Reference is made to retort of Mr. Kit Nascimento captioned “Lets Remember who we are” (SN Feb 18). I don’t see the need of Nascimento’s rebuke of my missive of Feb 12 (as published in KN) as we share similar goals. My letter was sent to SN on Feb 11 but not published. Yet SN finds it prudent to carry a response by Nascimento who seemingly misunderstands and misrepresents my position on Indian regional cultural centers (ICC), the gist of my letter. Is there a hidden motif in misrepresenting my position given that Nascimento worked in propaganda for some six decades including serving Burnham and the PNC.
Nascimento responded on behalf of his wife, Gem Madhoo who supported my position that the national cultural center (NCC) should have insignias of aspects of Indian culture as well as a plaque noting that the funds used to build it came from Indian immigrants.
The money used to build the center as earned from the sweat and blood of the pioneering Indian laborers and placed in a special fund for their return trip to India. The fund was confiscated by Burnham to build this national cultural center that Indians opposed. Burnham should have taken monies from the capital budget in the Consolidated fund to build that Centre, not the Indian fund. that seized the Indian fund.
I do not disagree with the trust of Nascimento’s argument for a “one Guyana policy”. My position on the NCC or ICC has nothing to do with vision of President Ali to build a united nation, but as an activist who spent five decades combating against racial discrimination, I have a patriotic duty to expose injustice and to further the culture of Indian Guyanese who were victimized for 28 years under the PNC regime which Nascimento dutifully served. Since Nascimento served Burnham loyally, he would have an abiding interest in defending the policy to confiscate the Indian fund.
The appropriation and confiscation of the Indian Immigration Fund to construct Burnham’s edifice of what he calls a national cultural center (NCC) is a very sensitive matter for Indians. The appropriation of the fund capped a long list of abuses of the Indian population including, but not limited to, race riots, Wismar Massacre of Indians, independence date, confiscation of agricultural land, banning of foods and other items related to the Indian cultural diet and religious practices, and rigged election. There was massive discriminatory practice and victimization of Indians. The governance of Burnham left a bitter taste in the mouth of Indians. Indians viewed Burnham’s policy as a deliberate act to seize money left for the descendants of Indians pioneers.
Burnham was ‘rubbing it in the Indian population’ by using the Indian Fund to construct the NCC. The proposal was unanimously rejected by the Indian population which by 1972 constituted over half the population. Burnham had no right to use the fund for Carifesta. It is noted that Nascimento’s wife, Gem, supported the confiscation of the fund to build the NCC. Kit Nascimento was a loyal servant of Burnham for some twenty years having broken off from Peter D’Aguiar’s UF where he birthed political teeth.
As Nascimento noted, the use of the Indian Fund for the NCC is a long-standing issue which Indians have not forgotten or been able to overcome. Till this day, over fifty years, they remain opposed to it. Countless Indians of that era have refused to set foot in the NCC; they want the return of their ancestors’ fund. I was told the late Pt. Reepu Daman Persaud did not set foot in the NCC until Lata Mangeshkar performed there. As the host, Pt. Reepu he had no choice but to accompany her to the hall. Other prominent Indian leaders also boycotted the NCC. Among them were Fenton Ramsahoye, Isahak Bashir, Dr. Balwant Singh, Yacoob Ally (who was jailed for having a pound of imported salt), Mohammed Insanally, Pt. Ramlall, Pt. Churkeeman Tiwari, and others. Dr. Balwant Singh Sr (Head of Gandhi Youth Org) was fired as Chief Bacteriologist and Mohammed Insanally was fired as lecturer at UG for objecting to the use of the fund to build Bunrham’s cultural center.
Dr. Jagan, who was indisputably the de facto, if not de jure, leader of Indians (overwhelming majority anyway) opposed the use of the funds to build a national cultural center. He supported regional cultural centers. The fund would have been used to build regional Indian cultural centers before Burnham’s installment in office. But the matter got swept away during the PPP administration (1957-64) by the wave of more important political issues of the time including political independence, race riots, etc. Regarding my missive, I received countless compliments and plaudits from prominent Indians for what can be described as the Indian position on the Indian Fund.
Nascimento misrepresents my usage of the term “cultural genocide”. Culture must be autonomous, meaning each group must be allowed to engage in its own practices, and alien culture must not be foisted upon a group as Burnham attempted during his long 20 years reign in office to deculturize Indians and others. What Burnham replaced was cultural genocide. Replacing a group’s ancestral culture with an alien (creole or other) culture is cultural genocide, and we must guard against such national practices. This is completely different from cultural diffusion which is “the synergy” Nascimento refers to. I am not opposed to this synergy or cultural diffusion. I am opposed to a group or government foisting Indian culture on another group. Government cannot mix portions of different cultures and call it Guyanese culture or national culture or “a synergy of all of our different cultures”; that is cultural genocide. African Americans and other groups rightfully reject such synergy in America. It is also rejected by ethnic groups the world over. Africans, Indians, Amerindians, Chinese, Portuguese, and others have their own culture.
Nascimento misquoted me (don’t know if he did so deliberately) on source of funding for Indian regional cultural centers. I never wrote that government should use the peoples’ money building regional Indian cultural centers. What I stated was the Indian Immigration Fund, with interest must, be returned and the Indian community, including Gem Madhoo, myself, and all other Indians would decide on the faith of the funds. I am in favor of regional Indian cultural centers. Gem wants to build regional theaters. I don’t see that as necessarily opposing proposals. But it is my people’s money. We must decide on its usage, not Kit Nascimento or the PNC or any government. Dr. Jagan, the late Pandit Reepu, and other prominent Indian leaders, also favored regional Indian cultural centers. It was/is also my position that if the government is offering subventions to any ethnic cultural centers, it must do same to all groups. The African Tipperary Hall in Buxton was modernized in 2011 with the people’s money. Nascimento had/has no problem with it but he has a problem with the peoples’ money being used to build an Indian cultural center. I do not know if government provides subvention to the (African) Lichas Hall in Linden (McKenzie). If it does, for fairness and cultural equity, similar subventions must be given to cultural centers elsewhere.
Nascimento says the NCC was built for the celebration of “our Caribbean and national culture and identity”. Virtually no Indian went to Carifesta 1972. The event was boycotted by Indians in 1972 at the instruction of their political and cultural leaders including Dr. Jagan, Pt.Reepu, Yacoob Ally, etc. What is this national culture and national identity? We don’t have one people or one culture. One national cultural center divides the nation. We have several cultures and identities, not one. We need regional cultural centers or theaters (to use Gem’s term).
Nascimento misquotes me (don’t know if it is deliberate) on the use of proposed regional Indian cultural centers. I never stated these should be used exclusively to stage Indian cultural programs. Nascimento should go back and read it and make a correction.
Nascimento and his wife are of the view that Indian cultural centers would “further divide the country”. Africans have the attractive Lichas Hall in Linden and the majestic Tipperary Hall in Buxton. Amerindians have Benaabs where they host cultural activities. Why would regional Indian cultural centers lead to division of the country but African cultural centers won’t? Every group has a right to their cultural centers. In Switzerland and Belgium, each of the ethnic group has cultural autonomy and their own centers or theaters. These don’t lead to further division. Instead, different centers lead to cultural appreciation and national unity.
On the usage of the NCC by Indians, its use of Indian programs has been very minimal. And the attendance of Indians at the NCC has also been very sparse and limited to a few programs. The bottom line is Indians have consistently opposed the use of their ancestral money to build a national cultural center. Their wishes should be honored. The money should be returned to them.
Nascimento defines culture as “the customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a particular people or group of people”. That undermines his own contention that each group should not have its own cultural centres whether private or stated funded.
The expression “let a thousand flowers bloom” is a misquotation of Chairman Mao Zedong who said, “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress … .”. However, that slogan was meant to make critics and dissidents of his cultural revolution comfortable enough to show themselves. Those who did were executed, somewhat akin to Burnham’s policy of victimizing those who opposed his usage of the Indian fund.
When Nascimento speaks of supporting Guyanese culture, this is what he supports: The National School of Dance; The National School of Music; The Burrowes School of Art; Castellani House; Mashramani; Teachers Training College – all publicly funded institutions that drive culture in Guyana and which are all African Guyanese dominated. Not one of them promotes Indian culture. That is racial and cultural prejudice, and every fair-minded person who values justice and a democratic society would understand the predicament of the Indian Guyanese community who are continually silenced whenever they speak about this national prejudice and injustice. The silencing is part and parcel of the genocidal policies which are both physical and cultural.
I support the “One People” policy that is meant to promote, respect among all the nationalities or peoples who make up Guyana and give them equitable treatment. There is no evidence that it is being borrowed whole from the Burnhamist doctrine of oneness whereby all non-supporting groups were expected to disappear culturally, socially, and physically into the miscegenation that is nothing less than genocide. Nascimento hardly needs reminding of this since he was a loyal supporter of the Burnham dictatorship, and, as head of Burnham’s information service, was the chief propagandist for the anti-Indian racist doctrines.
Finally, I agree with Nascimento that we must give recognition to our cultural roots and who we are today – peoples of different ethnicities and cultures, and a people who are extremely divided as a result of our toxic politics. We must not marginalize any group’s culture and define what is their culture. And most importantly, we must not usurp funds belonging to any ethnic group to promote culture of another group.
As his wife Ms. Gem Madhoo proposed, would she and him champion the installation of the plaque stating the NCC was built with the Indian Immigrant Fund. Would they also champion the inscription of Indian cultural insignia inside and outside of the NCC? Burnham didn’t want to acknowledge that it the was the Indian people money. If Gem and Kit Madhoo had even suggested that a plaque be placed in front of the NCC with an inscription that it was the Indian Fund that built it, both would have lost their heads.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram (PhD)