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Survival In The New World PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 25 July 2006

1. The Attenuation of the Caste System Among Hindus in the Caribbean

2. Amongst the Indians of St Lucia by Martin Latchana 

3. Racism in St Vincent Against  Indians 

4. Grenada: The Nyacks of Belmont Estate 

5 Sour memories of sweet Guyana 

6. Life of an indentured: Rani Singh 

7. The Enigma of Arrival: John Mohan in Port of Spain 

8. Baboolal Ramadhin of Barrackpore 

9. The Indian Community in Trinidad: an interview with Viranjini Munasinghe

10 The Wismar Massacre in Guyana 

11. Indian women of  Guyana

12  The infamous Indian barracks

The Attenuation of the Caste System Among Hindus in the Caribbean

 by Anil J. Misir




The arrival of Indians in the Caribbean under Indenture began in 1838.

Though Indenture ended in 1917, Indians remain a significant minority in

the Caribbean, constituting a majority of the population in Guyana, and

a plurality of the population in Trinidad. Indians, however, did not

remain unchanged in this new environment. Perhaps one of the most

notable social changes among Hindus (who constituted the majority of

Indian immigrants) was the attenuation of the caste system.


The caste system is a system of social organization in India which has

existed since ancient times. In the context of India, the hierarchical

caste system has a number of central features. Castes are endogamous

(caste members must marry within their caste group); non-commensal with

other castes (different castes often do not dine with each other,

especially at opposite ends of caste hierarchy), and adhere to certain

spatial restrictions regarding ?purity? (e.g., different castes in a

village setting often have different water wells). Hindu society in

India may be divided into a hierarchy of four varnas in the following

descending order: Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas

(traders), and Shudras (servants and labourers). The first three are

dvija, or twice born, as they can undergo a second ritual birth. A fifth

group consisting of Untouchables fall below the four varnas. Yet varnas

are not castes; rather, they are groupings of occupational castes called

jatis. It is these occupational groups to which the term ?caste? refers.

Among Shudras, for example, there may be different endogamous castes of

weavers, pottery artisans or launderers. It is important to note that

the caste system has been remarkably fluid throughout the history of

India and South Asia, with castes constantly rising and falling in

social standing, with new religious movements giving rise to new castes

and economic change creating new occupational groups which also led to

new castes.


Indentureship Forces Changes in Traditional Hinduism


In the Caribbean context, however, this system began to fundamentally

break down almost immediately to the extent that it is currently almost

non-existent, except for certain peripheral and residual functions. The

factors leading to its destruction have occurred as a result of two

separate but related groups of forces.


First, the very different social and political conditions that the

indentured Indian was subject to worked to radically undermine the basic

tenets and economies of the caste system. Secondly, and just as

importantly, religious accommodation in the form of a modified and

eventually homogenized Hinduism, ensured that the vast majority of

Hindus who did emigrate to the Caribbean retained their religion, even

as an allegedly fundamental part of it was rendered useless.


The social environment of the Caribbean differed substantially from that

that the emigrants left behind. Indeed, the very act of embarkation and

the sea voyage from India itself worked to undermine the system since

all emigrants were placed in the same conditions, regardless of caste ?

ritual laws concerning purity and pollution simply could not be

observed. The comparative lack of women emigrants also promoted caste

attenuation as intermarriage between upper and lower castes, an idea

previously unthinkable, was rendered necessary. Finally, the fact that

Indians arrived as individuals rather than as families, even as networks

of fictive kin were carefully constructed, worked against the retention

of caste.


Out of Necessity The Hindu Caste System Adapts


From the very outset, the system of indentureship slowly corroded the

system of caste. Every successive stage ? the stay at a depot in the

hinterland, the wait for embarkation at the metropole, the weeks-long

sea voyage, semi-communal life in the ex-slave barracks of the

plantation, the capitalist mindset of the cash-cropping plantation

management ? proved fatal to the maintenance and continuation of the

caste system. The idea of ritual pollution, the demarcation of

boundaries of commensality; the foundations of caste as the basis of

occupational specialization in the village economy its consequent

division of labour; caste endogamy ? none of these could survive in the

harsh alien conditions of the plantation. Indeed, a quote from an Indian

immigrant to the South Pacific colony of Fiji typifies the situation of

all indentured Indian emigrants:


One old woman told how she had set sail from Calcutta, and all on board

had started to cook dinner, each caste with its own hearth. Suddenly a

wave rocked the ship, all the cauldrons of food overturned onto the deck

together. It was a choice of eating food which had been mixed and

polluted, or of going hungry.


Even given these temporary conditions, it is conceivable that caste

could have re-formed at a later time had conditions been more

favourable. However, other indirect and more powerful forces were at

work that prevented this from happening. As early as 1865, a British

Guianese newspaper carried an article reporting that a high-caste Hindu

had been readmitted into his caste after dining with a pariah, simply by

paying $35 to hold a feast for the gods. The influences underlying this

profound social shift were related to the fact that the rights and

obligations of the immigrants in this new environment were quite alien

to the one from which they came.


