The British Guiana Colonisation Scheme was never realised. There was never a plan to turn British Guiana into a colony of India. The claims made in this regard are inaccurate, and result from an absence of rigour in historical research.
The contention that the “scheme” still influences attitudes in Guyana is premised on a falsehood, which is not supported by historical evidence. The public should also disabuse itself of the concerns that the “scheme” has been downplayed from Guyana’s history books. This latter suggestion is a conspiracy theory without a conspiracy.
The end of Indian Indentured Immigration in 1917 created anxieties within sections of the planter class and emerging merchant and professional classes of British Guiana. They were fearful that with continued repatriation of Indians to India, the colony could face a shortage of labour.
As such, consideration was given to encouraging a new scheme to replace the loss of labour from the end of indentured immigration and the continuing return of Indian immigrants to India.
It was out of this fear of the loss of an assured labour force for the plantations, that a proposal emerged for the establishment of a British Guiana Colonisation Scheme to attract labourers to the colony. There was never any plan to turn British Guiana into a sub-colony of India, which had at that time not even gained its Independence.
The main proposal envisaged immigration not just from India, but also from Africa, Portugal and the British West Indies. And, as pointed out by Juanita De Barros – in her book “Reproducing the British Caribbean: Sex, Gender and Population and Population Politics after Slavery” – it enjoyed support from the colony’s growing merchant and professional classes.
Among those who were said to have supported the need for such a scheme were the likes of E. A. Luckhoo, (Indian), mayor of New Amsterdam; P.N Browne (African), lawyer; J. V Evan Wong (Chinese), miner; Francis Dias (Portuguese), former mayor of Georgetown.
The emerging labour movement was represented in the discussions on the proposal by Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow (African), trade unionist. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Negro Progress Convention both pressed for immigration to include persons from Africa and the British West Indies.
The British Guiana Colonisation Scheme was an economic immigration scheme. The use of the word ‘colonisation’ in the name, was a ruse used to disguise the scheme, so as to overcome the ban on Indian immigration.
When a delegation from British Guiana went to India to make a case for the scheme, the Indian government was under no delusion that the proposal before it represented an attempt to recommence Indian immigration.
India did not act hastily. It dispatched a team to British Guiana to investigate conditions and to advise it on the scheme’s suitability. The deputation confronted two proposals when it arrived in British Guiana. The first was known as the Nunan-Luckhoo proposal, and the other was from the Governor. The team was told, in no uncertain manner, that the Nunan-Luckhoo proposal was unacceptable and should be considered unofficial and in no way binding on the government of British Guiana.
However, the architects of the Nunan-Luckhoo proposal were adamant that their proposal was official, and that it had been endorsed by the Combined Court, and had been presented to the Secretary of State to the Colonies, Lord Milner, who was the one who had suggested that it be represented to India. This evidence was not contradicted by two of the persons who had opposed the scheme in the Combined Court.
The team considered both proposals. It entertained submissions from interested parties. A delegation from the British Guiana Farmers’ Conference and Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow endorsed the view that the scheme, as proposed, was essentially a labour scheme and not a colonisation scheme. And even Luckhoo and the Indian community in British Guiana were in unison that no such scheme should commence prior to 1930.
The British Guiana Colonisation Scheme never got off the ground. The fears of a labour shortage never materialised. The sugar industry survived and “fed us all”.
Guyanese must be mindful of the dangers of narratives, which emerge from falsehoods. Even falsehoods, which are the product of ignorance, run the risk of stoking ethnic fears, which can be massaged for selfish gains during the silly season.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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