Oct 20, 2021 Letters
Reference is made to “Ethno-political violence… is not purely an Indo-Guyanese concern” (Oct 18). I agree with Mr. Alexander, but no racial group has suffered as much violence as Indians since 1955 when the original PPP split into two racialised factions. Indians have been living a legacy of racial victimisation and violence. An objective study would prove or disprove this hypothesis.
Regrettably, racial violence has been a distinct part of Guyanese history since the start of colonial rule and even before that during inter-tribal warfare among the native Amerindians. While that violence has impacted every racial group, it has had a particularly horrific effect on Indians as various scholars contend. It has been very hard to whitewash or deny this fact or to state that Indians alone were not victims of violence. Indians suffered tremendously, perhaps the worst among all groups, since their indentureship in 1838 and particularly so after 1955 when the two dominant race groups, Indians and Blacks, competed to succeed the White man as the dominant group. We all know the history of the violence of the 1960s, including the Wismar Massacre of Indians, and how the African PNC was installed in office by the Whites allowing it to govern 28 years uninterrupted just to keep out the Indian Socialist PPP.
As a historian and sociologist, I agree with Mr. Alexander that we in Guyana have experienced a three hundred years pattern of discrimination and racism – encouraged and fuelled by colonial rulers as well as by the immediate successors of the colonial rulers. Ethnic supremacy and violence has been perpetrated by the Whites who encouraged Africans to unleash violence on Indians. But the violence continued after the colonial rulers left. Such a culture of violence, especially when it has become a legitimised and institutionalised form of coercion by any group, is hard to stop. We must not give up on such noble effort to end racial violence and discrimination and to build an equitable society.
Regardless of who perpetrated the violence, and which group suffered the most or least, we must not excuse or condone it. It is natural for leading members of a group to justify violence against others or pretend it has not been used as a political weapon or to deny it or rationalise it or to say that the intensity of acts of violence was/is nowhere close to what its race suffered at the hands of other races or to say that Indians were also involved in violence against Blacks as Mr. Alexander pens. It is indisputable that Indians were involved in acts of violence against Blacks. But the scale was nowhere to what they suffered.
Indian leadership never openly endorsed crime or goad or encourage Indians against Blacks or any other group as the founder leader of PNC did. Forbes Burnham and other African politicians (in PNC) encouraged Blacks to attack Indians since the 1950s. One does not forget that ‘mo fyah’ statement of Desmond Hoyte or the remark from Burnham imploring Africans to take back the gold they mined as pork knockers and that was bought by Indians. Burnham entreated Africans at a public meeting “… Comrades go and take back your gold from them”. And we have not forgotten the kick down door banditry and the choke and rob, and the anti-Indian violence during every election. And of course who could forget the Wismar Massacre! It and certain other racial crimes were abominable and cannot be forgotten. It was not a supposed massacre; it actually happened and is recorded in news reports including London Times, Guardian, NYT, Washington Post, etc. The atrocities were unimaginable – worse than the banning of Indian cultural and religious foods of the 1970s and 1980s. The level of brutality committed in Wismar against Indians was never experienced by any other group. Eyewitnesses, pathologists, doctors and medics reported that Indian children were held by their legs and pulled apart ripping their bodies; pregnant women were cut across their abdomen with unborn babies falling out dead; bottles were found in the vagina of victims including of children; many victims were chopped and thrown into the Demerara River. We have not forgotten what happened at Cotton Tree in September 2020 when, as Freddie Kissoon reported, African leaders encouraged Blacks to attack Indians.
Scholars have noted that Indian leadership has been passive and non-violent. Virtually none of them has been ethnocentric or indo-centric and are not reported to have encouraged their supporters to attack others the way Burnham, Hoyte, Hamilton Green, Ptolemy Reid, and others did. It is noted that Cheddi Jagan was not married to an Indian, and he hardly dressed in traditional Indian wear. He hardly attended Indian functions. And if we fast forward to today, Indian leaders are so un-Indo-centric that they don’t even know a classical Indian musical tune or aspects of their holy scriptures. Glen Lall and Freddie Kissoon are among the rare few who stood up for or to defend Indians.
A sociological study on racial violence is urgently needed that would help in racial healing. Such a study would help us to determine which group perpetrated or suffered more violence. It is believed that such a study would find dozens of incidents of racial violence against Indians since the 1950s. Indians have been targeted from then to now. Indians lost many lives and also animals and tremendous amounts of property and jewellery and cash wealth. No doubt, other groups were also affected by violence and this should not be downplayed.
Mr. Alexander and other scholars and governments must look at how incidents of racial violence have played out across the country post-1955 – why they occurred, their impact, and how we move forward. Mr. Alexander and other scholars should examine the work of the brilliant Norwegian Sociologist, Johan Galtung, who is also a development economist. His writings are mandatory readings for those of us who did doctorates in Sociology and or in Development Economics. He identified three sources of violence: direct, structural and cultural. These provide a useful lens to understand the underlying causes of racial conflict that fuel violence and undermine peace and stability. Sociologists say Indians have been the worst victims of all three categories of ethnic violence since independence 1955.
A study is also needed on race and violent crimes perhaps modelled after the one by the 2018 US Department of Justice which found that Black Americans, 13% of the population, were involved in 33% violent crimes, Whites who were 60% of the population, were involved in 46% of violent crimes, Hispanics who were 18% of the population were involved in 21% of the crimes. Asians, under who Indian Americans (including Indo-Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbeans) were underrepresented in violent crimes – 5.7% of the population and 5% violent crimes. Indian Americans are 1.5% of the population but less than 1% crimes and Indo-Caribbeans are a mere .3% of the population but involved in less than 0.05% of violent crimes. It would be interested to know the ratio of Blacks on Indians crime and vice versa. For decades, there has been untold number of crimes against Indians.
Each group has its own story to tell of the violence unleashed upon them by another group. Each has its own narrative as discussed at the September zoom program referred to by Alexander. Speaking of the violence helps in the healing process.
I applaud Alexander for his courage to appear on an Indo-Caribbean social media platform to talk frankly on and now write on race and violence.
Dr. Vishnu Bisram
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