By The Piper
Indians in Guyana and Trinidad face an insurmountable problem when it comes to the politics of race. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, Indians are almost always assumed to be the privileged ones despite a vastly more complicated story on the ground.
Secondly, and far more problematic is that there is no general, universal narrative of Indian suffering and oppression and this, despite the fact that both Indians in India and in the diaspora have been subjected to centuries of ridicule and violence. We can therefore examine the condition of Caribbean Indians in both material and discursive terms.
On the material side of things there is no doubt that East Indians have done well, with many of them owning big businesses. But by no stretch of the imagination do they have a monopoly on businesses. Further, the fact is that there are as many poor Indians in Guyana and Trinidad as any other groups.
Many of the poor Indians in these two Caribbean countries work in the agricultural sector, meaning sugar cultivation. In Guyana they are the backbone of the sugar industry – many doing backbreaking cane cutting and fetching with wages that are embarrassing when compared to wages in the bauxite industry. The workers who form the shovel gangs and the gangs who clean the trenches are underpaid, this being comparable to Afro-Guyanese workers in many sectors of urban employment.
Indians have a second class position in practically all areas of national life including but not restricted to sports (excepting for cricket), and national culture or what is presented as national culture. The Inter-Guiana Games is a good indicator of the situation. Most of these Games usually only have about a dozen Indians of the couple hundred athletes representing Guyana. It goes without saying that Indians from the country-side almost never make any of the teams.
Although Indians have been living in Guyana for one hundred and seventy five years, their religion, music and other cultural practices are seen as ‘ethnic’. The standard, national culture is always more grounded in things Christian and urban. Things Indian apparently cannot ever be national.
On the discursive side Indians are in a hopeless situation, not because of any inherent condition but because of the new ways of representing who is the oppressed in Guyana. Africans are indeed the victims of racism and discrimination world-wide. The constant is that in most places in the world (outside Africa); Africans do not have access to state power.
That same cannot be said of Guyana. However, many folks simply slide from Black oppression in America to Guyana as if the two are really comparable. Persons of African descent have had considerable control of state power and key state institutions, including the forces of coercion, for extended periods. People of African descent have also held key positions even when the supposedly Indian PPP party has been in power. Note also, that practically half of all the anti-PPP activists are Indians.
Indians cannot, appeal to any already constructed narrative with global currency to draw attention to their suffering. The reason – there is none. A population may suffer physically, but if there is no corresponding narrative, the material circumstances are simply dismissed. The reverse is true in other situations. Although a population may not be as oppressed in their own place, it can simply take cover behind other struggles.
The APNU-AFC administration promised that it would end all forms of racism in Guyana, but its actions to date have shown no promise in that direction. Every Guyanese has a moral and patriotic obligation to put an end to the madness of prejudice. What have you done lately?