• 13 Apr, 2024

Indians were victims of Apartheid Rule in Guyana

Indians were victims of Apartheid Rule in Guyana

Indians were victims of Apartheid Rule in Guyana

I read an ad on social media promoting a rally for August 21 in Georgetown headlined: `Resisting the emerging apartheid state’ . I am supportive of peaceful protests and rallies and those who speak out against injustice, racism, and apartheid rule. I am on the side of those who advocate for equality and fairness. Almost every multi-ethnic country, including USA, UK, Canada, has witnessed aspects of discrimination – some government promoted and others the result of peoples’ cultural and social behavior. There is no evidence to substantiate a claim that the current government in Guyana and during its previous tenures ever practice or condone racial discrimination. One of the principal founders of the PPP, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, would have none of it, and he fought against apartheid at a time when the Burnham regime was in bed with racists. In fact, at a conference in New York in 1989, Dr. Jagan referred to the then regime in Guyana as apartheid in nature. Bharrat Jagdeo during his tenure and Irfaan Ali did not and have not practiced or condoned racism and they most certainly have not presided over any apartheid system. They were (are) democratically elected at a time when Indians have not been a majority of the population. They could only have gotten majority by winning over support from other ethnic groups which eliminates any possibility of racist or apartheid governance. 
 
I studied apartheid and fought against it and racism in South Africa, USA , and Burnham Guyana. ‘An emerging apartheid state in Guyana’? Are the brains of the organizers and listed speakers of the rally working smartly? Are they not concerned about the embarrassment of the heading of the rally? Mr. Floyd Haynes is wise to dissociate from such a rally and to condemn the term used to describe it. 
The term apartheid is misused in the context of post-1992 Guyana. Guyana was an apartheid state post-independence thru October 1992 during which time there was a racist minority authoritarian regime modeled along the lines of the apartheid regime in South Africa where apartheid was institutionalized. 
 
Guyana held its first democratic elections in October 1992. And since then, the country has come a long way from the institutionalized racism it inherited (White domination during colonial rule) and Burnhamite governance (1965 onwards) which was apartheid in nature. 
Those of us who studied sociology or political science would understand the concept of apartheid rule. Apartheid was the term given to the particular racial-social ideology developed in South Africa (and Namibia) and to some extent in Rhodesia. It was characterized by segregation and racial hatred. Apartheid led to the political, social, and economic discrimination of people not in government such as the Africans, Coloureds (mixed race), and Indians by the minority dominant white regime. 
 
Burnham led a minority regime in Guyana and imported aspects of apartheid rule and institutionalized it in Guyana during his reign and it continued until his successor Desmond Hoyte attempted to dismantle it from 1990. De facto apartheid was practiced against Indians, Whites, Amerindians, and Mixed races not dissimilar from how the White minority regime in South Africa used it de jure and de facto against Africans, Indians, and Mixed in South Africa. Under Burnham and Hoyte, the state acquired over 80% of the economy and placed it in the hands of party supporters of one race. Token hand outs were given to a handful of other races that supported the system similar to what took place in South Africa. On that note, one aspect of the apartheid system was the “Pass Book” that granted privileges to non-whites. Burnham established the “PNC card” that was a requirement for government jobs, perks, and privileges.  Without the card, people who looked like me could not find employment or access to scarce items and the tax clearance certificate to exit the country. Have the organizers of the August 21 rally forgot that? 
 
When one examines governance and employment in Guyana, the government service, police, army, teaching, nursing, UG student body, Bank of Guyana, Gecom, and other state institutions, they are predominantly African in composition before and after independence till now. An African was President in 1997 during the PPP tenure in office succeeding Dr. Jagan. An African was Prime Minister during PPP rule from 1992 to 2015. And an African has been PM from August 2020 till now. The current government is reflective of the ethnic composition of the population.  Indians dominate in law, medicine, engineering, mining, fishing, and the private sector in general. Indians are entrepreneurial and succeed in business because of their own standing. They didn’t receive handouts from the state that was controlled by Burnham and Hoyte who favored their own supporters for the combined 28 years they ruled. In fact, Indians have been victims of apartheid rule. 
The time has come when you must call a spade a spade. They have been on the receiving end.  Look at the mauling of the young Indian male and his girlfriend last week in Georgetown in the presence of onlookers and police. Indians were brutalized at Mon Repos in July. They were beaten in Agricola and West Berbice. Since the time of indentureship, Indians have been victims. The Whites employed others as security and to beat Indian who dissented against the indentured slave system. 
As Blacks and Indians did in South Africa, Indian Guyanese toiled, produced rice and sugar and food for all of the nation. But they are not appreciated. When it comes to upheaval, they are at the receiving end – beaten and robbed, cars stolen, vehicles set on fire, houses and stalls destroyed, shops looted, some Indians killed, females raped, and more. 
Several individuals (Indians and Blacks) fought against apartheid in South Africa and Guyana over the decades. That era produced a number of notable figures. Among them were Blacks, Whites, and Indians including Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Khatrada, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo. Chris Hani, Ismail Ibrahim, Fathima Meer, Oliver Tambo, among others. In Guyana, there were Rupert Roopnarine, Walter Rodney, Eusi Kwayana, Cheddi Jagan, Moses Bhagwan, among others. In New York, several of us Indians, Blacks, and Mixed fought against the racist system. I was in the forefront of that struggle against racism and joined several protests against apartheid in South Africa, Namibia and Rhodesia. During my tenure as an elected student leader, I piloted motions to authorize funding through the student government for protest movements in New York. 
How would the organizers of the August rally feel if a group is formed titled “In defense of Indian rights” and make same set of statements. Would it not be destructive of Guyana? 

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a fourth generation Indian. His great grandparents from both his mother and father’s sides were born in India -- Gurbatore from Ghaizpur, Amru from Azamgarh, Sau from Chapra, Mangri from Mau, Bhuri and Bhura Singh from Bharatpur, among others. They all came at different times to then British Guiana (1880s and 1890s) to work on sugar plantations as indentured laborers. After serving ten years, they were freed laborers. They remained on the colony rather than returned to India, married and had children. They used the savings from indentureship to purchase landholdings to cement their ties to their adopted land. They were not given free land. Vishnu Bisram is ninth of twelve children of Gladys and Baldat, rural farmers, she also was a seamstress and he a taylor and they attended to a kitchen garden as well. Vishnu attended the St Joseph Anglican (called English) primary school from 1966 to 1972. In 1972, he passed the annual nationwide Common Entrance exam winning a scholarship place to attend the government Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, some 17 miles from his home village of Ankerville, Port Mourant. He declined the placement scholarship and opted instead for the private Chandisingh High School to which his family pad to pay a tuition. He entered for eight subjects at the Cambridge University Exam in 1977. Vishnu migrated to the USA in 1977 to further his studies. He enrolled at the City College of City University of New York September that year at age 17, studying Bio-Chemistry and also completing a major in Political Science. After his BSc in Bio-Chem, he pursued graduate studies in International Relations earning a MA. He went on to complete multiple post graduate degrees including doctorates in Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science and Educational Administration. Dr Bisram taught for over forty years in various subjects in the US. He also served as a newspaper reporter and columnist for over four decades and is a well-known pollster in the Caribbean region. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling extensively around the globe to research and write about Indian communities. He published countless articles on various subjects in the mass media, journals, and books. He also organized international conferences on the Indian diaspora and presented papers at many conferences. He was a guest lecturer at universities in Mauritius, India, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad, Suriname, USA, and other countries. He is a well regarded political analyst on American and Caribbean politics. He makes him home in Guyana, Trinidad, and America and travels frequently to India.