The traditional village economy, for example, with its specific

economic, technological and social relations, was completely irrelevant.

The new economy was administered by European managers who simply did not

care about caste specifically, and the preservation of Indian ways in

general. The assignment of tasks to indentured Indians was given

irrespective of caste status and caste prohibitions. Moreover, the type

of economic specialization found in the villages from which the

indentured Indians were recruited simply did not exist. Men of different

castes worked at the same jobs, in the same gangs under the direction of

the overseer and were all paid at the same rate. Goods required by the

labourers were not produced by other castes, but were instead purchased

in the plantation store.


Just as importantly, the political system existing on the plantation

bore no relation to the caste system. Overall decisions were made by a

European manager and executed by a European overseer. Each overseer was

assisted by one or two drivers selected from the labourers, and

decisions made by the overseers and drivers had to be obeyed, regardless

of the caste of the driver and the field workers. Most plantations also

had courts presided over by management officials, who enforced policies

relating to social life, settling both private and public disputes.

These ranged from disputes between Hindus and Muslims, husbands and

wives and the composition of households. Furthermore, labourers were not

permitted to form associations to regulate important matters related to

their economic and social interests: though there were sporadic strikes

and other disputes, there were no panchayats, or caste councils. In

later years, however, managers permitted and helped in the formation of

religious associations, though the managers retained a close supervisory



Thus the caste hierarchy received no support from the plantation social

and political environment. Rewards were dispensed based on ability and

obedience, rather than caste. Managers did not care for, and had enough

power to subvert, parallel hierarchies (such as caste) which would have

divided the labourers and made them less efficient. Managers could and

did intervene in areas which directly or indirectly affected discipline.

Any attempt for a high caste to assert superiority could easily have led

to the low caste victim complaining to management about provocation, at

which point authority would assert itself.


The Caste System and Endogamy


Equally, and perhaps even more importantly, caste endogamy was destroyed

by the relative scarcity of women. Given the nature of the work that

indentured Indians were recruited for, it was in the economic interest

of plantation managers to recruit young men. At the same time, this

obvious need was tempered by the fact that the presence of women and

potential wives for their workers would moderate the excesses of a group

of largely young, single men. Nevertheless, comparatively few women left

India under Indenture. Between 1844 and 1860, colonial regulations

required a ratio of 50 women to 100 men; in 1860, no ship could leave

harbour without a 50 to 50 ratio; however, from 1860 to 1863 the ratio

fell to 25/100, increasing slightly to 33 1/3 to 100 in 1863-65. This

was increased once again to 50/100 in 1866. After 1870, the ratio was

set to 40/100. It is clear, therefore, that men significantly

outnumbered women, a situation that had profound and far-reaching

effects on social evolution. Notions of caste superiority were rapidly

eroded. Hypogamy among men (?marrying down?) and hypergamy among women

(?marrying up?) became common: upper caste men married women of middle

or low caste origins. Even Brahmans, who in British Guiana comprised

about 2 percent of Indian immigrants, married lower caste women.


This situation was broadly applicable all over the Caribbean. One

observer in 1893 Trinidad noted that ?Members of the Chattri, Rajput,

and Thakur class frequently get married to or form connections with

women of a lower class.? Conspicuously, the position of girls was

inverted from the situation in India. Another observer in 1889 wrote

that among Trinidadian Indians ?a person with two or three female

children here has very valuable property, because men want wives?.

Indeed one aspect of this re-evaluation of daughters was the

replacement, at this time, of the institution of dowry with that of

bridewealth. Eventually, criteria other than caste, such as economic

status, became important considerations which were able to over-ride

caste considerations. By the beginning of the twentieth century in

Trinidad, for example, caste endogamy constituted a preferred, rather

than a prescribed form of marriage. The Caste System was certainly

breaking down, or at least adapting.


Given the months-long sea voyage from India to the Caribbean basin, it

is clear that Indians who arrived under Indenture were cut off from kin

and family ties. This alone might have served to attenuate caste

differences, but this factor was further enhanced by the fact that

emigrants from a given caste had few representatives in a given location

of Indenture. Quite simply, the emigrants were from a very large number

of different places, with different caste customs. Given that the nature

of caste identities and caste practises varied across India, the social

re-consolidation of any institutional framework, as it existed in

different parts of India, was simply impossible. For example, in

Trinidad in 1879-80, no less than 60 caste groups numbering some 2507

people emigrated, with some castes having as few as two representatives.

It is also important to note that a given individual could have many

levels of caste affiliation. Someone who was listed under the

comparatively popular caste of Ahir, for example, might easily have been

from a large number endogamous sub-castes. Indeed the statistics listed

above included emigrants from what some scholarly authorities have

described as eight separate ?caste-regions?, so that there was even

further scope for caste fragmentation.


Jahaji Bonds Strenghtened


Cut off from family and caste networks, an interesting social

institution developed that cut across caste and even religious lines ?

that of individuals who came on the same ship being a jahaji or jahajin

? a ship-brother or ship-sister. This institution essentially functioned

as a fictive kin network, working to overcome the social atomization

that many Indians felt upon arrival. This secular and egalitarian

concept proved remarkably strong. It symbolized a new start in a new

land, embodying the notion that new relationships and attitudes were

required in a foreign land. At the same time, it was pragmatic: it

ensured the survival of the idea of extended kinship and encouraged a

spirit of mutual obligation among those who had travelled on the same

ship. Vertovec writes about Trinidad, but the same ideas can be said to

hold true for British Guiana, or any other location of indenture:


A deep friendship was forged between diverse individuals (even between

Hindus and Muslims) on the voyage to the new country?. Such friends

would seek to serve their indenture on the same estates, and to settle

near each other after their contracts had expired. Thereafter, they came

to treat each other?s families as nata, or fictive kin, with whom

marriage was frowned upon (many of these fictive relationships continue

to exist between families in Trinidad today). Strong emotional bonds of

this sort acted as important foundations for ? the creation of shared

social and cultural institutions.


Fictive kin thus not only included members of other castes, but members

of other religions as well. Even ?family? was not of the same caste!


Role of High Caste Brahmins in Facing Challenges to the New Hinduism


These social pressures also served to reinforce another means of change

? religious accommodation. The Hinduism practiced in the Caribbean

consequently underwent significant changes, which further accelerated

the decline of caste. For example, Brahmans, who occupy a privileged

position at the apex of the purity/pollution hierarchy of caste, reacted

to the actions of aggressive Christian missionaries by inducting lower

caste Hindus into the ?Great Tradition? of Sanatan Dharma. Hinduism

itself became less doctrinaire, and more flexible, adapting itself to

the environment. Notably, the egalitarian bhakti current of Hinduism

gained ground, stressing a personal, ecstatic relationship with God.

Hinduism in the Caribbean context thus became more homogenous and

egalitarian which slowly worked against the retention of notions of caste.


Perhaps the most striking aspect of religious change was the reaction of

the high-caste Brahmans. Despite the harsh environment, they

nevertheless made sure to attend to the spiritual needs of their people.

This is perhaps understandable when one considers the monopoly that

Brahman pandits had on many aspects of religious scripture in India.

They alone could determine auspicious days, determine astrological

information, as well as conduct important life cycle rites such as

marriages, funerals and the naming of children. Religious continuity was

entirely dependent upon their knowledge and effort. Indeed, one of the

reasons why Hinduism decayed in Jamaica and other minor areas of

indentureship was the comparative lack of Brahman pandits. In major

areas of indentureship, Brahmans retained a position of relative

privilege, not due to declining notions of caste and ritual purity, but

due to their monopoly of priestcraft.


Almost startling is their reaction to the aggressive efforts of the

proselytising Christian missionaries. In the face of this threat, the

pandits adapted: they visited sugar estates and Indian villages,

performing wedding ceremonies, religious readings and other Hindu

ceremonies. In a sense, they became parish priests, serving as gurus to

individual families and offering counselling on a range of social and

secular matters. A measure of their success may be gleaned from the

despair of a missionary in British Guiana in 1893 who said that ?[the

pandits exerted a] pernicious and powerful presence over the people,?

and that they tried ?their utmost to oppose and set aside the teaching

and preaching of the Christian missionaries?.


Indeed a rigid adherence to ancient proscriptive law in the Caribbean in

the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would have been

counterproductive. For certainly, a more active and flexible approach to

Hinduism was necessary. But perhaps the greatest manifestation of this

flexibility was the embracing of the lowest castes to form a corporate

pan-Hindu identity. The Chamars, the Dusadhs, the Doms and the Bhangis ?

all were admitted and encouraged to join the Sanatan Dharma tradition.

This ?conversion? was by no means one-way, as the lower castes responded

with eagerness. As Jayawardena observes:


Since is was a ?higher class cult? it was an attraction to the low

castes who had traditionally belonged to cults and sects with

distinctive gods and rites because they had been excluded?. The

redefinition of Hinduism as one religion common to all Indians led to

acceptance of Sanatan Dharma by the small groups.


This was perhaps the most momentous and consequential ideological shift

of the Brahman pandits. The lowest castes could now have unprecedented

access to pandits in their homes. Brahmans would even eat the cooked

food of the former untouchable. This was the ultimate symbol of change.


