by Gary Eleazar
The Indo-Guyanese population has been called on, to rise up and protect the gains made in the 100 years since the abolition of indentureship, particularly when it comes to the rice and sugar industries and to fend off the frontal, targeted attacks by the ruling administration.
The audacious charges were made by Indo-Guyanese leaders that gathered under the ambit of the Guyana Indian Indentureship Abolition Association (GIAA) at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) on Friday (March 3, 2017) to mark the centennial anniversary of the end to indentured labour from Guyana.
The activity saw in attendance Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo—at the time performing the duties of President—Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, V. Mahalingam, Ministers of Government Cathy Hughes, Jaipaul Sharma and George Norton; business magnate Yesu Persaud, retired West Indies Cricketers Joe Solomon and Roger Harper (along with wife Elizabeth Harper), Roshan Khan, Yog Mahadeo, former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and a number of members of the diplomatic corps all joining with members of the Indian community to mark the occasion.
Billed as an activity to kick start the year of events to commemorate the 100 year anniversary, tensions ran high, as emotive presentations—politically unsheathed at times—were met with standing ovations or heckles of disapproval.
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 stopover of the voyage out of India, they now travel to new York and Toronto to the safety 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.
Calling out the representatives of both government and opposition, Shah said were there the political will to tackle the plight facing the nation, the country would take a different direction but instead what obtains is one-upmanship and self serving egos
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 find themselves in is 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.”
Prime Minister Nagamotoo, was however absent as the Indian leaders threw barbs since he had left after making an early presentation in order to attend another pressing function.
He had told the gathering that 100 years after the abolition of indentureship in Guyana there is much to celebrate and pointed to achievements in numerous disciplines including sport, as was ably represented in the form of Solomon—also recognized by GIIAA to mark the occasion.
Minister of Social Cohesion in his remarks to the assembly shied away from the attacks on government and instead read from a prepared statement which traced the Indian journey to Guyana and lauded their contributions to the cultural and economic development of Guyana.
Following the oral presentations, patrons were treated to a bevy of cultural performances and sweet meats