespread in the non-Indian segments of Guyanese society, and we in ROAR have consistently advocated that we discuss such fears openly, rather than hide them under platitudes. For instance, even though Mr. Williams had professed “a deep respect and reverence for our ethnic, racial, religious and cultural groupings”, he views, as examples of the alleged Indian dominance, “a heavy emphasis on Indian films, music and even the teaching of Hindi.” In reality, therefore, Mr. Williams and those who share his views do not really accept the right of Indians to practise their culture, and consequently cannot really respect Indians who practise their culture.
“Mr. Williams cannot express concern for our “plural society” and simultaneously call for “a fusion of our cultures”. Mr. Williams and other Guyanese leaders have to be clear as to what model of cultural relations they desire for Guyana. Either we have the assimilationist [melting pot] model of Mr. Burnham, where we were going to be merged into a melange of “One People and One Nation” culturally and physically, or we have the “Unity in Diversity” [salad bowl] model, which accepts the need for cultural autonomy and freedom. ROAR has unequivocally come out for the multicultural goals of the latter model. It is the essence of democracy for people to choose how they will live culturally – this is enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Right of Self Determination of Peoples.
“As to Mr. Williams and other Guyanese who fear this latter model, I would advise them to look towards neighbouring Trinidad, which is so similar, composition wise, to us. Yesterday, the teaching of Hindi was introduced in schools, joining the four all-Indian radio stations [most owned by non-Indians]. Trinidad of course celebrates Indian Arrival Day as a holiday for some years now. None of Mr. Williams’ dire predictions have been realized there. The heavens are still intact.”
Progress seems to have been made in 2022 with the PNC’s support for Indian Arrival Day.