I agree with Ravi Dev’s concern that too much of the debate about the past could be a distraction from the present problems Guyana faces.
It is for that reason that I took a long time to respond to his views on my reaction to the recent developments in Buxton, published in three of his columns in the Kaieteur News and a letter to SN.
Dev has cautioned me about the possible consequences of my stance. But the issues he raises are too important to be left untouched. He is particularly concerned about my preference for agitation as opposed to the accommodationism of some members of the Buxton committee, which facilitated the President’s visit to the village and mobilized for the dinner at State House.
He grounds his concern and indirect opposition to my stance in history that pertains to a WPA member, Eusi Kwayana, and the WPA as a party. I suppose the fact that I am a WPA member is what is responsible for Devi’s narrow references. I hope he does not think that it is only the WPA which has made mistakes about race in the past. I will deal with the issue of agitation vs. accommodationism at a later date. Today I want to deal with Dev’s history.
I am open to Dev’s advice. Surely one must always look to draw lessons from history. But in this instance I question Dev’s interpretation of the history of the ethno-racial conflict of the 1960’s. Even as I make allowance for the fact that as an Indian Guyanese he reads that history through Indian lens, I have serious problems with his premise and conclusions.
Dev says Eusi Kwayana’s organisation of Buxton in anticipation of attacks from surrounding Indian communities was an act that had far-reaching consequences. It led to the expulsion of Indians from Buxton, he says. But he leaves out three critical elements of the story. First, Buxton only became involved in the conflict in 1964, a full three years after it commenced. Hence Indians and Africans were leaving or being chased out of communities where they were minorities long before Kwayana’s organisation of Buxton.
Dev blames Kwayana for Indians leaving Buxton but he does not say who was responsible for Africans leaving Indian villages and Indians leaving other African villages. He opportunistically ignores a general national trend in order to lay blame on a single activist in a single village.
The second element Dev leaves out of his narrative is the fact that Buxton became involved in the conflict only after two villagers were murdered in the backlands of the village. This is a critical element. If you admit this fact then you have to ask why this fiercely African village stayed out of a conflict for three years while its fellow Africans were taking blows in other parts of the country.
Could Kwayana have had anything to do with that? I invite Mr. Dev to speak to some Buxtonians of that period who are still alive. For now I can tell Mr. Dev that many of those villagers have told me and other researchers that even after the organisation for the defence of the village, it was Kwayana who successfully pleaded with the villagers not to attack neighbouring villages. Some of those Buxtonians lauded Kwayana for his actions while others disagreed with him. But in the final analysis there was no attack on neighbouring villages.
A third hole in Dev’s story has to do with the expulsion of Indians from Buxton. In the circumstances many Indians fled, as both Indians and Africans had been doing throughout the country. But many Indian families stayed in Buxton and were protected by villagers. Is it possible that Kwayana may have had something to do with that also? Again, I invite Dev to speak to Buxtonians of that time, including Indian-Buxtonians.
It is clear, then, that Dev’s conclusion that Kwayana’s organisation of the defence of the village led to a catastrophe which I must avoid is not grounded in fact. He makes a massive leap. He views everything bad that happened after the decision to
defend the village as a consequence of that decision without regard for the facts.
It is a weird kind of “cause and effect” construct that may make sense in abstraction but cannot stand in the face of the evidence. If the testimonies of Buxtonians mean anything, then it was Kwayana who was instrumental in dissuading them from launching attacks against neighbouring villages.
Dev used the same kind of reasoning a few months ago when he concluded that since Kwayana dates the beginning of the conflict in 1961 when Africans were attacked, he was inferring that Indians were the guilty race. But Kwayana was merely stating a fact. Dev imposes the reasoning – if you start it you are guilty – on Kwayana. He completely ignores Kwayana’s reasoning in his book, No Guilty Race, in which he unequivocally says the opposite – that since both groups were aggressors at different times, neither group is guilty.
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