A seminar and interactive session on the Wismar Massacre

A seminar and interactive session on the Wismar Massacre

Photo : Dr. VIshnu Bisram

Source: Guyana Times, June 3, 2017 (Letter)
Author: Vishnu Bisram

Dear Editor,

A seminar and interactive session on the Wismar Massacre drew a packed hall in Richmond Hill on the evening of May 26. Various presenters spoke about their experience and/or studies on the massacre of Indo-Guyanese that took place on 26th May, 1964 when over 3000 were physically and psychologically brutalised and expelled out of this multi-ethnic community losing all their possessions and jobs.

This is believed to be the first and only seminar to ever be held on Wismar since that massacre with speakers calling for a date change for independence or some kind of commemorative remembrance to honour victims.

According to the several speakers, and members of the audience who claimed they were eyewitnesses to that terrible event, several Indians were murdered, dozens of women raped (including children) and many of which were unreported; over two hundred and twenty five Indian homes and dozens of businesses razed to the ground, and temples and masjids desecrated as Indians fled for their lives from an organised orgy of violence.

The seminar was organised by the 100th Indenture Anniversary Foundation (led by Dr. Tara Singh) and co-sponsoring groups. It was billed as an occasion of atonement, reflection and remembrance that included prayers for the victims. Emblazoned on a banner behind the speakers was “a MASSACRE NOT to FORGET”.

The organisers said the event served as a reminder to all Guyanese that the 26th May is a date of infamy and not an occasion for celebrations for the former colony’s independence.  Speakers pointed out that May 26 was deliberately chosen for independence to celebrate a victory over Indians to teach them a lesson.

The speakers reiterated that May 26, 1964 was an act of shame and it must be used as a date for mourning. Speakers called for removing May 26 as a date for Guyana’s independence.

Speakers said Wismar was a pre-planned and well-organised massacre of the more than 3000 Indo-Guyanese just from that community alone. The independent international media described the attack on Indians, who were an ethnic minority in the area, as an orchestrated orgy of violence. The violence and the seizure of property uprooted the lives of Indians.

The remembrance and mourning on the occasion of the 53rd anniversary was done to remind the world of what took place at Wismar and to remember and honour the memory of the thousands of hapless victims.

With regard to recording what transpired in Wismar, it was noted that this was the first violent incident of ethnic cleansing in the Americas. The speakers advised that it is high time that Indo Guyanese begin to write their own narrative about their experiences in Guyana and their history instead of others writing it for them from a non-Indian perspective.

History is often written from the perspective of others and often it is not factual. This partly explains why the Wismar Massacre of 1964 has not been in the public domain and why there has been a one-sided biased view of what happened. Indians side of their experience was not told.

Dr Frank Anthony, former PPP Minister and still a Member of Parliament, who was a member of the audience, praised the organizers for holding a remembrance ceremony on Wismar massacre and urged that similar lectures be held on other historic events. He supports calls for Indians to have their own narratives of events rather than some biased ones in the public domain.

The Rev Seopaul Singh gave a chilling account of what happened to Indians in Wismar and in several other locations. He also made reference to how recording of history is biased against Indians.

Attorney Rakesh Rampertab made a power point presentation showing graphic images of the Wismar massacre with large swaths of areas of homes and businesses that were burned down. The slides showed buildings ablaze, children and women battered and in a daze with blood streaking down on their heads wrapped in bandages. Slides also showed passengers (as refugees) disembarking the ship, RH Carr, and other ships.

Rampertab noted that much of what happened 53 years ago is still to be documented and he urges that writers focus on collecting information from victims and eyewitnesses on this sad experience of Indian history. He did point out that based on media reports and the official commission of inquiry report, the atrocities were committed intentionally on or about May 22-27 to drive Indians away from the area.

The prominent attorney explained how the expatriate British police commissioner, PG Owen, did not respond to entreaties by the PPP Home Affairs Minister Mrs Janet Jagan to send reinforcements to Wismar before the attack began. The Afro commander in Wismar also refused to take action to deter the attack. Listeners were told about the laid back attitude of the police and the non-cooperation of the British Guiana Volunteer force who did not come to the assistance of victims.

Rampertab feels May 26 should never have been chosen as the date of Guyana’s Independence. He is calling for a date change. Rampertab said for unknown reasons, the PPP has failed to articulate this position during its recent administration (1992 to 2015). In the past, the PPP, under the leadership of Dr Cheddi Jagan, had recorded its objection to the use of May 26 as the date for independence.

Rampertab, as indeed the other speakers, stated, when Guyana’s Independence Day is celebrated on May 26th, Guyanese should take time off to reflect on the day and to acknowledge those who suffered and died in the Wismar-Christianburg-McKenzie massacre. As he said, “we must not forget how and why it occurred and all Guyanese must ensure it never happens again”.

Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram