Guyanese Gem Madhoo-Nascimento in a missive (Feb 5) supported the appropriation of the Indian Immigrant Fund to build the Burnham Cultural Center in Guyana to host Carifesta programs in 1976. Myself and almost the entire Indian community opposed the usurpation of the Indian people money to build a national cultural center (NCC) to which the Indian community had limited access. It was wrong for the dictator to use Indian money to build a national center to which they had very little access.
The center is located in a part of Georgetown which is not hospitable to the Indian population. Few Indians live in the capital city. Almost the entire Indian population live outside of Georgetown. Thus, a national center in the city would disadvantage them. Thus, using Indian money to build the national cultural center was an insult to them. It was like poking or digging the eyes of the Indian population.
Ms. Madhoo stated she supports my recommendation (Jan 29) that there should be a plaque at the national cultural center (NCC) clearly indicating that it was built with the Indian Immigrants Fund and that the NCC should have a permanent display of Indian art. Both are missing ever since the (Burnham) center was built in 1974 with the Indian Fund. There is hardly any sign of the existence of Indians in Guyana in the cultural center. The design of the building itself has no Indian cultural features.
I had consistently advocated that the Indian Immigrant Fund should be returned to the Indian community and that it should be used to build regional Indian Cultural Centers since the money belong to the Indian community. Ms. Madhoo-Nascimento stated that she is opposed to my suggestion, saying these would “further divide the country”. I don’t see how Indian cultural centers would divide the nation any more than it already is. Indian don’t patronize African events and Africans don’t patronize Indian events. The existence of the NCC does not attract Indians. And very few Indians attend events at the NCC except when it is an Indian performance.
Guyana is a multi-cultural nation with fascinating cultures of its diverse people – Africans, Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, Amerindians, etc. Each culture has been and continues to be autonomous or else there will be cultural genocide, a crime against humanity which can be prosecuted by the UN. Burnham tried to de-culture Indians and to impose Creole culture on them. Government can’t impose another culture on a group of people. In White America, Canada, and UK, every group practices and displays their own culture. Whites don’t impose their culture on others. Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese cultures thrive in the US, and they have their own separate performances in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Ft. Myers, Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, etc. Indo-Trinis and Indo-Surinamese patronize Indian events and vice versa.
In Guyana, every group has a right to their own cultural centers. Since the government built cultural centers for one group, the other groups are entitled to equity. The Africans have the attractive Lichas Hall in Linden, as Ms. Madhoo praised. The Africans also have the majestic Tipperary Hall in Buxton that was modernized with government funds by President Jagdeo in 2011, among other African centers for their exclusive use. There is no local Indian Cultural Center (other than the one funded by the government of India) in Bel Air. Why would regional Indian cultural centers lead to division of the country but African cultural centers won’t.
In a divided country like Guyana, one national cultural center leads to animosity and further divides the country as one culture would end up being dominant as has been the case with the NCC since 1974. Ever since Burnham appropriated (usurped) the Indian Funds to build the NCC, there has been animus. For decades, Indians have refused to enter that building. Indian community leaders swore, issued an Indian sarap (curse), that they would never set foot into that building and have refused to do so till now. They have been enraged that the money of their ancestors was taken away from them to build something for which they have not been beneficiaries and that lacked their input in design and display of arts.
Ms. Madhoo said she felt it was appropriate for Burnham to usurp the money to build the NCC because Guyana was hosting Carifesta and needed a cultural center. I think it was wrong to use the Indian Fund to construct it as it furthered the racial division between Indians and Africans. Coming right after the race riots, the Wismar Massacre of Indians, and so many other anti-Indian incidents, it was too insensitive to appropriate the Indian Immigrant Fund to which Indians Indians hardly had access. It came across as Burnham thumbing his nose at Indians that he could do whatever he wanted to them.
Ms. Madhoo has every right, like me and all other Indians, to offer a view and to determine the purpose and use of the Indian Immigrant Fund. It was suggested since the late 1950s that the fund be used to construct regional Indian cultural centers. Political events of the 1950s and 1960s placed the usage of the fund on the back burner of the community that was caught up with election fever and who was going to replace the Whites as inheritors of political rule. After he was installed as leader, Burnham set his sight on the Indian Fund. Dr. Jagan, the de facto leader of the Indian population for five decades, endorsed the recommendation of multiple Indian cultural centers and opposed the use of it for construction of the NCC.
For now, there is no opposition to government putting up a plaque stating that the NCC was built with Indian Immigrants Fund, permanently displaying Indian arts at NCC to give recognition to the presence of this group, and refunding the money (in today’s value with interests) to the rightful heirs of the Indian Fund. Let the heirs decide through consultation or a referendum or a national convention or through some other means on what should be done with the money!