I am glad my ancestors made the decision to leave India – By Mike Persaud

By Mike Persaud – Letter in Stabroek News – 06 May 2019

May 5th marked the 181st anniversary of Indian Arrival Day (IAD) in Guyana. There had been some debate about whether to call this event a “celebration”. In Guyana it is called simply, “Indian Arrival Day”. Celebration or Observance – it makes little difference.

Reflecting on these last 181 years in Guyana (as well as in Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Suriname, Trinidad, Jamaica and elsewhere), and on the development and progress of Indians – socially, economically, culturally, levels of freedom enjoyed – I would say it was a good decision our ancestors made when they signed up to go to the sugar colonies.

I have visited some of the villages in the Indentured Belt (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal), saw economic and social conditions there, and formed my considered opinion that we, the descendants of those indentured are better off today than had our ancestors never left. (I suspect this statement will stir debate and argument – that would be a good thing to stimulate thought).         

INDIANS – Indentured Belt (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal)

INDIANS IN FORMER SUGAR COLONIES

Indians now settled in former sugar colonies around the world came at a heavy price, sacrifice and toil, and “much punishment”. Those Indentured Labour Contracts were designed to put them in jail for the slightest “violation” and to make them sweat and bleed for every shilling they earned.  The conditions of servitude and living were maybe one or two steps above slavery which had already been abolished. Our ancestors were tough mentally and physically – they survived and together with the older settled population helped to build a new economy and forge a new diverse culture.

I am glad my ancestors made the decision to leave India. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are still today the poorest region in the Union of India. The public schools are in terrible condition; the unemployment rate in the region is above 15%; and these States are run by the most corrupt leaders compared to the rest of India.

Dr Ramesh Gampat’s recent book on “Plantation Hinduism” is chockful on details of Indian life in Guyanese villages – an evolutionary study of their development. Too much detail. Much to his credit.

He reported that 25% of all indentured Indians to Guyana returned to India upon satisfactory fulfillment of their contracts. Eric Williams (From Columbus to Castro, page 352) provided identical stats as Gampat’s – 25% repatriated from British Guiana, 16% from Trinidad. (You may speculate that conditions in Guyana were worse than Trinidad’s).

On this IAD anniversary, I’d share two interesting stories. 

First story: I got to Calcutta, hired a guide to help me find two villages – great grandfather’s and great grandmother’s – who left Calcutta on the Pandora in 1873.  The guide studied the documents. He asked: “Were these people husband and wife?” I said, yes. He said, “Not possible.  One village is Katwa in Burdwan, West Bengal; the other is 400 miles away in Mohenidabad, Azamgarh in UP”. No one gets married to another 400 miles away.

How could they have met? From the literature, we learned of “depot marriages” – hundreds and probably thousands of such marriages. I am now certain my great grandparents had a “depot-marriage”.

Elders saw a “young boy and girl”, each age 20 – and made an easy marriage-match. Communication with each other may have been difficult at first – one spoke Bhojpuri Hindi, the other Bengali. I would have loved to know the details. Regrettably – little oral history passed down.

My grand-father and father (born in British Guiana) and their siblings had always passed on the same story – they were married, recruited together and travelled to BG on the same ship. Now I know I have discovered some new information. What else we don’t know – for both, this could have been their second marriage. (At that time the average marriage age was probably 15 or 16). Each could have been running away from his/her own family crisis. Famines were sweeping the region in 1873, it wouldn’t have taken much for the recruiters (Arkatees) to entice them with “easy jobs, good pay” in the sugar colonies.

Second story: One guide phoned another guide speaking Hindi, one telling the other my documents were all fake, saying ‘it was not possible for my great grandparents to have been married to each other’. Why not? They were from different castes – Bagdee and Ahir – and there could have been no intermarriages between these castes. I thought to myself, “What the hell do these guys know?”

Gaiutra Bahadur, author of the seminal book, Coolie Woman, explained: “As the ships sailed off from Port Calcutta, many of the indentured cut their caste threads and threw them in the river”.  And, many of the caste beliefs and customs ended just as dramatically. This was too much for those Guides to comprehend. We the descendants know differently. It was a sort of liberation from India’s 3,000-year-old caste beliefs.

Bahadur also wrote of another type of liberation – women’s lib – a theme that ran throughout her book. Women whose marriages fell apart, women with child out of wedlock or thrown out of parents’ homes for whatever reason were terribly oppressed by that old society’s mores. They needed liberation and freedom. What a boon Indentureship was? Many of these women went to the sugar colonies – single but free – found new husbands, worked in the sugarcane fields, rebuilt their lives and in many cases prospered. Now that’s something to celebrate.

The vast majority of Indentured persons completed their labour contracts through discipline and hard work, saved money (the literature says they were “notorious for their thrift”) and invested in land and cattle and as the statistics showed 75% settled in the British Guiana colony. Travelling through the Coastland of Guyana today, the evidence is abundant that the descendants of our Indentured ancestors have flourished in this land.

