On August 26, 2003, the Stabroek News carried a report about then President Jagdeo’s visit to his ancestral village, Thakurain Ka Purwa in India. The report was based on news reports which appeared in the Indian media and which indicated that the citizens of the village belonged to a low caste.
I do not know if the fact that Jagdeo’s ancestors came from a village populated by low caste Indians is the reason why some people believe that they are superior in breeding and pedigree to him. If this is what they feel, it is both unfortunate and delusional.
It is unfortunate, because caste is an outmoded social construct. Nobody should judge or rank others on the basis of caste. If one understands the origins of the caste system one would refrain from judging or ranking others on the basis of caste.
Caste has nothing to do with superiority and inferiority. Caste was part of a system that allowed for an economic division of labour and for social order in the villages of India. That it was used as tool of exploitation and for the purposes of social status is a perversion of its original intent. The caste system is not different from the system proposed by Plato for the division of society.
The idea that the descendant of an indentured is superior to another on the basis of caste is also delusional. Jagdeo by his very success in becoming the President of Guyana, showed the irrelevance of caste to personal achievement and social elevation. Indeed, caste has no relevance in Guyana today.
Even in India caste is losing its traction. India has elected to power a man who is not considered as high caste. Now if India can do this, why would anyone in Guyana of all places want to use caste to demonstrate superior breeding?
Once you are the descendant of an indentured immigrant and live in Guyana you have no caste. There is no caste system in Guyana. Never was!
Any caste system that may have existed was invented. To get here to Guyana from India, the indentured labourers had to cross the dark waters of the Kala Pani. And once you crossed the waters of the Kala Pani you defiled your caste and you were deemed caste-less.
This is why so many indentured immigrants refused to go back to India. By crossing the Kala Pani, they effectively lost any claims to their caste and this meant that if they returned to India, they would have had great difficulty in reintegrating in village society.
I think it is time Guyanese debunk and dismiss this idea of caste. No one in Guyana who is the descendant of an indentured immigrant belongs to any caste. They cannot, because their ancestors lost their caste when they joined the ships that brought them to work on the sugar plantations.
I once saw a lecture on television. I think it may have been by Clem Seecharan in which he made the point that indentured immigrants suppressed the realities of India from which they escaped. He also said they created new narratives to help them adjust to their new world.
Amongst those new narratives is this idea of a Great India. Caste identification belongs to these created narratives.
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