Written by Dr Abhishek Anand (PhD JNU and post-doctorate researcher at Indira Gandhi National Open University)
It is not every day that we come across or hear of a gifted and accomplished person with so many feathers in his cap. Meet Dr. Vishnu Bisram, a diaspora person from Guyana who studied in USA and who promotes India and Guyana.
A man of multidimensional persona (researcher, scholar, teacher, news reporter, columnist, pollster, activist, political commentator, and philanthropist), Dr Vishnu Bisram is the face and a prominent voice of the Indian diaspora, Guyana diaspora, and Caribbean diaspora. The same being his forte, invests and channelizes his time, energy, passion, and vigour in traveling and traversing globally to bring to the fore the dispersed Indian diasporic communities, their lived experiences, and other areas of research that may be addressed and highlighted about the Indian diaspora.
It was Dr. Bisram, who with a couple other Indians from the Caribbean, who coined the terms – Indian diaspora, Guyanese diaspora, Caribbean diaspora, Indo-Caribbean diaspora, and Little Guyana – in Richmond Hill, New York in the late 1970s before these terms were put to widespread use and before they came into vogue in the late 1980s and afterwards.
Dr Bisram is currently engaged in authoring a book on the exciting and intriguing topic – the role of the Indian diaspora in the making of Modi as a global statesman.
Family Background, Education, Research, and Academic Contribution-cum- Intervention:
Dr. Bisram was born in Guyana. He is a fourth-generation Indian. His great-grandparents from both his mother’s and father’s sides were born in India. They arrived at different junctures in the then British Guiana (1880s and 1890s) and worked on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. However, after serving 10 years they were freed from indentureship. But, they remained in the colony in their indentured estates rather than returning to India, got married, and had children. They utilized their savings to buy landholdings to cement their ties to their adopted land. Vishnu Bisram was the ninth of 12 children born to his parents ( Baldat and Gladys) who were rural farmers. A large family with scanty and limited resources did not deter him from the scholastic excellence he was going to achieve and sustain. He cracked the annual nationwide Common Entrance Exam in 1972 that fetched him a scholarship to attend the government-run Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, some 17 miles from his home village. He turned down the scholarship to attend the Corentyne High School (Chandisingh) where he was among the leading students in his class. He became a Prefect and served for a period of time as Head Prefect in 1976/77. He also was elected as President of the Hindu Society and the Students Club. He entered for eight subjects at the Cambridge University Exam 1977. He jointly led student protests in October 1976 and from January to March 1977 in opposition to the victimization of staff who supported the formation of The Hindu Society and Students Club.
Having received primary and secondary education in Guyana, Vishnu Bisram forayed into academics and pursued higher education in America and India. At the age of 17, after migrating to the USA in 1977 to further his studies, he enrolled at the City College of the City University of New York in September that year to study Biochemistry and also pursuing a Major in Political Science. After his B.Sc. in Bio-Chemistry, he completed post-graduation in International Relations. He is a proud holder of numerous degrees and has an experience of over 40 years of teaching in the USA. He has a doctorate in Biochemistry as well as in a wide array of subjects – Political Science, History, Sociology, Economics, and Educational Administration. Straddling Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Education with ease, he is both an academic and a political figure, for he was one among the small group of Guyanese freedom fighters in the USA that resisted and voiced against the dictatorship in Guyana and participated in the struggle to bring fair and free elections to Guyana. He did this, both, from abroad and in Guyana at the cost of great risk to his physical safety. He held and coordinated rallies in Trinidad and the USA.
He has given decades of his life in that struggle (1968-1992)! His gallant and chivalrous efforts brought him recognition and reverence as a champion of promoting democracy in Guyana. During March-August 2020 he pressured the Guyana government to respect and uphold the electoral mandate and outcome of the March 2020 elections. Furthermore, he wrote much against electoral fraud and the 2020 elections impasse (attempted fraud). There is no exaggeration in pinpointing that his burning desire and resolve to effect a change in Guyana brought about a political change on August 2nd, 2020. Dr. Bisram has also penned extensively about Guyanese diasporic activities in Trinidad, USA, and other countries from 1977 onwards.
Dr. Bisram guest lectured at umpteen colleges and universities in America, India, and several other countries including Trinidad, Surinam, Fiji, Mauritius, and South Africa. He has held myriad seminars and conferences and has pubslished extensively on the Indian diaspora and related themes. He is the man behind the Fourth Conference of Indians at Columbia University and the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin which was instrumental in the launch of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). He has contributed a multitude of articles, essays, write-ups, columns, and research papers for print media in the USA like the Indian Community Media in America, Guyana Abroad, Caribbean Update, the Student Newspaper at City College, The Paper and The Source, and the print media in India such as Asian Monitor, News India Times, India Abroad, News India, India Monitor, Asia On- Line, West Indian News, and Caribbean New Yorker. He has done voluntary reporting on the Guyanese, Trinidadian, and South Asian diasporas in America. One can convincingly argue that he is always working, in the direction that he aims at, just like Arjuna (of the Mahabharata)’s vision was fixated on the eye of the bird during his training and apprenticeship at Guru Drona’s ashrama and on the eye of the fish in Draupadi’s Svayamvara.
