Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, Dr KJ Srinivasa has extended Arrival Day greetings to all of Guyana. He has noted that this day not only signifies the arrival of Indians to this land, but also is a symbol of the mixture of all the people who came to Guyana from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Observed annually on May 5 as a national holiday, Arrival Day commemorates the arrival of all ethnic groups which came here as indentured labourers, and their stellar contributions to the overall development of Guyana. Today also marks the 184th anniversary of the arrival of the first batch of Indian indentured immigrants.
During an interview on Wednesday with this publication, Dr Srinivasa highlighted that the cultural link between India and Guyana has been strong throughout the past 184 years. To develop and continue this relationship, and to promote Indian culture, music, dance, language and art, among other things, he said, the Government of India, through the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre in Georgetown, has been conducting various classes in this regard.
“…be it dance classes like Kathak, we have music classes for tabla, harmonium, and other instruments. We have the teaching of Hindi and Sanskrit languages. We also have Yoga classes,” the Indian High Commissioner shared.
When in-person classes were discontinued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre had moved to online teaching.
But with the relaxation of most COVID-19 measures, that cultural centre is looking to resume face-to-face classes.
The Indian High Commissioner has said that these classes will commence soon, “and we hope to get more students involved”. He added that there will be outreach programmes in the three counties, where teachers will go and teach music, dance, languages, and yoga to the people in these regions.
Every year, the High Commission, under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), awards five scholarships to persons to study the various Indian art forms in India.
Dr Srinivasa disclosed that numerous persons have benefited from these two-to- three-year courses. India had stopped these scholarships for the past two years due to COVID, but with the easing of restrictions, applications have restarted.
“We have already got applications for these courses, and selection is underway. The last date has been extended up to May 31, 2022 across the world. We want to encourage more persons to join,” he added.
He said India has also resumed its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.
Dr Srinivasa explained, “The Government of India gives 50 ITEC scholarships. These are short-term scholarships, within four to 12 weeks, which are in various subjects. We have about 1,200 courses, and these are mainly being worked out online due to COVID. But now we have restarted those ITEC courses, we have got a great demand for them already. We have people from the Guyana Police Force applying, people from other ministries, and private people applying…”
He foresees there being a “great demand” for these scholarships this year, adding that “we are going to have to increase the scholarships for Guyana”.
A qualified medical doctor, Dr Srinivasa assumed his assignment as High Commissioner of India to Guyana in August 2019.
In recognition of Arrival Day, the Indian High Commission in Guyana has collaborated with the Berbice Cultural Committee to have a cultural and commemorative event at Highbury village, East Bank Berbice (Region Six: East Berbice-Corentyne).
Such activities have become an integral part of the Indian High Commission and other bodies in ensuring that the rich history of this ethnic group is kept alive.
The first activity will get underway from 10:00h today. Then, at 16:00h, there will be another event at the Indian Arrival Monument at Palmyra Village, East Coast Berbice, Region Six. This event is being hosted in collaboration with the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha. The events will adopt a similar pattern, as Guyanese of East Indian descent will gather to reflect on the heritage of their ancestors. The activities would feature various aspects showcasing the Indian culture. Activities can also be streamed online.
Indentured labourers came to fill the void created by the exodus of ex-slaves from plantations following emancipation. Once known as Plantation Highbury, this estate was the first to receive East Indian Indentured servants on May 5, 1838, the same year the slavery system was abolished. On that day, two ships —Whitby and Hesperus – landed in the colony with some 396 East Indians. The Indian Arrival Monument was donated to Guyana by the Indian Government, and was unveiled in May 2019 to coincide with Arrival Day.
People of Portuguese descent were also introduced to Guyana as indentured labourers. The first groups arrived in 1835, and they continued coming until 1882, by which time approximately 32,000 Portuguese immigrants had arrived here.
The first batch of Chinese indentured labourers, mostly men, landed in Georgetown, British Guiana in 1853. By 1913, the British Colony was the recipient of over 15,000 Chinese indentured labourers.
By: Feona Morrison