CXC syllabi in History and Literature exclude Indians

Saraswati Vidya Niketan wishes to congratulate Dr Kumar Mahabir of Trinidad for his pioneering efforts to expose the ethnic and ideological biases in CSEC and CAPE syllabuses in Literature and History. 

CXC syllabi in History and Literature exclude Indians

Photo : L-R Kumar Mahabir, Anthony Garcia, Swami Aksharananda

Saraswati Vidya Niketan wishes to congratulate Dr Kumar Mahabir of Trinidad for his pioneering efforts to expose the ethnic and ideological biases in CSEC and CAPE syllabuses in Literature and History.  Dr Mahabir has excoriated the two syllabuses in a devastating critique presented in a paper entitled, ‘The Marginalisation and Exclusion of Indians by the Caribbean Education Council (CXC) in the CSEC and CAPE History and Literature Syllabi,’ in the UWI sponsored, ‘Conference on Inclusive Education: Achieving Education for All.’

Examining the CSEC and CAPE syllabuses for Literature for the period 2015 to 2017, Dr Mahabir discovered a startling and disturbing trend of total exclusion of Indian writers from the list of dramas, poems, novels and short stories.  The CXC list contains names of writers from Barbados, Ireland and Scotland (1 each), Guyana (3), St Lucia and Africa, (4 each), Jamaica (5), England (6) and the USA (9).  There is none from India nor any person of Indian origin, and none from anywhere in the Caribbean.

Dr Kumar also looked at the ethnic breakdown of the writers in the CXC list of 32 and found that 15 are Africans or persons of African origin and 10 Whites.  He concluded, “No Indian playwright, poet, novelist or short-story writer was chosen, although Indians and PIO form the majority ethnic group in Trinidad and Guyana, as well as the largest minority in Jamaica, Grenada, St. Vincent and St. Lucia.  Not even Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Laureate for Literature and arguably one of the greatest writers in the English Language, seemed worthy enough to be on the CXC list.”

Many decent and well-meaning persons will be outraged by this kind of analysis, because it does hint at a deep level of racial marginalization by the dominant ethnic group in the Caribbean.  I know of several Caribbean persons from the School of Education in Madison who were all nurtured in the concept of racial domination in the curriculum.  I remember the many hours we spent discussing the works of Edward Said who was noted for his analysis of literature as a tool of domination.

My residence from across the education building was a meeting place for students from Senegal, South Africa, Barbados, St Lucia and India.  Prominent among these were Cameron McCarthy of Barbados until recently a professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana, Dr Didicus Jules of St Lucia who later became the Registrar of CXC, Dr Shashi Pandey, a leader in developmental studies, and Professor Mukund Shantaram, an expert in rural education.

We all joined in reading Said, Gayatri Spivak, and Homi Bhabha as a daily staple.  Everyone was schooled in detecting all forms of oppression in education and the curriculum.  We ‘interrogated’ the dominant paradigm to see education as an ideology of oppression.  In the white man’s country, we could see and feel the in-built institutionalized racism of a colour-blind society.

But sadly, all the lessons from revolutionary studies in education were left on American shores.  Because once we landed in the Caribbean we quickly became absorbed in our unique form of institutionalised ethnic domination and oppression. We too became colour-blind. I have always wondered how is it that people who were so adept in seeing the white man’s racism had become so oblivious to their own brand of it back home in which they became active agents in perpetuating.

Studies such as Dr Mahabir has embarked on are rare among us.  Few of us have had the courage to speak out against ethnic domination and those who have dared to do so have been demonized and marginalized, with the result that the entire discourse on ethnic domination has become completely monopolized by one ethnic group.

The attack I refer to has not only come from the “other side.”  Our politics has been so dominated by leftist ideologies of class that Indians on the whole have become thoroughly conditioned to perpetually run from the race question.  Even today we hear an occasional voice resurrected from the past of our racial turmoil proclaiming that it is class and ideology not race that have been dominant factors in our politics, and we are now seeing again the knocking of the first Indian organisations like the Guyana Hindu Maha Sabha and the British Guiana East Indian Association as elitist and self-serving.

Mercifully, Trinidad was saved from this Marxist curse, and so we can have scholars like Dr Mahabir who can call a spade a spade. If we want to deal with the problem of ethnic strife, suspicion and domination we have to begin with the curriculum, and if we want to perpetuate it there is no better place to do it than in the curriculum. Now that we have a revolutionary scholar and intellectual at the helm of our education system we may aspire to freeing ourselves from ethnic domination.

Yours faithfully,

Swami Aksharananda