We Need a narrative That is Healing


Re the Stabroek News editorial of May 5th, it has been established that with respect to one assertion, the editorial was inaccurate (see Harry Hergash: Indian-Guyanese Have Been Keen on Education Since the 1920s and 1930s; SN May 10th, 2012 and M.A. Bacchus: Keen on Education Since the 1920s and 1930s; SN, May 8th, 2012.) To date however, Stabroek News has not carried a retraction, as is normative practice in the media world, when an inaccuracy has been published.
According to the editorial, “…just a few decades ago the Indians were not as keen on education as they are today”. The simple reality, however, is that Stabroek News confused desires with actualization. That Indians have been acquiring education in increasing numbers over the last few decades simply means that there has been an increasing scope to enable this. That they did not do so earlier in time is the result of factors that militated against such a realization and not because of a lack of desire on their part; indeed Indians were as keen on education then as they are now. As pointed out by quite a few letter writers, Indians have always been aspiring for education as the basis for socio-economic advancement and upward mobility of self and family. The words of my parents encapsulate an outlook that was passed on through the generations: ‘tek ayu education because abe na get house and land fuh gie ayu’.
Furthermore, as others have pointed out, many kept their children out of the Christian church schools to prevent hem from being pressured to give up their Hindu or Islam religion and become Christians. And many who graduated from high school were kept of jobs that would have provided a catalyst for further education, because they refused to convert to Christianity or expose themselves to decultarization. Yet those who could so afford, did travel overseas to acquire requisite qualifications as doctors and lawyers while those who were afforded the opportunity did serve in various public service areas, some with distinction.
Perhaps the one area in which Indians can be blamed in a historical sense is with respect to females, until the advent of the Arya Samaj began to change traditions. The traditional belief was that since the roles of females were those of wives and mothers, education was not an important aspiration for them. But even then, while other segments of Guyanese society did not hold to this belief those segments did not distinguish themselves by enabling scope for women to be educated to the same degree and in the same numbers as men.
The other issue that provided a slight to Indians has to do with the struggle for universal adult suffrage. There are those who argue that it was Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow who carried this fight to the British. But while one would agree that Critchlow was part of a set of labor leaders who included this demand in their repertoire, it has already been pointed out that Critchlow was not in favor of granting the vote to Indians. Whatever his rationale (and no rationale can justify this outlook), this makes it clear that Crtichlow’s struggle was not for universal adult suffrage. And when one looks across the range of the last century it becomes clear that while many were involved in this struggle, it was Cheddie Jagan who took this fight to the British.
Mr. Editor, what the two issues referenced above indicate is transparent: a retrogression to a time when those who summed up history served to ‘put Indians in their place’ and deny them the roles and achievements that were rightfully theirs. Until these issues began to rear their heads, one would have thought that as a nation, we had gone past that stage and reached a place where all and sundry were accurately and unstintingly recognized for their contributions and accomplishments. And so one has to hope that this aberration is a passing a fancy rather than precursor of a particular strategy about to unfold, especially given the concerted effort by some to demonize and belittle Indians. (Ravi Dev: Keeping Hate Alive; Kaieteur News, May 13th, 2012.)
On the one hand are those who hurl accusations at anyone who writes from an Indo-centric perspective whereas those who write from an Afro-centric perspective are never treated in the same manner while on the other hand there are those who use the excesses and pathologies of the current government to indict all Indians, an indictment that was never applied to blacks during the PNC reign. When an Indian writes from an Indo-perspective we hear talk of us all being one people – Guyanese – rather than many races. When a black writes from an Afro perspective his/her writing is validated by other blacks and even some Indians, the inference being that the one people label is black.
As Dr. V.V. Raman, noted scholar and philosopher, pointed out in his seminal work, “Indic Visions”, “History comprises the collective memory of people”. However, it becomes historical bondage when that collective memory is reinterpreted to support skewed contentions in the course of which impact is exaggerated, undervalued or worse yet attributed in situations where such attribution does not match reality.
In the context of Guyana, where the colonial ‘us’ vs ‘them’, narrative has now become a narrative of ethnic reaction and a unified nationalism has been replaced by a struggle for ethnic supremacy, Ravi Dev (For a Peaceful Future, KN, June 10, 2012) still presents the best strategy. In spite of being branded a racist because of his Indo-centric positions, Dev’s appeal, “ that with the privilege of hindsight, we should connect the past with the present in a broader narrative that is healing rather than destructive” has to be a starting point for ethnic cohabitation and collective nation building.” For, as Dev pointed out, “Our horizon of expectation must generate strategies that speak to those normative ends rather than further dividing us as Lewis and others like Kissoon seem determined to do. They must ask whether their particular narrative (of revolution) or any narrative that seeks to connect our past to the present and envision a more positive future, will deliver those normative ends.”

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About caribvoice

Free lance journalist, educator and community activist. Guyana born New York based.
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