This is all the more striking when one considers the relative numbers of

adherents to the various versions of Hinduism that came with the

indentured Indians to the Caribbean. Mandelbaum (1966) gives a model of

Hinduism in India in which a transcendent complex of universal gods,

Sanskrit texts and rituals, dominated by priests of Brahman castes, is

differentiated from a pragmatic complex of local gods, Sanskrit texts

and rituals, dominated by local gods and low-caste priests. Given that

the vast majority of Indian indentured labourers were not Brahman

priests, it is reasonable to expect that a syncretic pragmatic complex

would have emerged while the transcendent complex atrophied and

disappeared. Yet precisely the opposite happened. In Surinam, for

example, Hinduism was made Brahmanical by purifying it from

?unacceptable? aspects, as for example the offering of cattle to

?illness deities?. To counter the popularity of spirit possession, the

magical aspects of Brahmanical Hinduism were emphasized. (Interestingly

as well, other ethnic groups offered competition for this pragmatic

complex, as is shown by the example of the Creole Winti specialist

Bonuman.) Thus the higher status Sanatan Dharma version of Hinduism

became dominant. This effort, indeed has precedents in India proper, in

which context it is known as sanskritization. In the Caribbean context,

however, the element of caste underwent a metamprhphosis as well,

resulting in the wholesale adoption of very similar versions of Hinduism

by all Hindus.


Doctrinal Flexibility Allowed Sanatan Dharma to Flourish


The doctrinal flexibility of Hinduism was also important. In Hinduism

there were and are no weighty, immutable dogmas of universal

application. Nothing intrinsic to Hinduism prevented a direct, intimate

contact from developing between the dvija Brahman priest and the most

humble labourer in his thatched hut, or his barrack-room on the

plantation. In fact, it was this informal contact that provide the

initial principal location for the practise of Hinduism. No mandirs

(temples) were needed: neighbours, friends and jahajis attended the

ceremonial kathas or Hanuman poojas (often called jhandis), officiated

by the Brahman priest in the home of people of all castes. This

facilitated religious continuity among the indentured labourers in

British Guiana, long before community Hindu temples were constructed. As

late as 1955, the anthropologist Elliot Skinner, noted the marginal role

of the temple in the practise of Hinduism in a British Guianese village.


? The Hindus do not go at all to the nearest temple, though it is only

two miles away. Despite the absence of temples, the presence of the

Hindus is revealed by red and white flags flying from tall bamboo poles.

These flags are erected during a ceremony called ?jhandi?, at which a

family gives thanks for some special favour they have received through




The variant of Hinduism practised in the Caribbean setting was flexibly

adapted to the environment. It was neither austere, nor excessively

metaphysical or philosophical. The pageantry of ritual and the rhythmic

music offered respite from the difficulties of life on the plantation.

Murtis, the alleged idols so hated by the Christian missionaries,

brought the gods into one?s own simple home.


Another religious adaptation involved the emphasis of the bhakti

tradition of Hinduism, particularly the Vaishnavite variant (in which

the Hindu god Vishnu in his various incarnations is ecstatically

worshipped). Brought along by the Northeast Indian emigrants who

constituted the bulk of the indentured Indians in the Caribbean, it

stressed three principle ideas: egalitarianism over particularistic

caste ethics, individualism, and the direct relaxation of the caste

system and its associated notions of purity/impurity. These allowed

individual Hindus to exist in more personal relationship with their

deities: they did not need a ?pure? human being to act as their mediator

with the divine. Communal worship was stressed, which was particularly

important given the low number of representatives from any given caste

group. In addition, it encouraged the reading of the Ramayana by laymen,

and the collective singing of bhajan (hymns of praise) by the

congregation. It further allowed for the expositions of the Bhagavata

Purana by pandits.


Sanatan Dharma adapted itself to the spiritual and secular needs of the

people. It decreased the pain of separation with the homeland, and

facilitated adaptation. Fused with the bhakti tradition, the egalitarian

and individualistic cornerstones of the new Hinduism encouraged effort

and accomplishment, which was particularly important given the radically

different set of economic relations on the capitalistic plantation. Just

as importantly, the changed relation between the Brahman pandits (as

gurus) and their ?parishioners? (an idea directly lifted, to good

effect, from the Christian missionaries) strengthened the indentured

Indians in their daily struggles. As a result of these various factors,

therefore, a more homogenous Hinduism became the faith of all castes. As

religion became more egalitarian, often by conscious effort, caste was



Thus the conditions and responses to Indenture served to rapidly

undermine notions of caste. Profound social and political differences

resulted in an entirely new set of individual and group relations.

Religious accommodation also served to destroy what is often thought of

as an integral part of Hinduism, showing it instead to be an unnecessary



Attenuation of Caste


In the modern Caribbean setting, caste has become even more attenuated.

Caste no longer functions as a feature which determines social structure

nor one that affects social interaction in any significant way. Some

authors have termed the lingering effect of caste as one of ?a residual

aspect of prestige? in which caste is used to create evaluations of

self-esteem, or simply as a ?social attribute in its own right?

sometimes offsetting other social characteristics. For example, a

wealthy community leader may be from a Chamar background: he will be

respected and admired, but if he should do something to the dislike of

the others, the offended parties will resort to verbal abuse concerning

his caste. Even so, it is fairly clear that caste is not the potent

force it once was.


It is interesting also that legitimization for Brahmans currently takes

the form of knowledge of rituals and Sanskritic texts, rather than caste

birth. Though currently there is some residual desire among some who

consider themselves Brahmans to main caste identity and hierarchy, based

on the normative ideals of religious texts, even this truncated notion

is disappearing. The question of whether a non-Brahman can become a

priest is indeed a hotly debated topic in Trinidad. For the younger

generation, as Vertovec pointed out in 1992, even this debate is largely



Most members of younger generations of Indo-Trinidadians, however, have

lost practically all concern for caste: although many are still able to

identify their caste group or varna, most young people simply shrug and

say that caste is in ?an ol? time Indian t?ing?, best forgotten.



The Caribbean has changed Indians who live there in profound ways. In at

least this respect, this change may have been for the better.








Clarke, C., et al., eds. South Asians Overseas. Migration and Ethnicity.

Cambridge University Press. New York: 1990.


Mishra, V. Rama?s Banishment. A Centenary Tribute to the Fiji Indians,

1879-1979. Heinemann Educational Books, New Hampshire, 1979.


Moore, B. Cultural Resistance and Pluralism. Colonial Guyana 1838-1900.

McGill-Queen?s University Press. Montreal & Kingston: 1995


Schwartz, B, ed. Caste in Overseas Indian Communities. Chandler

Publishing Company, San Francisco: 1967.


Seecharan, C. Tiger in the Stars: The Anatomy of Indian Achievement in

British Guiana 1919-29. Macmillan Education, Ltd. London: 1997.


Stein, B. A History of India. Blackwell Publishers Limited. Oxford: 1998.


Vertovec, S. Hindu Trinidad. Religion, Ethnicity, and Socio-Economic

Change. Macmillan Education, Ltd. London: 1992.





Hazareesingh, K. ?The Religion and Culture of Indian Immigrants in

Mauritius and the Effect of Social Change.? Comparative Studies in

Society and History. Vol. 8, pp. 241-257, 1965-1966.


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Development of Hinduism in British Guiana.? Comparative Studies in

Society and History. Vol. 8, pp. 211-240, 1965-1966.


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Society.? Anthropology in Oceania. Essays Presented to Ian Hogbin.

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Mangru, B. ?Tadjah in British Guiana?. Indo-Caribbean Resistance. Frank

Birbalsingh, ed. TSAR. Toronto: 1993


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Environment?. The Eastern Anthropologist, Vol 12, No 3, pp 171-185,

March-May 1959.


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Stein, p.57.

Stein, p.57.

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Mangru, p. 20.

Schwartz, p. 51.

Among the Indians of St. Lucia

By Martin Latchana    

The first Indians arrived in St. Lucia on board the Palmyra on the 6th May in 1859. In total, about 4,500 indentured workers arrived sporadically between 1858 and 1900. 

"SAKWEY KOOLI !" used to be a phrase of contempt in patois.

It was during a brief visit to St. Lucia in the summer of 1995 that I developed an interest in the Indians of St. Lucia. Twenty minutes into our catamaran voyage to the Soufriere volcano, the captain categorically announced to the tourists “most St. Lucians were of African descent.”

Perhaps he realised we were perplexed and then five minutes later he said “but we have Indians too who came as indentured workers.” In fact, I was later gratified to see Indians mentioned on the St. Lucia Tourist Board web site on the Internet.

Later on during that expedition, we introduced ourselves to the skipper of our boat the  “Mango Tango” and he proclaimed not too loudly that “the coolie man saves like hell but we can’t do it.” On that one-day sojourn on the island, I saw about five more Indians, including an elderly impoverished woman standing on a street corner of a fishing village; it looked as if she was begging. That image stuck with me for a long time.

On subsequent vacations in November 1996 and November 1997, I took the opportunity to learn more about the Indian presence and the contributions to St. Lucia. I had heard that the “small island” Indians had lost all traces of Indian culture. This proved partially true but there are many “Indian traits” that are still important. All of the Indians I spoke to “were proud of being Indian.”
Some of them had visited Trinidad and were astonished that so many Indians there had prospered and maintained an “Indian culture.”  Some of them have relatives in Guyana and had visited that country.

The first Indians arrived in St. Lucia on board the Palmyra in 1859. In total, about 4,500 indentured workers arrived sporadically between 1858 and 1900. As the result of the shipwreck of the Volga off Castries on December 10, 1893 several hundred Indians, who were not originally destined for St. Lucia, were added to the population of the island. Generally, many of the workers returned to India after their contracts expired, the last batch leaving in 1903. Some left to work in other Caribbean countries. The current percentage of Indians in St. Lucians is not known; estimates range from 3 to 8% of the population of a hundred and sixty thousand

There are considerable numbers of Indians in the south of the island. Many taxi drivers from the area Rudalbusare Indian and work at the airport.  On my visit to Augier, I noticed that Indians owned most of the houses.  I could have sworn that I was in rural Guyana. Vieux-Fort, the second largest town is found near the main airport and there are substantial numbers of Indians present as well as several Indian-owned businesses such as “Saroo’s Supermarket.” In 1996, at Vieux-Fort, I visited the richest man on the island, Mr. Louis Boriel. I was apprehensive on my first visit; the dogs, which were half-asleep on the veranda, added to my unease for I had not phoned ahead. Ms. Heraldine Gajadhar-Rock, who provided valuable information during my trips in 1996 and 1997 had said, “you must visit the shepherd who became a king.” Mr. Boriel, close to eighty years old told me to help myself to a beer in his fridge; we discoursed for a long time.

Louis Boriel's parents came from India as indentured labourers. Life was hard in his early years when he worked for twenty-five cents per day. During the Second World War he was a barber to American soldiers stationed near Vieux-Fort. Soon he started saving his earnings, bought a cow and became a butcher. Subsequently, he was able to purchase more cows and acquire much land. From his veranda, we looked out to Vieux-Fort and he said, “I own most of this.” I detected no boasting by this humble man who knows all about Indian immigration to the Caribbean and on my departure both times said, “give my regards to my people when you get back.”

After speaking to Ms. Gajadhar, Mr. Burai, Mr. Abel Ghirawoo, taxi-drivers and other Indians, I found out that race relations are generally good.  Indeed, most of the St. Lucians I met were curious about my own background and Afro-St. Lucians would make reference to someone as “Indian like you” or make passing comments such as “Indians have nice hair.”  While some of the hostility and negative attitudes toward Indians have decreased, there is much mutual stereotyping. The word “coolie” is used widely by Afro-St. Lucians but not generally in a racist sense but to my ears, it was a surprise. The phrase “sakwey coolie” in patois means, “damn coolie” and is considered as an insult by Indians.  St_lucia_photo_1997_mr_abel_ghirawoo_5

Having interacted all my life with Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadians and having been told that most Indians in St. Lucia had not retained Indian surnames, I was surprised to see that many of the prominent Indian business and professional people on the island have surnames such as Adjodha, Burai, Gajadhar, Gidharry, Khodra, Mangal, Mungroo, Naitram, Rambally, Sadoo, and Surage. Several Indo-St. Lucians have played important political roles on the island. Ms. Gajadhar-Rock served as a government minister while Boswell Williams was a recent Governor General. Currently, Menissa Rambally, a member of the well-known family serves as a government Minister.

Currently, Indians are found in many professions and some families include doctors, lawyers, undertakers, politicians and auto-dealers. However, most of the Indians still work on the coconut and banana estates. Mr. Abel Ghiwaroo told me about the demise of the sugar industry on St. Lucia. While many of the Indians have small banana farms, others have larger estates on which they grow bananas as well as coconuts. Currently, there is much concern about the state of the banana industry because of the uncertainty about the lack of access of overseas markets. In the capital city of Castries, while many businesses are owned by Indians, but most of them are recent arrivals from India, mostly Sindhis. I went looking for the cinema owned by one of the Adjodha’s. It now a shopping mall, somewhat decrepit, owned by a Lebanese. Until ten years ago, the cinema screened Indian films to packed audiences.

Some families such the Khodras still maintain Indian customs. Roti, dhal and other Indian foods still form a major part of the diet of Indo-St.  Lucians and have also become part of the national cuisine. Overall though, there has been a decline in Indian culture. There are no native Hindus or Muslims in St. Lucia. The East Indian Friendly Society formed in the 1920's has not survived. Mr. Burai told me that in the 1940's Indian cultural performances were held at Vieux-Fort. It appears that the Holi festival died out in the 1920’s while Hosay fizzled out in the 1950’s.

As in Guyana, Trinidad and Grenada, the Presbyterian Church played a major role in the education of Indians and was very successful in the conversion of Indians in St. Lucia, as the Mortons had documented. I could not find any Presbyterians though and later found out that the Methodist church had taken over that role since the early years of this century. My boyhood days were spent at the “J.B Cropper Canadian Mission School” at Albion Front in Berbice, Guyana. Thus, I tried enquiring about the Cropper family for J.B Cropper’s father had been Protector of the Indians in St. Lucia.

I had no luck; a search at the local archives would be necessary on my next trip. I gathered that the late Rev. Roy Neehal of Trinidad was related to Mr. Ghiwaroo and others and that Reverend Neehal’s father had left Trinidad to work in St. Lucia.St_lucia_photo_1997_ms_heraldine_gajadha

Having gone to Marc, Augier, the Morne, Forrestiere and Vieux-Fort, I was able to observe Indians in all avenues of life, including rum shops and farms. At Augier, I had visited the local rum shop owned by Sylvester Peter, who told me he had dropped his surname “Mahabir.” Other members of his family told me that they liked chutney music, especially songs by Terry Gajraj. At the Castries market, almost all of the butchers were Indians who came from Marc. Everywhere, one can still see many young children with Indian features.

