Glowing tributes pour in for the Black American civil rights activist John Lewis. We have had John Lewis type activism in Guyana and among the Indo-Caribbean diaspora long before his combating White racism against Blacks. Like John Lewis, they courageously combated racism & fraud in Guyana. Our Indo-Caribbean heroes have battled racism and electoral fraud in the Caribbean ever since their presence in the region going back to the mid 19th century.
I can’t help but compare and contrast the way Americans and Guyanese or Trinis or Indo-Caribbeans honor their (dead and living) heroes who championed freedom for their people against racism and election riggings. Indo-Caribbeans and Caribbean societies must give similar tributes to those who fought against racism and for the right to the vote and accurate count of the ballot. Our people are also deserving of accolades, national honors, and hero funerals. Their struggles were not much different from those of John Lewis and other Black Americans.
There were similar struggles in America and the Caribbean against racism and the right to the ballot (including against electoral fraud). Black Americans were denied right to vote and when that right was given, similar to how the Whites gave the right to vote in Guyana, their ballots were not counted. There were electoral frauds in America to disenfranchise Blacks similar to what took place in Guyana (1966 to 1992) to deny Indians the right to the vote and what has been taking place right after the March 2, 2020 vote. There were also cries of electoral fraud in Trinidad in 1961, 1966, and the no vote in 1971, and in subsequent elections.
Our Guyanese heroes like those of America’s like MLK, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis gave all they had to fight racism and the right to their ballot. They tried in Guyana to redeem the unmet promise of equality and counting of the ballots that was similarly so long denied to Black Americans. The Whites oppressed the Blacks in America while the Blacks oppressed the Indians, Chinese, Portuguese. Amerindians, and other non-PNC supporters in Guyana. The ballot was denied to Indo-Guyanese and non-PNC supporters from 1968 to 1992. The Guyanese (Indians and a few Africans) and Black American heroes (and a few Whites) answered brutal violence unleashed on them with non-violence and fought for a better life for all. They persisted in demanding free and fair elections. That struggle continues today.
John Lewis is deservedly being given a hero’s funeral for his contribution to the (largely non-White) freedom movement in America that helped secured rights of all regardless of race and national origin, including the seven hundred thousands (including 450K Indian) Guyanese Americans. Blacks and other Americans give a fitting funeral farewell to their civil rights heroes. There are countless Guyanese heroes of all ethnicities who gave their lives for the ballots to be counted during the period of dictatorship. Some lost their lives or limbs and still have deep scars from the brutality unleashed on them not dissimilar to what happened to John Lewis.
Indian Americans join with the nation in honoring the Black civil rights champion. Lewis body was taken to the area where he was savagely beaten by police. This brings back memories of accounts of several of our Indian (and some African) freedom fighters who were beaten by police and paramilitary units all over Guyana, some even killed. There should have been similar momentous tributes to those who experienced violence when their funerals were held. But the government between 1992 and 2015 failed the heroes who fought for freedom in Guyana. The PNC was not bashful about hailing its heroes.
Our Guyanese heroes were and are also ‘Lewis like’ in their struggle. When will Guyanese give ‘a Lewis type tribute’ to honor their heroes of our freedom movement against racism and electoral banditry? Lewis, the Alabama Black native, persevered in the fight for the ballot and other rights for Blacks. He was savagely beaten by Whites not dissimilar to the brutal onslaught that our heroes suffered during the ethnic dictatorship in Guyana. Lewis went on to get elected to represent a Black district in Congress. He was never shy to champion the rights of Black Americans. He spoke up for and in defense of his people, and the world took note honoring him for fighting against white racism against Blacks and people of color.Several heroes, not the least being Cheddi and Janet Jagan, Walter Rodney, Edward Dublin, Father Darke, Feroze Mohammed, Ohene Koama, Komal Chand, Reepu Daman Persaud, Isahak Bashir, Josh Ramsammy, et. al. gave their life to the freedom movement and the struggle against racists and electoral fraudsters who persecuted us for 28 years denying us the right to the correct count of the ballots. Some of our heroes are still around, beaten by police, like Clement Rohee, Ravi Dev, Leyland Roopnarine, Paul Tennassee, Nand Gopaul, et. al. for championing the right to the vote. And we must not forget the heroes of the 1976 and 1977 student dissension on the Corentyne for standing up to injustice and those heroes who fought in the diaspora like Arjune Karshan, Baytoram Ramharack, Vassan Ramracha, Chuck Mohan, yours truly (Vishnu Bisram), et. al. They loved their country so much that they risked their life for what was right and for the promise of a better Guyana. A few Black nationalist heroes like David Hinds, Lincoln Lewis and Tacuma Ogunseye have gone back embracing the perpetrators of racism and defending electoral fraud on account of racial solidarity with their people; John Lewis would be disappointed in their behavior. You cannot be an Uncle Tom. You cannot deny people freedom and the franchise just to empower your own race.
As a student of American history, I recall Lewis courageous struggle and the savage beating he endured and it brought back memories of the ballot martyrs, heroes, shot down by soldiers in cold blood 47 years ago. They were opposed to the theft of their ballots of Indian voters not dissimilar to Lewis objection of the theft of ballots of Black Americans. Lewis lived and went on to get elected but the martyrs were never able to see parliament. I also remember those who were maimed and beaten as they demand the right to vote between 1965 and 1992. The perpetrators of violence were Burnham’s Black police and paramilitary units and gangs of goons that operated everywhere; some are holding office today and behaving in like manner 30 years later. And we must also remember the young Indian killed on the East Coast on March 5 for taking to the street demanding that his vote be accurately counted not dissimilar to John Lewis. He was a hero who gave his life to focus attention on electoral fraud. The Guyanese people must pay respects to those who made tremendous sacrifices for our freedom and comfort. They are/were heroes.
What would have happened if they had not fought for free and fair elections? They stood up for justice as they braved batons and bullets of the racists and fraudsters. Those who seek to annul the 2020 elections or reverse the outcome through fraud and who engaged in rigging between 1966 and 1992 are no different from the racists, KKK, and Jim Crow purveyors that John Lewis fought against. They ought to be ashamed of themselves of wanting to remain in office knowing fully well they lost. They have no decency and Lewis would not want to come close to them.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram