Indo Guyanese must protect their contributions to Guyana – activists

The panel of presenters at the launching of activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Abolition of Indian Indentureship in Guyana

… Indians have much to celebrate – PM Nagamootoo

…Indian businessmen are being penalised for their success  – Opposition MP

As the country commemorates the 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian indentureship here, Indo-Guyanese were called upon to step up and protect the contributions of their ancestors, whose struggles helped to propel Guyana’s development over the past centuries.

This charge was made by former parliamentarian and leader of ROAR Ravi Dev, on Friday evening at the official launch of activities to commemorate the anniversary. The event was held at the National Cultural Centre under the theme ‘Garv Aur Izzat’, which translates to pride and dignity.

He noted the obstacles placed in the path of the newly freed Africans by the Government to become really emancipated and the importation of indentured labourers to keep wages low.

The panel of presenters at the launching of activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Abolition of Indian Indentureship in Guyana

He explained that during indentureship, Indian protests against the planters’ exploitation were actually protests against the British colonial state which underwrote sugar interests. The killings of 1939 at Plantation Leonora led to a widening of the franchise in 1947 by the Moyne Commission and the Enmore killings in 1948 to the struggle for independence and democracy. Their descendants therefore had a responsibility to protect democracy, he said.

“The essence of democracy must be nourished through protest and through the populace, who have earned and fought for their freedom, to guard their freedom jealously. Today we will do our foreparents the greatest honour to maintain our garv (our pride) and our izzat (our dignity) if we were to take our responsibility, take that inheritance and to rise up and do what is necessary to protect what we have built,” he asserted.

According to Dev, he along with all the descendants of indentured Indians have a vision that after their ancestors would have completed their services, they would get to live with pride and dignity. He posited that Indo-Guyanese could not have done as well as they wanted since the circumstances under which they were forced to live were not of their making, while adding that whatever they have brought and worked to build since arriving here in 1838 are diminishing.

On this note, he reflected on the state of the sugar industry saying, “We cannot talk about celebrating the end of indentureship when last December 1700 persons were thrown out of work.”

He also spoke about the rice sector, which was introduced by Indian indentured labourers. Dev noted that Indians supplied rice to all of Guyana during World War II and even went onto supply the Caribbean region.

“Today we have built an industry that is 600,000 tonnes – built from our own literal sweat and blood, yet it is at risk just like how sugar is being closed down without providing alternate employment for these people.

How can you simply say you will close four sugar estates, when over 6000 people will be unemployed. You give them their payoff and you expect them to ‘what’ in an economy that is at best stagnant. What do you expect them to do,” lamented the former politician. He felt there should have been alternative employment provided.

During his presentation, Dev also gave a background into indentureship and the journey of Indians from their homeland to this hemisphere, as well as their outstanding achievements and those of their descendants.

Meanwhile, author Ryaan Shah challenged the audience to take actions that would reverse the uncertain future and security of Indo-Guyanese, whom she said having arrived here on ships are now leaving on jet planes.

“…For many Indians Guyana has unfortunately become a stopover on the voyage out of India as they travel to New York and Toronto for the safety, security and prosperity they are being denied here,” Shah pointed out.

The author continued that Indo-Guyanese have been marginalised, while noting that there is no great optimism about their future.

“It is truly Guyana’s tragedy that as we mark the centenary of the end of Indian indentureship that we still live at the margins of society – just as our earliest jahajis did. So, what really has changed,” she questioned.

Moreover, Shah took the opportunity to address both Government and Opposition members, telling them that with political will they change the direction of the country. However she noted that even after 50 years of independence, Guyana continues to suffer the politics of one-upmanship that serves egos rather than country and people.

Adding to Dev and Shah presentations, Opposition parliamentarian Adrian Anamayah, who had represented Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, rallied Indo-Guyanese to “stand firm and resist” such marginalisation as he posited that successful Indian businessmen are being targeted by the coalition Administration. His position was premised on the raft of legislation that Government has rolled out such as the State Asset Recovery laws.

“Indian businessmen are being penalised for their success,” Anamayah asserted.

On the other hand, remarks from the Government’s representatives reflected on the progress and contributions of the Indian Guyanese community. In fact, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, in the capacity of acting President, said that there is much to celebrate after 100 years since the abolition of Indian indentureship.

He noted that Guyanese descendants of those indentured labourers within the century have managed to excel in all areas including sport, as he mentioned the contributions of local cricketer and former West Indies player, Joe Solomon, who was being honoured by the Guyana Indian Indentureship Abolition Association (GIIAA), who organised Friday’s event.

“We must recognise that our ancestors have made a key contribution to all-round development of our country and their descendants continue to benefit from those contributions they have made,” Nagamootoo stated.

Presentations were also made by Social Cohesion Minister, Dr George Norton and Indian High Commissioner Venkatachalam Mahalingam. The launching of events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian indentureship in Guyana, also saw the attendance of several top officials including: Government Ministers Cathy Hughes and Jaipaul Sharma; former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds; former West Indies cricketers Joe Solomon and Roger Harper; business tycoon Dr Yesu Persaud; Roshan Khan, Yog Mahadeo, and several members of the local diplomatic corps. (Guyana Times)


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