But there are many interracial unions and in the long run it is possible that the smaller Indian populations of St. Lucia, Grenada and Jamaica may be completely assimilated.

Many of my new-found friends have lamented that the Indian merchants who have now gone to the island do not interact with them. They now look upon the Indo-Guyanese, most of whom fled to St. Lucia during the dark years, to help revitalise “Indian culture.”

Rudalbus_1In spite of all that has been written about the “assimilation” of Indo-St. Lucians there are still accusations that they are disloyal to the country. Many Indo-St. Lucians apparently supported the Indian cricket team in 1983 when they played on the island. This sentiment is not uncommon particularly in Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica because of a sentiment that perhaps considerations other than merit continue to ply a part in the selection of the West Indies cricket team. During my 1996 trip, I asked an Indian woman, about ninety ears old if she spoke Hindi. There was no response until my taxi-driver, Nelton Williams; an Indian translated it into patois. The answer stunned me: “What is Hindi?” I was told to seek out “Man Williams” who spoke “Indian” but he was not at home according to a friendly old Indian man, quite drunk perched backwards on a chair with a felt hat perched on his head. This conjured up more images of rural Guyana.  I found later that some of the older Indians still speak Hindi.

Although there is a lack of Indian culture, as it is known in the larger Indo-Caribbean populations, there is a considerable degree of “Indianness” still present.  In-depth scholarly work, similar to that undertaken on the Indians of St. Vincent by Dr. Arnold Thomas, is required.

Postscript :
During my 1997 trip, I phoned Mr. Boriel and he readily agreed to see me. Unfortunately, I rented a car and quick learned how treacherous it is to drive in St. Lucia. I felt the wrath of an irate taxi driver and this coupled with left-hand driving entailed that I arrived very late at Mr. Boriel’s house. He had left for one his plantations.

In early 2005, I discovered accidentally on the Internet that Mr. Boriel passed away in September 2001.

I felt an immediate sadness, compounded by the fact that I never have returned to St. Lucia.

Martin Latchana.





I will prove that the East Indian population of St. Vincent receives the majority of racism against their minority group.

I will do this by proving East Indians are the minority of the island, that the Black population In St. Vincent are extremely prejudiced against the East Indians, pointing out the stereotypes and myths told about the East Indians.

I will prove that this racism against them stems from times of enslavement, and I will further prove that due to the racism and prejudiced, East Indians in St. Vincent have been deculturated. I will use written sources as well as interviews to prove my argument.

The East Indian population In St. Vincent is the minority population of the island. The current population In St. Vincent is approximately 150,000, of that number no more than a 5% of is made of East Indians. This is an extreme minority and with the Interracial crossings of marriage, and pregnancy that number is diminishing.

Interracial marriages were considered taboo and didn’t occur because according to East Indian tradition, the father makes the decision as to whom will marry his daughter. African men were taught that East Indian women did not know how to conduct themselves among blacks, because they were too shy and timid. (Skinner 1971) However, the times have changed and races have mixed and the population of East Indians in St. Vincent has been vanishing.

"All them black men does want an Indian girl, like she some kind of trophy. They does think some silky hair and light skin is a gift from God. Them nuttin’ but trouble. Hear me now, them Indian girl and she family is just headache. All them Indian girl come for take our men. But let me tell you, us black women ain’t want for none of them coolie men. Their men blame our men because they does say they take up their coolle girls, but they really just vexed because the black women dont want them coolie men for nothing." (Burke 2000)

East Indians in St. Vincent experience racism and prejudice mainly from blacks, due to the many myths told about East Indians. Some of those myths believed by blacks are: The East Indians would do anything for money, and that among them money is carefully saved instead of being used for food and clothing. (Horowitz 1971.)

While it may be true that Fast Indians prefer to save their money, rather than overindulging themselves with non necessities, this doesn’t mean they will do anything for money, nor does it make them foolish.

"When Mikey caine to the States he did work so hard and never spent a penny for heseif. Only bought what he needed and the real cheap things too. We did make fun of him, but look the man now. He have he own house, and a car and he children In college. Mikey did used to tell us to save we pennies, but we Liked to have fun and we have house and car, but it took us longer to get it. Mikey missed out on the fun, but he has the fun now. We did call him the coolie boy from Layou. His father had 11 kIds, all coolie, and his father would buy up plots of land to leave he children when he passed. But the older ones would take care of them young ones. Mikey saved he money to buy a guitar, and he father took the money and bought groceries and a new shoes for Mikey’s brother. But that is how them Indians are. What the hell is the sense of buying properties for children and you can’t put food in their bellies or shoes on they feet?" (Burke 2000)

Many people believe in saving money and spending only on the necessities. The blacks in St. Vincent believe themselves to be superior to the East Indians. They believe that because the population of East Indians is so minuscule, the East Indian population cannot compete at the same level, and gives the blacks the notion they are superior and are more productive.