Accolades in the form of Awards and Cash Prizes
He is a proud recipient of umpteen awards by the nation-states of India, Guyana, and America.
1. He was conferred the Bharatvaasi Gaurav Samman in New Delhi in recognition and appreciation for his service to humanity in Indian diaspora countries. It is the highest award by an NGO (Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad/Indian Council for International Cooperation) bestowed on PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) or NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) for their exceptional, phenomenal and outstanding service towards the Indian diaspora. The award included a trophy with citation and an amount of Rs. 1,00,000 which he generously and graciously returned to the organization to continue their public service and related pursuits. India’s Minister of State for External Affairs – Shri Murlidaran – expressed hope that such honours would serve as an encouragement to others.
2. In January 2023 Dr. Bisram was among the people of Indo-Caribbean descent who were hailed and honoured in India for their noble and remarkable work toward their countries and communities.
3. On January 26th, 2023 at the Indian High Commission in Guyana during its Republic Day celebrations, President Dr. Irfaan Ali of Guyana conferred Dr. Bisram with an award for his notable contributions to academia, media, and cultural endeavours.
4. He was honoured in Fiji in May 2023 at a public event “for lifelong humanitarian and volunteer service to diasporas globally and extraordinary academic achievements”.
5. Dr. Bisram was recently recognized by President Joseph Biden for lifelong voluntary services in the USA.
The Incredulity of His Life, Career, and Accomplishments!
Dr. Bisram is a Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean patriot. Apart from his media-related instructions and undertakings geared towards uplifting the Indian diaspora, to him goes the credit of charitable work spanning over the last few decades for the betterment of the Caribbean community in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and India. He is known among his colleagues and fellow academics for his steadfast and undying commitment to raising awareness on social issues concerning and confronting the diaspora, promoting cultural interfaces and exchanges amongst them, and carrying out research on the Indian diaspora. Among the political and socio-cultural organizations founded by Dr. Bisram, mention may be made here of the World Union of Guyanese, the Jaguar Committee for Democracy, and the Indo-Caribbean Federation. The culture-enthusiast and the multiculturalist in him have helped with Christmas celebrations and other festival luncheons and outing activities, particularly for the elderly, refreshments in these programs, etc. through the Indo- Caribbean Federation and Hindu religious organizations such as the USA Arya Samaj. He has tutored junior high school pupils, individually in their homes gratis, to prepare for the entrance exam to select High Schools in New York. The list of his compassionate and humane actions and ventures is fairly long!
Dr. Bisram has trailblazed and spearheaded community volunteerism and activism, working for the good and benefit of Guyanese, Trinidadian, Jamaican, and South Asian immigrants in the USA since the late 1970s when he arrived there to pursue higher studies. From that time onwards, he has been actively engaged in humanitarian and community affairs associated with diasporic communities in America. His dedication, hard work, and commitment to various humanitarian and charitable causes have earned him acclaim and admiration far and wide. He was honored with several honors in Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad, India, America, and elsewhere. As we have seen in the case of Bharatvaasi Gaurav Samman in Delhi, the cash prize of which he benevolently gave back, his selflessness and public-spiritedness can be gauged from the fact that he regularly donates funds to various social causes and organizations in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, the USA, and India. However, his astounding academic and altruistic feats haven’t come easily. While introspecting his journey this far, he states, “I was committed to my studies while also serving others, and I fought my own life battle as well as the battle for Guyana while serving to uplift lives of the less fortunate”. He added: “I had to work to pay my tuition, purchase books, and fund the revolutionary struggle against the dictatorship. Funds were difficult to raise. Guyanese in the diaspora were not very concerned about what was happening at home and they themselves were struggling to eke out a living in their new adopted lands”.
Reaching from where we started, Dr. Vishnu Bisram, truly and remarkably, is a “Renaissance Man” – a scholar on diaspora; defender of, and fighter for, democracy in Guyana; political and cultural activist; benevolent educator; prolific writer; seasoned academic; political analyst; founder of organizations; labor activist and trade unionist, organizer of public forums and academic conferences; champion and promoter of culture. On writings, it is likely that no other Guyanese or Caribbean person published more articles in the mass media than him — countless on various socio-economic and political and educational issues.
It is earnestly hoped that a man of such calibre, credentials, expertise, and dedication will continue his endeavours toward bettering the lives of diasporic communities in America, India, Guyana, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. The diaspora bows to this distinguished scholar and activist.
*Dr. Abhishek Anand is an Independent Researcher,
M.A, M.Phil., Ph.D, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.