• 14 Aug, 2022

Remembering May 26 Massacre of Indians in Guyana; a day of Infamy; not a day for celebrations

Remembering May 26 Massacre of Indians in Guyana; a day of Infamy; not a day for celebrations

Remembering May 26 Massacre of Indians in Guyana; a day of Infamy; not a day for celebrations

May 26th is a day of infamy in Guyana but the government and many others would be engaged in celebrations because it is Guyana's independence day. Instead of celebrating, it should be a day for reflection to remember the massacre of Indians in Guyana that took place in 1964. It is known as the day of the victory of one race over the other in the community of Wismar, Christianburg, and McKenzie as so referred to by the late dictator Forbes Burnham who orchestrated the violence against the Indians. Burnham considered the expulsion of Indians from Wismar as a victory for his supporters and renamed the area after himself, Linden. Called the Wismar Massacre of Indians, an anti-Indian act of genocide, it is one of the earliest organized acts of ethnic cleansing of a people after the Jewish Holocaust of the late 1930s and 1940s. In fact, the New York Times and other independent international media carried reports describing the 1964 attack on Indians (who were an ethnic minority in the Wismar-McKenzie area) “as an orchestrated orgy of violence. It was an ethnic cleansing”.

The Wismar Massacre should not be forgotten; there should be no celebration, no cocktail party, no fete on this day. Indians were targeted for genocide. There should be a memorial service, a congregation to pray for the victims. Violence was unleashed upon them in the Wismar area, organized and unleashed by Burnham in the PNC X-13 Plan. The defeat of Indians on this day, the victory of Burnham in Wismar using violence against Indian them, was used as Guyana's independence day. It was opposed by Jagan and the Indian population. But Burnham and Peter D'Aguiar of the UF ignored the objections and the sadness of the events of the day and forged ahead with demands for independence on the date.

Guyanese must be willing to learn from Wismar, its varied lessons, so as to avoid a repeat of May 26th. Some of the local and international media reported that “Wismar violence against Indians was a pre-planned annihilation of Indians – many Indians were murdered, many Indian men were beaten and brutalised, many of Indian women were raped, many females were stripped naked, children were terrorised and traumatised, countless Indian homes and business were burned down, and with all fleeing Wismar for safety elsewhere”.

Eyewitnesses stated that all Indian houses were looted and burnt, There is a lot of references in books by Dwarka Nath (History of Indians in Guyana) and Ashton Chase. Nath reported that while a pandit was conducting pooja in the mandir in his yard, an African man dropped an axe on his head, and in one fell swoop blood spilled on the ground and  he dropped to the ground in his yard. He died instantly. Bottles were shoved in the vagina of females of all ages. Black women stood by as Black males violated the chastity of Indian girls. Instead of attempting to stop the orgy of violence (beatings and gang rapes) violations and molestations of Indian females, the Black females laughed and cheered.

The report on the Wismar Massacre stated: hundreds of Indian homes and businesses were destroyed. The Indians lost all belonging,  jewelry, vehicles, money, and dignity -- Their homes were occupied by Africans.

Ashton Chase writing in History of Trade Unions in Guyana, stated that the displacement of Indians occurred faster than lightening. Indians were not given a chance at all in the greater Wismar area. They were uprooted. They could not even move their personal belonging. They left with only clothing on back, no money, no food, no goods. They were taken aboard a ferry to refugee and squatter settlements  on the East Bank (Ruimveldt) and East Coast (Montrose, Mon Repos). Some were also sent to Black Bush, Whim, and other villages. Some moved in with relatives and some were placed in shelters. It was a devastating attack on a community of Indians. It was horrific. Such intensity of violence never happened in the history of Guyana. That kind of racial hate was never experienced. This was the first act of ethnic cleansing in the West after the Holocaust. There were anti-Indian attacks in Buxton, Golden Grove on east Coast, Kashbah  on West Coast, etc. The Wismar violence was the worst.

An official British government report on the Wismar Massacre said, “It was politically and racially inspired … and the fact that the security forces were in no case able to apprehend arsonists forces us to conclude that the destruction was not ‘spontaneous’, but was organised, and well organised.”Reporting on the anti-Indian violence, the media (local and international) described the 1964 Wismar Massacre as “an orchestrated orgy of violence against peaceful Indians”. Some reports quoted officials and the then British Guiana Police as saying the act was one of a “terrorist group X13 Plan”. Right after the massacre of Indians on May 26, 1964, the People’s National Congress (PNC) held its party congress in Mackenzie, that adjoins Wismar, and celebrated the victory. Making snide remarks and mocking Cheddi Jagan and his ruling PPP party, Burnham demanded that May 26 be Independence Day much to the objection of Jagan.

Guyanese must not erase the real history and significance of May 26, 1964. The Massacre of Indians came before independence day. It is a historic date that the country must not forget. Memorial service should be held for the victims. And compensation for the victims and descendants should be considered.

Read More Articles From Dr. Vishnu Bisram

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 holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.