Reclaiming agency with Divali

This week, we will be celebrating Divali, that peacefully serene festival when we thank God as Mother, who has been so bountiful to us, by lighting a light to remove darkness on the darkest night of the year. The point made by my maternal grandparents (Nana and Nanie) who raised me of course, is that the external light we light is just a symbol of the one we have to light inside to practise good values to live a virtuous life.
In terms of my ruminations recently on the violence physically, but especially epistemically, wrought on the Indian and his descendants in Guyana and elsewhere by first the British and then their successors, I have often wondered what life would have been like here if they had not been silenced, but allowed to “speak”. They “spoke” to their own families, who listened; and their values were passed on to make them and their children see though the hardships of the indentured contracts and afterwards — even through the PNC dictatorship.
But for the rest of society, the linguistic act known as effective speech was never consummated, since they never accorded the Indian — and especially the Hindu — the courtesy, much less respect, that they might be saying something useful. There was never any reciprocity; knowledge was a one-way street that never started FROM the Indian. In the “othering” of the Indian by the other groups in the society who had accepted the “white bias” culture, the Indian was “illiterate”, a “heathen” who could not even utter “proper” English sentences. This, in essence, fixed the Indian as “subhuman”, unworthy of the society’s moral considerations, and on whom even physical violence could be inflicted ever so often. How much of this has changed in the present?
That my illiterate grandparents showed respect for “Mother Earth/Prithvi Mata was an expression of their “animism”, never mind they have come a full circle and call that respect “environmental awareness”. The objective success of the Indian was then “explained” by stereotypes: they were “clannish” (for preferring to be with those who shared their values), “miserly” (for saving something for a rainy day from the most meagre wages), “cunning and thieving” etc.
It saddens me that, as the descendants of those Indians become “educated”, they increasingly adopt the presumption that there is nothing worthwhile to be learnt from their traditions. They force their elders into becoming “testimonially smothered” in truncating their explanations to the expectations of the “educated”. Two weeks ago, I participated at a Dussehra Festival at Tuschen, where the onlookers were asked by the village organisers to write on pieces of paper a negative quality they wished to get rid of and throw it onto the burning effigy of Ravan. They would take a vow that they would work in the coming year to eliminate that bad habit. Some “modern” Indians and most other Guyanese may think the practice “naïve” or “superstitious”. But would they think differently if they had been told it was an expression of “reflexivity”? But then the Indian is hermeneutically challenged: what can he possibly know, to explain anything, when he cannot even speak English “properly”?
But Hindus of my grandparents’ generation apprehended directly the relevance of the sacred texts (shastras) in their day to day life as adherents of their “Dharma”. Most of the indentureds had memorised passages from the texts – especially the Ramcharitmanas – from their attendance at recitals in their native villages, their participation in performances of Ramlilas. The text as memorised, versus as one externalised in a printed book, to my mind created a much more profound effect on the devotee. From what my grandfather described, it would appear that the memorised texts served as an omnipresent guide to behaviour in a period marked by constant flux and instability.
If the memorisation is no more, the challenge for Hindus to find other vehicles, such as by the villagers of Tuschen, to appreciate how they are being subjugated, interrogate practices through reflexivity, and transmit needed values for successful, more authentic, virtuous lives. It has to start with reclaiming agency and deconstructing our present “education”.