A street in Richmond Hill was co-named Pandit Ramlall Way after the well-known Guyanese religious figure. It is an occasion for celebration of the NY Guyanese community coming right after naming Lefferts and Liberty Ave as Little Guyana Ave. It is a worthy recognition for the pandit. Most know Ramlall-ji for his religious activities and I did patronize several of his yajnas. But I also know him for his political activism in Guyana and for supporting our struggle in N.Y for the restoration of democracy in Guyana.
Pandit Ramlall, born on February 28, 1928 in Skeldon of Indian indentured parents, passed away in Queens on January 26, 2019 just shy of 91. Ramlall-ji taught at Tagore Memorial High School. He taught briefly with the late well known biologist Dr. Joshua Ramsamy at the same school. He self-taught and passed exams to become a teacher. He also studied Hindi on his own with guidance from his gurus. And he also studied Hindi under a Government of India scholarship in 1974. He received a DipEd from a government college. He returned to Guyana to teach Hindi. He also wrote several Hindi books, including stories for children.
Pandit Ramlall joined Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the struggle for Guyana’s political freedom from the late 1940s onwards. He was arrested in the 1960s for his political activism defying unjust colonial orders. And he was kept in confinement at Sibley Hall for a few years for his dissension against colonial rule. Dr. Jagan and Moses Bhagwan, among others, were also in jail with him. Ramlall was pardoned and released at the time of independence; he declined an offer to join Burnham who was installed as Premier in December 1964 by the British and Americans. He remained a PPP organizer in Upper Corentyne. He was at one time in charge of recommending Berbicians for scholarships to study the Soviet bloc countries. He, Pandit Tiwari (Churkeeman), and Mahadeo Budhram (father of Drs Yog and Vishwa Mahadeo), among others, were dedicated PPP activists from the Corentyne.
Pandit Ramlall migrated to the USA in 1979 and furthered his education part time while working full time. He completed a BA. In New York, he worked with several Guyanese to help found Arya Samaj mandirs (one linked to members from India and a group from West Indies); he was the lead pandit for them. He subsequently became Dharmacharya or leader for the West Indian Arya Samaj groups. He was employed at a hospital. And he was elected as a trade union activist, serving in the executive.
In NY, during the early 1980s, Ramlall joined the movement for restoration of democracy in Guyana. He was very close with the PPP support group, ACG led by Arjune Karshan and that included Mel Carpen, Chuck Mohan, among other stalwarts. At a time when others shunned political activists, Pandit Ramlall permitted the use of his Mandir for community meetings pertaining to Guyana. Members (like Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, and myself) of my political group were allowed to address worshippers on issues pertaining to Guyana and our movement to free Guyana of authoritarian misrule. Pandit Ramlall was most impressed with our political activism; he offered encomiums to Baytoram, Vassan, and myself (in addition to the ACG guys), praising our activism. Few Guyanese were interested in taking up the struggle to liberate Guyana from the PNC. Pandit Ramlall noted that the ACG and my group were the only ones that remained steadfastly committed and dedicated to the liberation of the Guyanese people from Burnhamism and PNC misrule; later the other parties (WPA, URP, DLM, TUF, NRP, etc.) had a support group formed in NY. Pandit offered encouragement and support of the struggle; he remained aligned with the PPP and the ACG.
In NY, Ramall-ji became a doyen among Guyanese religious leaders and followers of Hinduism; he was considered the Dharmacharya for Arya Samaj followers and worked closely with Sanatanists. He approved of the usage of the Arya ground on 133rd Street by Sanatanists and other community groups for varied events.
Because of his involvement in countless activities, especially the Phagwah parade, he became well known among American politicians (in City Council, State legislature, Boro President, etc.). He had earned the respect and admiration of politicians and the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean communities in Queens. They recognized his contribution to the Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean immigrants in Queens. Guyanese Ashook Ramsaran spearheaded a movement to co-name a street after him. After Ramsaran was successful in leading the movement to get a street (169th and Hillside) co-named after Ramesh Kalicharran as Kali Way, after Ramlall’s death, a proposal was prepared and submitted to City Council Member Adrienne Adams to co-name 133rd Street after him.
Ramsaran, International President of Indian Diaspora Council (IDC) was named Chairman of the Pandit Ramlall Way Committee, and Patricia Gordon-Langford of Tristate Alliance was named Co-Chair. The Committee included several prominent members of the community including several board members of the Arya Spiritual Center, family members of Pandit Ramlall, Dr. Dhanpaul Narine of Jyoti Satsang, District Leader Richard David, Naidoo Veerapen of Federation of Hindu Mandirs, Dilip Nath of NAVA, Herman Singh of Radio Zindagi 540AM, Lakshmee Singh of “Let’s Talk With Lakshmee”, and several others. Naro Balli of Arya Spiritual Center was appointed as director of the June 27 unveiling program.
The Committee prepared an 89-page dossier of letters of support from businesses and organizations, thousands signatures of area residents and an extensive biography of the man, his life and legacy. With the experience of initiating the Kali Way, named after the Essequibian, in 2019, the committee carried out a sustained campaign justifying the co-naming of the street in honor of Pandit Ramlall. Despite delays due to Covid-19, the efforts continued. Ramsaran gave testimony at the NYC City Council on December 17, 2020 in support of the application which was unanimously approved the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Committee Chair Ramsaran remarked that, “Dharmacharya Pandit Ramlall was a selfless and avid community advocate, a well-respected iconic spiritual leader and scholar, a freedom fighter in Guyana, and a pioneering community advocate who has been recognized locally and internationally for his life-long community service. He founded the annual Phagwah (Holi) Parade in New York and Queens Borough President declared March 23, 2003 at “Pandit Ramlall Day”. He was indeed a tremendous asset to the community with a lifetime of service to spirituality, justice and freedom. These attributes justified the naming of Pandit Ramlall Way as a lasting tribute to the man and his legacy”.
NYC Council Member Adrienne Adams of Richmond Hill piloted the bill to name a street after Pandit Ramlall and won unanimous City Council approval. The Unveiling of Pandit Ramlall Way at 133rd Street, off Liberty, took place on Sunday June 27th at 2:00 PM. It was preceded by speeches and a cultural program at the Dr. Cheddi Jagan Square, at a lot half block away. The lot is owned by the Arya Samaj Spiritual Center which is used for many cultural events such as Gandhi Peace March, Holi and Diwali functions. In a memo to the organizers of the event, Mayor DeBlasio praised the contributions of Pt. Ramlall in Guyana and NY.
The organizing committee was applauded for its work by spokespersons at the event and by others. They also praised Ramlall for his contributions to religion and to freedom movement in Guyana (from colonial rule and PNC dictatorship). Cliff Rajkumar of Toronto commented: The exemplary life of Pandit Ramlall has left an enduring legacy for the Guyanese people, his constituent community in New York and also the world. Pandit Ji has certainly dedicated his life to the service of humanity by embracing the sage and integral values of his ancestors which, no doubt, strengthened and inspired his sense of purpose and commitment to the cause of justice and equality for the disenfranchised. He was a role model par-excellence. Thank you, committee members for this great work”.