Wismar Massacre Memorial Toronto
Photo : Ramdath Jagessar
Voice of Dharma Temple in Scarborough was the venue on May 26, 2018 for the historic Wismar Massacre Memorial Toronto, the first public memorial in Canada for the 2,500 plus Indian victims of ethnic cleansing from the town of Wismar, Guyana fifty four years ago.
Main speaker Gulcharan Mohabir gave details of the Wismar experience 1964, saying that 2000 to 3,500 Indo-Guyanese living there were chased out entirely by a mob of about 5,000 Afro-Guyanese.
“Their homes were burned, women were raped, men were killed. Some ran into the bushes to hide and many did not escape. The large contingent of policemen did nothing to prevent atrocities because all the policemen were black. Some of the things that happened were unspeakable. We don’t like to think these things can happen and a person can do these things to another person. Lots of cruelty were meted out. They were all forced to leave and 1,200 were taken by boat to Georgetown.
“I have talked to Indian witnesses of the Wismar violence and many said even their own neighbours who used to be their friends turned around and looted their property and belongings. Their neighbours burned their homes and beat up Indians.”
Mohabir said audio tapes were made about the Wismar massacre, and played in Indian villages throughout Guyana, having a shock effect on Indians throughout the country. “Because of the isolation of Wismar, black people decided they were going to attack all the Indians and get rid of them. It was organized by the PNC, I am sure of it. I have no doubt it was a struggle by Africans to take over power from the PPP. Black people felt they didn’t want Indians to rule them.
“Wismar was meant to be a lesson for all Indians throughout Guyana. This is what you are going to be saddled with throughout your life if you continue to live here. It was very vicious. Up to now our women don’t like to speak about it, it was so horrific.
“I remember black people telling me you coolies don’t belong here, this is our country. They were saying it with such virulence that you could feel it,” he explained.
He commented that Wismar set the stage for many things in Guyana. “ Lots of Indians decided they didn’t want to remain there and those got an opportunity came to Canada, or the United States. Many went to England, as they had British passports at the time.
“People remember it but they don’t talk about it. It’s a very unhappy thing we have to carry in our memory. Our children don’t know anything about Wismar because we have neglected our duty, and we must correct this situation. By not talking about it we are doing ourselves a disservice. I am hoping memorials like this one might be a healing process for us,” Mohabir concluded.
Function chairman Roop Misir stated “I never wanted to leave Guyana to come to Canada, but after Wismar I had second thoughts. Wismar was what we call ethnic cleansing today, when people are forced out of their homes, internally displaced, and unable to return. A full 54 years had passed and no one in Canada had done anything about Wismar until this year’s Wismar Memorial in Toronto.”
Misir added “If we don’t remember Wismar, in the future it will only be a footnote. I am hoping for discussion and documentation on events like Wismar.”
Ram Jagessar put an Indo Caribbean perspective on the Wismar Massacre, saying that political and racial violence by black people against Indians had been occurring for many decades in the other southern Caribbean nations of Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. The common element in all three nations was the presence of large numbers of Indians who were viewed by black people as a threat that had to be controlled whatever the cost.
Trinidad and Suriname in the latter part of the last century saw violence and intimidation of Indians which had the same effect as Guyana of mass exodus of hundreds of thousands from countries where they no longer felt they had a safe future.
Jagessar noted that today there are an estimated 800,000 Indo Guyanese in the diaspora outside Guyana but under 400,000 remaining in a ruined Guyana. There are 200,000 plus Indo Surinamese living in the Netherlands but only 146, 000 remaining in a ruined Suriname. There are an estimated 250,000 Indo Trinidadians living in the diaspora, and 500, 000 living in Trinidad which is not ruined only because of oil and gas revenues.
“The reason for all this hatred and attacks on Indians is that in these three countries Indians are a large group who are viewed as a threat by the Africans. Black people have never accepted us Indians and see us as interlopers who should have no important role in the economies or governing of the countries.
“Black people feel they have suffered as slaves under the white plantation masters, and they are the rightful inheritors of the countries when the white man has left. They must have political and economic power, not the newcomer Indians. This is an implicit belief in black people as a whole, a non negotiable that has nothing to do with elections and government performance. `Black man pon top` is their racial ideology, and black people will do anything to rule, even if it means wrecking the country.”
The audience discussion ended with agreement that Wismar Massacre memorials should continue to be held in Toronto and other parts of Canada next year and continuing.
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