I am proud of our Indian ancestors and their contributions to Guyana. I do not condemn nor praise the British Colonial power and the Sugar Planters. I say only that the British government today (still a world power) has some moral responsibility for the welfare of these Indians in whatever former colonies they live.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • michael hawkins  On May 7, 2019 at 4:04 am

    Yes it was good that thise people left for a new life, and they have done very well

    guyaneseonline posted: “By Mike Persaud – Letter in Stabroek News – 06 May 2019 May 5th marked the 181st anniversary of Indian Arrival Day (IAD) in Guyana. There had been some debate about whether to call this event a “celebration”. In Guyana it is called simply, “Indian Arri”

  • wally n  On May 7, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    On my fathers side, ancestors came from India on the boat. I never paid attention to the religion, culture, and I am old enough to remember this was common for lots of the younger generation. When my father died, the estate was kept by{?} in Buxton and I remember then, they told me as the youngest, I should shave my head, I was WHAT!. ..just an idiot, I was, today I wished I was not such an ass, it was an expensive decision.
    Now I show the children, the photos, the write up in the old newspapers, trying to make amends, hopefully I can make a difference.
    Most Indians around the world were proud, maintained a very good reputation for fairness, family values…..Today I read about the Indians behind the success of Silicone Valley making millions and keeping quiet while their bosses circumvent the law, lied to the public, so I wonder, do they remember, do they know, how hard their ancestors worked, paving the way for them.
    As for the idiots in the Liberal Cabinet, Lawd help them……..What happened?

    • Ecowerrie  On May 7, 2019 at 4:00 pm

      India very dirty and backward place… a bit like Guyana… full of primitive politicians who can’t speak proper English and are wife beaters!!

  • wally n  On May 7, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    COINCIDENCE???? But all these guys Amartya Sen APJ Abdul Kalam Satyendranath Bose C.V. Raman Srinivasa Ramanujan and many many more agree with you, damn primitive wife beaters, thanks for the heads up

  • Trevor  On May 7, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Indo-Guyanese tell me there are two types of Indians living in Asia.

    One who look down on them for leaving India (Hindustani nationalists), and the other group who are envious and jealous of Indo-Caribbean people (low class slum dwellers).

    Take a look of who is operating many of the Chinese-owned stores down Regent and Robb Sts. Sheer low class Bangladeshis, Indians and Sri Lankans.

    I can differentiate an Indo-Caribbean person from a low class dumpster diver from Asia in one second!

  • wally n  On May 7, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    hi gat someone you should meet……………………

  • Kman  On May 9, 2019 at 10:39 am

    You should do a thorough research before writing an article such as you did.

    BY AND LARGE, EAST INDIANS DID NOT MAKE A DECISION TO LEAVE INDIA TO COME TO GUYANA. THEY WERE KIDNAPPED AND FORCED, AND ENDURED HARDSHIPS AKIN TO SLAVERY, THOUGH THE WHITE MASTERS, YES THE WHITE MASTERS, CALLED IT INDENTURESHIP.

    COMPARE THAT ‘INDENTURESHIP’ TO THE INDENTURESHIP OFFERED TO THE WHITE POPULATION.

    By the way, l am not a racist, l just call it as l see it.

  • Trevor  On May 10, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    I believe a certain sect of Indo Guyanese were forced to come here to work as indentured labourers, but the majority of the wealthy Indo Guyanese who do questionable activities are definitely not from the forced labour stock.

    The descendants of forced labour Indo Guyanese are mainly in Berbice and closer to Region Five. They are darker skinned like us, have roots in Tamil, have snubby noses, and are mainly shorter and smaller in stature than the Indo Guyanese elite.

    Lots of Indo Guyanese are also mixed with African, European and Amerindian, and one has to be naive to pledge allegiance to India, as mainland Indians do not view Indo Caribbean as Hindustani.

  • Kman  On May 13, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    If lmran Hosein’s ancestors were forced to become Muslims, then he must love the teachings of lslam, to be speaking of it in such a passionate and caring fashion. No one is holding a gun to his head, just saying….

  • Trevor  On May 15, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Judging from the comments sections of his videos, Arabs are not fond of Imran Hosein.

    He has every right to preach his faith, but he is misguided to believe that the backwards Arabians will support his mission of Islam.

    Imran Hosein looks more of Indian descent, and Arabs are very racist against people from India, Pakistan and Iran. Arabs are also culpable of African slavery.

    How could Saudi Arabia be an Islamic country when wealthy Arabian princes use oil money to purchase sex from European escorts and sex workers? Doesn’t Islam condemn extra-martial relations that people get publicly stoned to death for only smiling at the opposite gender?

    • Guyanamavis  On May 15, 2019 at 5:32 pm

      Man go will go with dog if given chance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: