Walter Raghu pays tribute to Enmore Martyrs
Chutney Singer Mahendra Ramkhellawan
A group of Indo-Guyanese nationalists paid glowing tribute to the Enmore Martyrs last Sunday afternoon, June 25, at the Liberty Palace in Richmond Hill. The Enmore martyrs carnage highlights the cold blooded murder of several sugar workers at a strike on June 16, 1948. The workers were subjected to inhumane conditions causing them to take industrial action for better working conditions. And the British ordered troops to open fire on the protesting workers. Many were injured and some paralyzed. The injured received no compensation.
Lallabagee Kissoon, 30 years old, was shot in the back. Pooran, 19 years old was shot in the leg and the pelvis. Rambarran was shot in the legs. Dookie died at the hospital later that day. Harry died the next day from wounds in the spine. On June 17th 1948, a large crowd, led by Cheddi Jagan and leaders of the PAC and GIWU, marched from Enmore to the Le Repentir Cemetery where the bodies were interred. “It was not merely a march to mourn the lives of five innocent people, not merely a march to cry for their fallen brothers, it was a March of Defiance, it was a March for Freedom, a march that started the journey to Independence, said Dr Ramsammy, the feature speaker at the event.
The event was organized by the Guyanese Solidarity Movement (GSM) led by Rueben Khusial and Mithu Mangal, 100th Indenture Anniversary Foundation led by Dr Tara Singh, and other groups. Rueben Khusial served as emcee, chair and coordinator of the event. Khusial welcomed everyone.
Dr Vishnu Bisram gave opening remarks reminding the audience about the sacrifices made by the Enmore strikers and those who were injured or killed by British troops. He spoke about the dire situation of workers from his recent visit to several sugar estates, particularly Wales, two weeks ago. Bisram thanked the organizers Kusial, Dr Tara Singh, Vishnu Dutt, and others for making this seminar a reality.
Walter Raghu, a former GAWU official and sugar worker, also spoke on the traumatic situation the sugar workers find themselves. He urged financial support for them. Frank Bassoodeo spoke about the history of sugar workers and the difficulties rice farmers face as a result of broken promises by the current coalition government. Dr Leslie Ramsammy gave the feature address on the Martyrs and on the current state of the sugar industry.
In his feature address, Dr Ramsammy reminded the public that this year marks 100th anniversary since the end of recruitment of indentured workers. He paid tribute to the indentured fore-parents and those who fought for improved working and living conditions.
Dr Ramsammy informed the gathering that there are two tribute events in Enmore this year – one from Government and one from Opposition. On June 15, the PPP held a tribute public meeting for the Enmore Martyrs at Enmore. Leaders of the PPP were in attendance and spoke.
On June 16, the official tribute held annually was convened by the Government at the Enmore Martyrs Monument. But not many people were in attendance. Some sugar workers that attended did so with protest placards. Dr Ramsammy noted that “most notably, Prime Minister Nagammootoo who has proclaimed himself the champion of sugar workers was absent at the tribute. Naga said he had prior commitments. “How could he since the Enmore Martyrs tribute ceremony is always on June 16?” Ramsammy asked.
According to Ramsammy, “The truth is he was afraid to attend. He is afraid to face the sugar workers. No ands, ifs or buts. He betrayed them and is part of the battering clique that is determined to end sugar because they see sugar as an important support base for the PPP. It is political vendetta, not good economics. The decision to close SUGAR is not a policy derived from any good analysis and study, but driven by a wicked political motivation. SUGAR and the sugar workers are collateral damage. In the process all of Guyana will pay an economic and social price.”
Dr Ramsammy said, “…this is likely to be the last tribute being paid to the Martyrs at Enmore with an operating Enmore Sugar Factory, unless we stop the callous plan of the APNU+AFC administration to close the Enmore Estate.”
APNU+AFC has announced plan to close the Enmore at the end of 2017. He called on the audience and the public at large to mount a fight to keep Enmore alive. “The plan to end SUGAR in Enmore is a clash with the vision of the PPP to use Enmore Sugar Estate as a major plank in the diversification of sugar”, said the former Agriculture Minister.
Dr Tara Singh served as moderator for an interactive (question and answer) session; Robert Mahase read a poem on the Martyrs; Rohan performed a musical tune with a flute. Mahendra Ramkhellawan, the popular chutney singer, graced the event and sang a new CD about sugar and the closing down of sugar estates putting workers on the bread line.
The DJ and sound system was provided free of cost by Deodat Singh.
Richard David spoke briefly about his running for city council for district 28 (greater Richmond Hill and Jamaica area).