5th May’2023, denotes the 185th anniversary since East Indians arrived from India as Indian Indentured laborers in then British Guiana. A colony that was last ruled by the British, saw the abolition of slavery in 1833, the emancipation of slaves and the end to the chattel slavery system. The Africans, forcefully brought from Africa to work for the colonial masters, were then freed from slavery-ship and finally given freedom and the choice of living independently. Many left the sugar plantations and diversified to other opportunities, and, that created a vacuum to replace the loss of the labor force. There are two months in which the culture of Afro Guyanese are highlighted. While February month is celebrated as “Black History Month,” August month also commemorates the anniversary of Emancipation for the Blacks.
The importation of indentured laborers from India was conceived and implemented, but the conditions were concealed and on arrival, the Indians found out that they were deceived when they saw and experienced the deplorable living and arduous working conditions. Incidentally, 2nd May, also commemorates the arrival of the Portuguese/Madeirans and Jan.13th, the arrival of the Chinese. West Indians and some “others,” were also imported under this context. September month signifies the observance of Amerindian Heritage. Doubt is still entertained about the ambiguity of this day 5th May, whether it is to commemorate and generalize the arrival of people from all races, indentured laborers, or, specifically, to celebrate the identity of the arrival of Indians only. A transparent pronouncement is yet to be officially established and, officials have evaded this clarification, preferring to shelve the issue.
East Indians have struggled from day one in this country and were viewed with skepticism by others, patronized as unwelcome and regarded as job grabbers. They came with countable wealth, being, their few pieces of clothing, their religious books and their culture. Hundreds died on the dangerous journey known as the, “Kala Pani.” Toiling under the hot sun and enduring much use and abuse, they had to tolerate a new strain of slavery-ship, another form of British hardship, and, they quickly had to adopt to a different way of life in order to accommodate a means of survival, losing an accustomed social respectability in the long run. Not deterred by the presumptuousness of being referred to as “Coolies,” grinding away from Monday to Saturday, bearing strain from the whims and fancy of the British who enjoyed punishing them for the flimsiest of excuses, and, being agitated with numerous anomalies, they survived all disadvantages and oppression to establish themselves to a forefront to gain the resentment of others. With a cultural hallmark of praying, working, playing, saving, being conservative, investing wisely and building slowly but surely, this methodology transcended a fusion of life style, aspiration, dedication and cultivation, to catapult suppression to impression. Bonded with a togetherness and banded with mutual compatibility, a primary generation of simpletons converted a despicable situation into a promising generation of prosperity. Today, being the envy of illusionists, there is the unfounded accusation of “wealth disparity,” being sourced and funneled by propagandists. Emerging from a level playing field, or perhaps, an unfavorable circumstance, not privileged by those earlier settlers, the false hue and cry of favoritism, is being beaten on a drum resounding in a tasteless melody.
Such has been a trail filled with trials, traumas and tribulations, a journey saddled with many blocks and hurdles and a pathway, strewn with holes and thorns, but never undaunted or deterred by the improbable, generations of Indians have battled the stormy seas and have not withered with the tempestuous weather. They preferred to toil the soil with their inherited cultural proclivities and agricultural skills, invest in their children’s education and confine any exuberance with compassion and satisfaction. A buddy system practiced from the days of yore, this concept afforded the extension of a helping hand to take care and look out for the senior and junior members in the family. This principle has adumbrated the successive genealogy for success and has manifested high dividends. With the passing of time, inclement economic situation, enforced by dictatorship, side lining of unilateralism, prejudice, racial discrimination, political favoritism, social upheaval and religious suppression, Indo Guyanese with other ethnicities not favorable supporters of the then demeaning administration, were unavoidably migrating to greener pastures. They were all escaping from the devaluation of the dollar, the restricted foreign exchange system, the banning of food items, nationalization and its repercussions, the paramountcy of the PNC party, the evil of Burnhamism, the party card passport, the political domination in the ministries, public sector and agencies, the down seizing of the economy and the ultimate collapse of a nation under siege by a cabal led by the Kabaka. The “Sanctimonious Gangster” also alluded to this infraction.
With the turning of the tide, Indo Guyanese have proliferated, persevered and propelled to a stage of predisposition, whereby, everything must be relished with reservation. At each turn, a perilous trap is anticipated and nothing can be accepted as granted. Many have sold out the rights of East Indians for personal greed, employment opportunities, financial satisfaction and social advancement, all at the demise and expense of the struggling class. No wonder Indo Guyanese are spectators and not consumers with the celebration of Republic Day, Mashramani and Independence Day. Not being fooled or tranquilized by magicians, circus performers and dirty, dangerous and devious ring leaders, they fashion a head on their shoulder and can smell a rat from a mile. Any decoration of “mentally laziness,” is certainly supercilious from any irresponsible party and castigates, chastises and charred the dignity of individuality. Arrival Day should be renamed as Indian Arrival Day to underscore the reflection of the sacrifices of the ancestors of East Indians from India and, their contribution towards the peace, progress and prosperity of all Guyana.