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African Guyanese groups reject India’s call to rename Middle Street after Mahatma Gandhi

Last Updated on Friday, 8 October 2021, 16:07 by Denis Chabrol

India’s request for Middle Street and possibly the Promenade Gardens to be renamed after  Mahatma Gandhi has come in for sharp criticism from a coalition of Afro-Guyanese who say his utterances show that he was a “racist.”

The call for the renaming of Middle Street and the Promenade Gardens was issued by India’s High Commissioner to Guyana,  Dr. KJ Srinivasa at an event to mark the 152nd birth anniversary of the renowned social activist.

“I would like to take this opportunity to request, humbly of  the Government of Guyana to consider our request to rename the Middle Street as  Mahatma Gandhi Street, and if possible,  to rename the Promenade Gardens the Mahatma Gandhi Gardens, in a tribute to this great icon of peace, non-violence and anti-colonialism.,” he said at event on October 2.

President Irfaan Ali, in his remarks, hailed Mahatma Gandhi alongside Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King whose lessons are all still “relevant” today because there has been “no structural change in the thinking and mindset of mankind when it comes to fundamental principles of life.”

But the 1823 Coalition Committee has rejected India’s call. “We vigorously oppose this attempt by Dr. Srinivasa to impose the veneration of a person that is known for his racism against African people more so when the world is waking up and condemning Gandhi and in some countries are removing his statues with haste,” the grouping said in a statement.

Gandhi, who was shot dead on January 30, 1978 when he was 78 years old, is regarded as  a fighter for equality and social justice, but Executive Member of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), Barrington Braithwaite the 1823 Coalition Committee could eventually write the High Commissioner, letting him know that he was out of place. “There is no allowance for somebody external to our history to impose their values on us,” he said.

Mr. Braithwaite assailed Dr. Srinivasa for ignoring Guyana’s history and that the African community has been lobbying for that area. “The Parade Ground constitutes what is now the Promenade Gardens. There was no Middle Street in that time,” he said, adding that was the area where “Africans were executed and beheaded as a result of the 1823 protest.”

The ACDA official called for the Indian envoy to be aware of Guyana’s history. He said the naming of streets in Guyana has to be “relevant to Guyanese history”. “You cannot just impose your personal perception on a nation without even asking what constitutes the area, what is the historical process that constitutes that area,” he said.

The 1823 Coalition Committee says the suggestion to rename Middle Street after a man that showed such contempt and disdain for African people “is an affront to all Africans and right-thinking persons.” The Committee urged the Guyana government to “stand with African Guyanese against this humiliating and disrespectful request which is truly an insult to all freedom loving peoples.”

Former Prime Minister Hamilton Green said he would be writing the Indian High Commissioner and the President of Guyana to caution them against pursuing the renaming of Middle Street and Promenade Gardens after Gandhi. “I expect the President of Guyana and the Government who know our history would reject this proposal as being out of place, as it would further drive a wedge between the Indo and the Afro Guyanese community, an unnecessary adventure at this time,” Mr. Green said. He said Guyanese respect Gandhi but “Africans everywhere recall that while in South Africa, Gandhi fought for the Indians and the coloured; there is no evidence that Gandhi found the time to extend his trouble to the black South African population.”

Among the several quotations that the 1823 Committee reproduced to make its point that Gandhi did not like Africans was this one contained on an open letter to the Natal Parliament in 1893, Gandhi wrote:

“I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. … A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”