Thank you for printing my letter. It has started the dialogue and thus it has served the purpose of my intention. While you edited out parts especially the part that spoke about Kimbia and the doctor who used to do the abortions when the boat came out, someone has written that there is no documentation, thus editing can serve to hide and supress the truth. K.N. did not publish my letter at all. Several people have written on the topic of Rapes in National Service and they(K.N) published it. I do not know the writers and I may be incorrect in my assumption about the race of the ones who sought to wax eloquence about G.N.S. The questions that came to my mind were automatic. Is it that a person named Sahadeo dared write about something that was “covered down?” Is it that Indians of Guyana does not matter? I mean Indian lives do not matter? Our sufferings imagined?
Or is it that because these writers were not Indians that they were spared and thus had a good time? My sister and I went to a function where we heard these young ladies talking about their preparation to go to National Service. They were talking about doing their hair and primping up their appearances, generally looking forward to going to National Service and we were shocked to the core. These were all of one race and at the same time the Indian girls, were mortified and dreading the day. Many parents who had influential jobs tried to get their kids off of doing the stint in the hinterland but with no success. Fathers openly wept as they bid their daughters good bye on the boats. My own cousin was ordered to give 6 months in Kimbia and be allowed to stay and serve in the City for the last 6 months. He came out after 6 months and then he said Lewis took one look at him and sent him straight back to Kimbia. Another of my peers who later had a senior position in the Energy sector related how his mother could not recognise him when he returned from Papaya. She closed the door on his face. He also related how he and some of his friends had to literally guard the Indian girls who were there, one of whom is presently married to a senior politician. A few second hand experiences but they all led up to me and many like me not being able to continue our natural progression of our education in Guyana.
I stated in my letter about the fears that I and many had. I brought up several topics that I said needed to be enquired into and documented about. National Service, The National Cultural Center and the Wismar Massacre. Sadly ,everyone since have ignored totally the latter two topics. National Service is easy to defend though. The ones who defend it seems to have had a great experience there and learnt how to be patriotic, just like their great leader wanted them to. Did I and the many other like-minded Indians in Guyana who were anti Burnham and his maniacal endeavours then not patriotic? My late father, a Hindu and Indian rights activist that fought with his blood, sweat and put his life( and ours by extension) , at risk many a times, then is not patriotic according to these Burnhamites? Is it that patriotism in their eyes only reserved for those who obeyed that despot who was their leader and carried out his maniacal agenda? My Dad came up with the idea to form an independent Hindu Organisation when the main one came under the control of the Kabaka. The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha was birthed after Dad called Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud after he was kicked out from the Maha Sabha. In his own words, at our Mandir just 3 weeks before Dad passed away, the late Pandit related how Jer (my Dad), called him at his home and asked what was he doing. And he(Pandit),replied nothing. Then Dad said to him…let us form our own Hindu Organisation. Pandit Reep then invited my father to come over to his home to discuss Dad’s suggestion and when Dad went over, there he was introduced to Uncle Harry Ramdass. It was the 3 of them who sat and explored the idea of my Father’s and thus the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha was birthed. These three men, my dad Mohanlal Sahadeo, Harry Ramdass and Reepu Daman Persaud subsequently brought in others who made up the first Executive of the Sabha.( In the 10th Anniversary booklet for the Dharmic Sabha, the President in his address also made reference to this when he stated that ” at first he was reluctant to head the Orginasation but he later acquiesced.” )
According to the ones who support National Service, patriotism seems to be planting cotton and beans and exporting to neighbouring countries; picking up guns and learning to fight/defend? I wonder, were any of these patriotic folks ever sent by their esteemed leader to defend our borders when he started the “Not a Blade of Grass,” issue? On the other hand, Dad helped many of those who were starving, he used his influence and connections as a businessman to help those who could not get basic rights like getting a passport, he bailed people out when law enforcement decided to flex their muscles and arrested and beat the crap out of some random Indian for no explanation; I can go on and on. Many stories of how and what Dad did to help many defenceless Guyanese were also told to us, his kids when he passed away suddenly. This missive is not to praise Dad but it is to try to decipher what is really patriotism in the Guyanese context according to the minds of some Guyanese. Is it following a psychotic dictator achieve his sick desire to suppress anyone who opposed his racist agenda or is it helping the lives of Guyanese and preserving the culture and religion of its people? While Dad did so much for Indians and Hindus, no one could accuse him of practising racism either. He was one of the few Indian businessmen who had mostly people of African descent employed at his Store and fishing boats. Many of his peers used to question him about this and he ignored their warnings and fears.
Dr Bisram has been writing about the hardship during Burnham times and how it affected the lives of Hindus especially. Youths today do not know of the privations, sacrifice and shame many faced to get this generation to where they are today. We need to keep on writing and relating the hurtful truth. I remember going to the many mandirs all over Guyana with Dad and listening to the sufferings of the people who were afraid for their safety, were struggling to get by with basic necessities. They could not afford to or was afraid to get flour to make parsad and pholouri and only could bring some plantain chips to offer. My siblings were greeted by a group of people waiting outside our place of business every morning…not customers but people coming from all over Guyana who had problems and had nowhere else to turn. They came to Dad as they knew he would never let them go back “bare hand” and without help.
Dad was deeply offended when Burnham stole the money from the Indian Immigration Fund and financed the building of the National Culture Center. Dad refused to enter that building for many years and only started going when my sister and I convinced him that even though no one has ever acknowledged this, that that building belongs to the descendants of all of us Indians in Guyana. As I mentioned before, this is not to praise Dad, it is to question what is patriotism. Just like how Annan mentioned, many of us hold things close to our hearts and do not talk about trauma especially or do we boast about our achievements. It is part of our Culture. Dad never sang his own praises and even while some took credit for his own ideas and others stole them, he never fought for recognition. I have never ever seen a human so selfless like my Father. He told Dr. Cheddie Jagan that he( Dad) is staying to help him. This was at the 40th Anniversary of Dr Jagan as a Parliamentarian. Dad organised this function which was held at the L.B.I.,mandir. People did not want to participate and I sang and the temples on the East Coast of Demerara who were under Dad’s leadership, participated. At that time, very few were interested in supporting Dr. Jagan even just to sing at a function to honour him. Because of his close association with Dr Jagan and his pivotal role in the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, Dad’s life was threatened. He was never afraid though and my siblings and I lived with the fear that he is going to be murdered or assassinated. While his peers and ours were bailing out of Guyana, Dad stayed and kept his family with him and turned down many opportunities to settle abroad.
Many Guyanese have selected amnesia and pretend all is well. Neither P.P.P. and P.N.C. has the fortitude or interest to inquire about the many incidents of Rape and Brutality linked to the National Service. There will be no record of this dark side of Guyana. Neither would talk about the Wismar Genocide. And I wonder if many remember how Burnham built the National Cultural Centre when he hosted Carifesta?
Last of all, my brother Tacuma, in his reply to my letter agreed with the parts that suited his narrative and I will not judge him. I know him from his days as Colin. I know of his history in politics, most of which were told by Aunty Gladys. He is one of the many unsung patriots of Guyana. I welcome his support for us to inquire into and investigate our history. There are many incidents that need to be investigated. However, as long as we bury our respective heads and pretend that it was not so, reconciliation and subsequent healing will never happen.