Hinds’ Sight with Dr. David Hinds
I JUST READ Demerara Wave’s news report of the launch of the activities to mark 100 years since the end of indentureship in Guyana. I was not surprised at the comments attributed to the Indian Rights activists and leaders who spoke to the gathering. The narrative of suffering and victimization was very much part of the presentations—it was the central theme. The guilty party was identified—the government, which draws its support from African Guyanese.
According to the report, there was not any pointing of fingers at the other party, which held government for 23 of the last 25 years. Government policies, from sugar to rice to Asset Recovery, were deemed to be aimed at Indian Guyanese. The latter, if we are to believe one speaker, are leaving Guyana for North America because of the pressures they face here. Sections of the Demerara Waves report is worth quoting:
“Author and pro-Indian activist, Ryhaan Shah—one of the names rejected by Head of State David Granger for the chairmanship of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)—was among the presenters to tackle the question of state of affairs of the Indian population in Guyana. She surmised that Guyana is in fact a transit point for Indians and reasoned “we came here on ships and we are leaving on jet planes.” Shah told the sparsely populated auditorium of the National Cultural Centre that the future and security of Indians in Guyana is uncertain and that the country remains afflicted with the politics that came with self-rule.
The politics that came with self-government deepened the divide between the Indian and African communities and this spilled over into violence, according to Shah, who argued that this plight still obtains. She said for many Indians, Guyana has become a stopover on the voyage out of India onward to places such as the United States of America or Canada. ““For many Indians in Guyana this place has unfortunately become a stop-over of the voyage out of India, they now travel to New York and Toronto to the safety and security and prosperity they feel are denied them here…” said Shah.
Shah argues that the Indian population in Guyana has been marginalized and lamented that in marking what should be a revered occasion, there is little optimism. “Right now, rice faces an uncertain future, more sugar estates are to be shut down,” she told those gathered and reminded of the hundreds of workers to be sent home and the concomitant effects on the families. She drew reference too, to the recent Value Added Tax to be maintained on private tuition fees in addition to the shrinking business sector. Shah has since asserted that the Indian Guyanese community feels that it is the intended target of these administrative policies being pursued by the ruling A Partnership for National Unity, Alliance For Change (APNU-AFC) Administration.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Adrian Anamayah—representing Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo—was even more frontal in his accusations, pitting government against the local Indian population. Anamayah told the gathering the administration was rolling out a raft of legislation including the State Asset Recovery laws which he said was meant to target successful Indian businessmen in Guyana.
“Indian businessmen are being penalized for their success,” according to Anamayah, as he argued that it is members of that ethnic grouping that will be feeling the brunt of the ‘draconian’ legislation. The Member of Parliament also pointed to the sugar industry and repeated charges by the political opposition—sentiments that did not find favour with every member of the gathering since he was heckled piercingly by at least one patron, much to the chagrin of others. “My Indian brethren, I tell you this is the time to stand firm and resist,” Anamayah charged.
Another of the presenters to echo similar sentiments was politician and Indian activist Ravi Dev. Deviating from his presentation tracing the Indian journey to Guyana, Dev said: “We cannot talk about celebrating the end of indentureship when last December 1,700 persons were thrown out of work.”
Dev was at the time referring to the displaced workers at the now closed Wales Sugar Factory, arguing that the circumstances Indians found themselves in was not of their own making, and that every gain made was done through struggle. It was against this backdrop that the politician/activist called on the Indo-Guyanese population to honour the struggles of their fore-parents by putting up a resistance and “to rise up and do what is necessary to protect what we have built.”
I have been to and participated in many such gatherings on the African side where there is similar rhetoric. There is always the narrative of suffering and victimization; a similar identification of the guilty party as the one representing the other group. I have spoken to that sense of African Guyanese victimhood on many occasions and have without fail been accused of racism by some of the very forces which were most vocal at the event on Friday.
On one occasion, the Ministry of Home Affairs under my friend, Clement Rohee, issued a statement accusing a group of us who spoke at a Cuffy250 Forum of publicly hatching a plan to destabilize and overthrow the then government.
Ethnic insecurity and fear are real in Guyana and in similar ethically divided societies. Anyone who says and think otherwise is ether dishonest or has a political agenda aimed at buying some votes from the opposite side or is just being politically correct. Whatever the motive, such a denial of the obvious is ultimately unhelpful.
After reading the Demerara Waves report on the Indian Indentureship Centennial event, I went back to the four daily newspapers to see if I missed their reports of it. Of the four dailies, only the Chronicle reported on it and that report focused entirely on the Prime Minister’s address—not a word on what the other speakers said. Surprisingly, the Guyana Times, the Indian Guyanese and PPP paper, did not report on the event—at least not in the online edition.
The other two papers may not have had reporters there. This is most unfortunate because this is an event that brought together the representatives and leaders of half of Guyana’s population and the country’s largest ethnic group. It is an event marking an important milestone in our country’s journey. What was said there should have been front page headline in every newspaper because the country needs to know how people feel about these matters.
A few weeks ago, when President Granger said that Guyana has achieved national unity, I cringed. I think, in keeping with what he sees as the responsibility of his office, he was being politically correct. But, we have not achieved national unity; that’s is why he has created a Ministry of Social Cohesion to work on that aspiration. As an ethnic community, we are living side by side and we have our moments when we find common ground or near common ground. We agree on Hooper and Chanderpaul but not on Burnham and Jagan. Our politics do not create our insecurities, fear and animosity as some would have us believe. Rather our politics are the occasions for our extreme manifestations of our insecurities, fear and animosity.
What we heard from those speakers are Indian Guyanese insecurities, fear and animosity. They are being heightened by their party’s recent loss of political power. They will highlight the loss of employment by sugar workers as we try to diversify out of sugar which has long been a drain on our economy.
They would never say that a high percentage of those workers at Wales are African—that the burden is shared across the ethnic divide. They would never say that at another time hundreds of mainly African public service workers were retrenched to facilitate government’s acceptance of the IMF Structural Adjustment medicine. They would never say that there was a time when bauxite was downsized leading to almost 80 percent cut in employment at Linden—an act that has left that town in permanent stress.
They would never say that this very government, which they blame for targeting Indian workers, has carried blows to African vendors and keeps African public servants on an unlivable wage regime. Whatever you think about this government, it is an equal opportunity actor when it comes to sharing out blows to the population. The speakers at the event on Friday would never say that the so-called businesses which they think would be targeted by SARA were recipients of unfair privileges under the PPP government; that the economic system was rigged in their favour.
They will conveniently forget that when David Hinds, in the wake of State murder at Linden in 2012, called on African Guyanese to stand up and prevent such murders from spreading, they all condemned him and the government of the day sent the police after me and the Office of the President informed my workplace that I called for a coup in Guyana. They will never think that their call on Indians to rise up is a form of national destabilisation.
No, that’s not their business. Their concern is to highlight the suffering of the Indian community in the darkest of terms. And that must be understood, even if one does not agree with the picture painted. What it says, however, is that we, all of us, must pay attention to what comes out of the bowels of our ethnic enclaves.
Ethnicity is not going away from Guyana anytime soon. We can’t wish it away or pretend it’s not there; we have to engage it. There will be the usual condemnation of some of the rhetoric and the racist labelling, but that would change nothing. That narrative of victimhood would be the theme for the next year.
More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Hinds’ Sight with Dr. David Hinds