Insulting Gandhi in Guyana
A former strong man Prime Minister of Guyana, Hamilton Green, insulted Mahatma Gandhi describing the international icon as a foreigner unworthy of naming a park or Garden or a Street after him. Green is known for his role in rigging elections in Guyana and a sleuth of atrocities against Indians as well as others opposed to the dictatorship of which he was the leading member.
In response to a suggestion, Green penned that it would be insult of monumental proportions renaming a street Middle Street or Promenade Gardens after Gandhi. Gandhi’s bust is at the gardens, placed there in 1969 by the dictator Forbes Linden Burnham just before Indira Gandhi’s visit to Guyana. Green’s actions and writings are an insult to the nation. The renaming of places, including a city “Linden”, after Burnham and his children and wife, Viola, is an insult to the nation, not naming a place after Gandhi, a democrat and global citizen.
While not agreeing with some positions of Gandhi, like the rest of the world, I revere and salute Gandhi’s contributions to India’s freedom movement, paving the way for independence. Because of his struggle, other countries in Africa and Asia in the 1950s and subsequently the Caribbean, including Guyana, in the 1960s and 1970s were able to gain their freedom from colonial rule. That in itself is worthy of naming a place after him.
Green refers to Gandhi as a foreigner. He is wrong. Gandhi has outlived the physical features of an Indian and as foreign. He is claimed by every territory as theirs. The Gandhi of today is a representation of utmost humanity. Gandhi has been widely accepted as a global citizen and revered everywhere including by those who ordered his beating and put him in jail in South Africa and India. Green states that places should not be named after a foreigner. What should we do with Nelson Mandela Avenue? Or is Green only seeing “race” in his thoughts and actions? Is naming a place after Mandela ok but not after Gandhi?
Green states that Middle Street or promenade gardens, if name were to be changed, should be named after someone who was connected to emancipation. Gandhi helped emancipate not only Guyana but the world. He was not born (1869) during slavery, but he fought against indentureship which was a new form of slavery that was practiced in Guyana. His struggle helped to end the new slavery in 1920 and emancipated the “new slaves”.
Every country and culture celebrated Gandhi’s achievements and paid tribute to him, even the Burnham government that Green served but no place has been named after Gandhi in Guyana. Even Green’s leader, the dictator Burnham, admired aspects of Gandhi’s struggle comparing a few miles of his march at national service in 1974 with the Dandi Salt March; there is/was no comparison as Gandhi marched for 240 miles defying British authority and police beatings, landing Gandhi and several of his peace organizers in jail.
Green made reference to Gandhi’s struggle in South Africa and the removal of his statue in 2019 in Ghana. The latter was done out of ignorance of Gandhi’s ideology and positions and struggle on behalf of Black Africans. Gandhi was merely 21 when he had his first encounter with Blacks in South Africa. He didn’t know the culture or conditions of Blacks and made unfriendly remarks about them. After his experience with White racism, he better understood the predicament of Black Africans as well as Indian South Africans. He recognized that the struggle against injustice by Blacks, Indians, Colored were intertwined, and he fought for justice for all groups. Gandhi got into the political arena in South Africa and India because of advantage and racial discrimination that was imposed on Blacks in their homeland in South Africa. He was perhaps the lone figure at the time to fight the British for liberations of Africans firstly and then later people of his native India. When he left South Africa in 1914, he expressed regret for his initial views about Blacks in 1893. And he urged the Blacks and Indians to work together. His struggle against racial injustice was continued by Mansukhal Hiral Nazar, P.S. Aiyar, Ahmed Khatrada and other prominent Indians. The African National Congress was modeled after Gandhi’ Congress organization, Natal Indian Congress. All South African Black leaders paid tribute to Gandhi and several places have been named after him post-apartheid. Mandela and others inaugurated events after Gandhi and praised him to help liberate South Africa from white only rule. Mandela in a speech in India, remarked: “You gave us Gandhi in 1893 to fight White racism and we return him to you as the Mahatma to free Indian from colonial rule”.
NPR reported on Dr Martin Luther King’s visit to India (1959),
“In India, researchers have found a long-lost speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Indian government, along with the U.S. State Department, has been planning a 50th-anniversary celebration of King’s visit to the country. They found a recording of a broadcast King made to the people of India on that trip in 1959. It’s widely known that Dr. King was a great admirer of Gandhi and borrowed his philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi relied on peaceful protest to help free India from British rule; Dr. King used it to promote equality for African-Americans. King took a month-long tour of Gandhi’s homeland to see the results of civil disobedience firsthand. By the end of the visit, he said his commitment to nonviolence as a vehicle for change was deeper than ever.”
The removal of Gandhi’s statue in Ghana was not surprising given the attitude towards Indians in that country. Did the Ghanaian leaders support Idi Amin when he told Indians to swim out of Uganda? Were not Indian assets expropriated in Ghana following the confiscation of Indian properties and businesses in Uganda by the cannibalistic Idi Amin?
On honoring Gandhi, derogated by Winston Churchill, Gandhi was recently honoured with a statue in London’s Parliament Square, looking out over the Palace of Westminster in the company of Benjamin Disraeli and Churchill. Then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said Gandhi’s “approach of non-violence will resonate forever as a positive legacy, not just for the UK and India, but the world over”.
Gandhi was a symbol of tolerance and non-violence. His lifestyle and struggle was the direct opposite of the violence unleashed on Africans during slavery in Guyana and in apartheid South Africa. It was a direction of beheading of slaves. That slaves were beheaded and their heads posted on stakes would have been condemned by Gandhi as he condemned all forms of violence. His behavior is that of the triumph of tolerance and of peacefulness over slavery. Again, this perfectly justifies the placement of his statue and or renaming of Middle Street or another street or Promenade Gardens – that symbolism of peace, non-discrimination, equality, and respect for all.
Read More Articles From Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Please send your letters, articles, photos and short videos to this free online Indo-Caribbean paper: firstname.lastname@example.org