Aug 04, 2020 Letters Comments Off on Remembering the important struggle of Lewis, Komal, Feroze
Guyana and Guyanese Americans lost well known freedom fighters in recent months: John Lewis, the iconic Black Civil Rights leader who was buried last Friday; Komal Chand who was cremated last Tuesday; and Feroze Mohammed who was buried in early May. We learnt through their lived experience and their struggles that freedom does not come easy. They made indelible mark on history. They commanded respect for their lifelong fight for freedom, equality, and basic human rights. I never met Lewis but read of him. I cherished my encounters with Komal and Feroze. They gave me valued time for my research, and they both were warm and affable. They were down to earth, unassuming people. And I will miss Komal, in particular because we engaged each other so much over the last fifteen years – an affectionate gentleman in every aspect of the word.
Guyanese went through horrific experiences from colonial times to now. They put up various forms of resistance to overcome challenges. Some were in the thick of the struggle and others were onlookers becoming beneficiaries. Through the decades of struggle of Lewis, Komal, Feroze, and that of others, Guyanese enjoy freedom in Guyana and America. Only a few heroes of the 1960s freedom movement are still around. We must know their struggle and learn from them. And we must take precautions, never to repeat these horrors of history. Komal was among those who fought for the restoration of the vote. His close friend Feroze Mohammed who died days after also put up a strong fight against electoral fraud. They both were involved in the 1961 and 1964 elections as young men becoming leaders in their own right. We must pay tribute to them and recognize that the struggle for absolute freedom and a just society is a work in progress. There is still much to be done in fighting against racism and authoritarianism. Some of those who persecuted Guyanese are still around. In fact, one of them advised Granger to take away the freedom of Guyanese and restore the dictatorship that he once helped to institutionalize (between 1966 and 1992).
The death of freedom fighters brought back memories of the kind of struggle they waged against injustice, inequality, racial persecution, discrimination, and freedom for their people and the response from the oppressors. Guyanese freedom fighters and Black civil rights leaders in America experienced violence; they were beaten by the racist oppressors. They were victims of various intensities of physical violence and psychological torture. All chose the non-violent method of struggle in the mould of Mahatma Gandhi.
The struggle against racism and equality for one’s race was not an easy one. The scars were deep and unforgettable. The oppressors used similar methods – only the scale of violence may have been somewhat different; Guyanese were ‘propa’ beaten by thugs during the racist dictatorship. As we watched clippings, Lewis was clubbed by racist police and set upon by Klu Klux Klan (KKK); dogs tore into human flesh of protesters, and cold water sprayed on them. In Guyana, peaceful protesters were set upon by police officers, the military, and racist goons who mauled them. Weapons were trained on them. Limbs and lives were lost. In Both societies, we experienced whipping from police. But in America, the police restrained from whipping protesting students. On the Corentyne in 1976 and 1977 and in other protests, age or student status was not deterrent from victimization and beatings. As young students, we were clubbed by the police on the instruction from the Kabaka. He wanted to set an example to those who defied him. Many Guyanese were hauled to jail just like the Black activists in America. In jail, some were beaten with rubber hoses or other utensils. Ask Ravi Dev and Leyland Roopnarine about their experience. In Guyana jail, unlike in America, police shoved heads of political dissidents in toilet bowls filled with urine and faeces. In some cases, waterproof dungeons were filled with filthy water neck high and dissidents placed in. Paul Nehru Tennassee and others were stripped naked by the army and tied to red ants nest. Roy Nanhoo was mercilessly beaten in Mahaica and in jail. Leyland Roopnarine, Tacuma and David Hinds had their experiences in lockup. The para-military House of Israel immersed heads of protesters in dirty latrine drains. In my readings on the worst of racist experiences in South Africa, Rhodesia, and America, White oppressors did not utilize some methods of violence utilized against protesters in Guyana. And the Whites also did not violate the dietary habits of non-White oppressed victims. Moses Nagamootoo once wrote that food was used as a weapon. The food habit of Indians were violated as their staples of flour, potatoes, split peas, channa, among others, also essential for religious practices, were all banned. It was a crime to be found with them or caught consuming them. Today, the ballot, instead of food, is being used as a weapon to persecute people. The oppressors reject the right count of votes. The struggle for freedom must continue. The Jagans, Feroze Mohammed, Komal Chand, Reepu Daman Persaud, MLK, John Lewis, and others put up a brave, courageous fight against racist oppression. The battle continues as this long struggle is a work in progress. The heroes of yesteryear are slowly leaving the scene. The youths must take up the mantle. And they have done so courageously as we are witnessing in the battle for the right count of the vote.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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