The deception men suffer is from their own opinions — Leonardo Da Vinci (Italian renaissance painter, 1452-1519). Five hundred years later these words from the enlightened soul still holds true in the midst of the ongoing debate regarding the incidents and purpose of the Guyana National Service (GNS) – mandated between 1973 and 1992 in Guyana. While many prominent pro-PNC executives (the ruling party) lavished kudos on this organization, a more realistic analysis reveals that there was a sinister purpose afoot.
Firstly, there was the issue of food and its preparation. Hindus (not all but most) generally do not eat beef while pork is forbidden by Muslims. The GNS trivialized and trampled upon this aspect of its procedures, serving both to Indians, not to mention that the same pots were used in food preparation. Clearly, the intention was to contaminate and de-culture Indians and to creolize them. Once a people is de-cultured or creolized, then they are gone perhaps forever. We have seen that in several West Indian islands.
University students in Guyana were mandated to work for at least 6 months in the ‘bush’ to obtain their degrees; they are required to be far away from home and from supervision of parents. This act is against Indian culture that has strong family upbringing and close supervision. The end result: numerous Indian students left for other shores or sought alternative (unsuitable) jobs as Indian parents were scared to send their children to a far off uncertain place in the wilderness. Many were known to be raped with forced impregnation. Burnham had come closer to his goal of ‘one nation’ or one people.
While the general aim was to provide skills and discipline to all Guyanese, the GNS displayed a huge preponderance of Afro Guyanese. Indians were not inclined to share accommodation and cuisine with their counterparts. They did their best to avoid going to GNS and as such were denied tertiary education under the Kabaka. Meanwhile, as Indians migrated and business class closed up shops and headed for foreign shores, thee economy had plummeted into the abyss of mismanagement and unsustainable debts yet the Kabaka saw the need for another para-military organization. The 1978 Jonestown tragedy where over 900 lost their lives instilled deeper trepidation.
Rape stands as the most horrific attribute of GNS. Abortion doctors had their clinics overflowing as termination of pregnancy originating from the Burnham’s Brainchild became commonplace; my neighbor and schoolmate required an abortion as her parents (in the presence of my parents) cried saying ‘abee nah waan no dougla pickney’. University student and poet Madhai Das (now deceased) was raped and suffered lifelong trauma and depression as she truly, at least from the inception, believed that there were many benefits from that poorly conceived, mediocre organization. She was even crowned the Miss Diwali Queen in the mid 70’s wearing a National Service uniform! She had believed in GNS and promoted it until she was rape. No one came to her rescue, not even Burnham! To this day she has never publicly come “Clean” about her rape although many Guyanese know the serial rapist. He orchestrated the rapes. The daughter of a prominent High School principal in Georgetown was also raped and forced to migrate. He went to the jungle, picked up his daughter and left the country, never to return. To this day no investigation was ever conducted on that rape, and one cannot brush aside an incident of rape like this as bad “Luck”.
The ‘beneficial’ purpose for the GNS was not for all Guyanese. History reminds us of Germany in the early 40’s when, in Orwellian newspeak, Hitler launched Charitable Foundations for Institutional Care. They were his extermination camps. While the head of the Guyana state, the kabaka Forbes Burnham and his claque may have crafted a policy for the GNS, it was done in ostensible and inequitable manner doomed to colossal failure mainly because of one salient fact: Guyana is not a homogeneous society: it is a nation of six nations or races. That euphuism of a name suited only a particular sector while the degradation suffered by Indians and others groups is tantamount to religious and cultural genocide.
Then came the ultimate consequence when a cadet escaped from the GNS. The UG scholar, Deonarine forced into GNS to get his diploma, was captured, brought back camp, tortured and was beaten to death by a top- ranking supervisor. In 1990 Justice Nandram Kissoon sentenced Lieutenant Nurse to 25 years jail for beating Deonarine to death. And there was never any compensation to his family. Just to mention (en passant) that I never graduated from the University of Guyana because I refused to perform National Service. And others were also denied their diploma because of their refusal to patronize GNS. The government should terminate GNS permanently, order a commission of inquiry into it, and release the held up diplomas or transcripts for students who did not participate in GNS.
Leyland Chitlall Roopnaraine
Non-graduate (University of Guyana)