Negative statements have been made against East Indians, however, when looked Into more deeply we can see that it is the majority and minority numbers of the populations that make these statements false. One statement is: The wealthiest man is an East Indian. Contrary to what you might be lead to believe, in actuality the wealthiest man is an East Indian, however, there are many more poorer East Indians than there are blacks. (Horowitz 1971)

Now, If the East Indians are more poor than the blacks, and they are the minority of the population, I would believe that there chances for advancement in their society is limited. I further would tend to think if an island has a big majority of blacks, that were running most of the businesses, the schools, and the medical facilities, on that island, then the chances of advancement are limited by the prejudiced and racism displayed by the blacks.

In America it is called being held down by the man, presumably a white man. Consequently, in St. Vincent, I would go so far as to say that it is being held down by the man, the black man. In a ratio of less than 5% of the population, and you are the poorest on the island, I would think racism fairs highly as one of the reasons.

One instance is:

"One time I do remember a girl in school she was very bright, but I was at the top of the class. When it came time to do some exams for end of the school term, she did score one point higher than me, and she graduated at the top of the class. I deserved to be at the top, but the teacher was black and my classmate was also black and I know that is why the teacher give she the better grade. That girl called me coolie’ everyday when I went to school, every single day. When she finished the class ahead of me, she started to call me ‘foolie coolie’ and asked me how I ever thought I could beat her? My parents didn’t have money to send me to university so I didn’t go. Now I does take me coolie’ ass to town everyday and work at the bank. But the girl who took my education Is a doctor now. I should to be a doctor, but I just a ‘coolie’ and I guess nobody doifl want no coolie doctor. They missing out, all they have is half a doctor. I would have been the best, now they have half a black doctor and its what they deserve." (Young 2000)

"Complete emancipation was on 1 August 1838 and many Blacks moved away from plantations." (Gullick 1985). Following this an episode of cholera broke out in 1854. "The cholera left St. Vincent witha labour shortage, so workers were brought from Barbados and Indenture slowly grew again. In 1861, 260 East Indians (coolies) were imported, in 1862, 307, in 1866, 214, in 1867, 477 and in 1869, 343. Chief Justice H. E. Sharp maintained that ensuing riots were, amongst other things, due to the ex-slaves jealousy of the Portuguese and Coolies.(Colonial Reports, 1860)

The blacks were freed and moved from the plantations. Then they rioted against the replacements? They should have rioted for the rights of replacements, not against them. The East Indians did not come here by choice, nor did the blacks, both groups were forced and yet the blacks were fighting the East Indians who were now brought in as the replacements. Indentureship in India is the way of life. It is the social and economic status of your family that will determine your future. You are born into it and there is basically no chance of improving your status.

This is not based on your race, and so the blacks began a very racist and prejudiced rage against the East Indians, because they based it on race and color.

"The jealousy of the blacks turned to hatred and sparked the racism against the East Indians. Many blacks chose to believe that the Indians thought themselves better than the blacks because of their hair texture and skin color. These visual traits are more closely related to whites than blacks. However, it was the blacks who made these comparisons and presumptions. The blacks were freed in 1838 in St. Vincent, thirty years later the East Indian reinforcements were brought to the island. The blacks were filled with rage, anger, and now for competition. The blacks could do the work on the fields for wages now, and the indentured, although they received wages, were more valued to the land owners because it was cheaper to have them there." (Gunsam 2000)

’The Vlncentian East Indians are far more deculturated than those in Trinidad and Martinique."
(Gullick 1985). It is true, the East Indians are far more at a loss for their culture than those in Trinidad and Martinique. The main reason for that is the numbers. The major population in Trinidad and Martinique is East Indian. So the customs and the cultures will affect that throughout the island. The customary religion among East Indians is either Hindu or Moslem. However, I learned through my readings that the East Indians In the Caribbean were forced to convert to Christianity.

This was due to the ideal of divide and rule. If you take a person’s character and beliefs away from them, they are left with no identity. And so an identity was created for the East Indians in St. Vincent. They were coolies, without their religious beliefs and were forced to assimilate with the others. Being the minority of the overpowered people, they had no choices as to their identity.

"Them coolies does cry how we so mean to them and they ain’t nice to we. They shop In our shops and complain the price, they does want things for cheap, cheap and we tell them the price is the price. Just because you all Indian dont mean you get different price. If ya want different price, then I go charge you more. It’s when me say that, hear them, no no it’s okay, we pay the price you ask. It’s just we poor folks and don’t have much so we does try to do the best we can. And they pockets fill with cash, like me dotish and don’t know they have money. I does tell them if you can’t pay the price because you too cheap, then you can’t shop here because you all would run me out of business." (Burke 2000)

There are East Indians who do own businesses and are doing well for themselves, however, this is not a large amount of the East Indian population. For the most part, the East Indian population in St. Vincent are suffering. Some live In conditions unimaginable in this day and age.

In various parts of St. Vincent, such as Layou, Bambarou, and Baroulie there is no running pipe water. This means there is no indoor plumbing, no hot showers, toilet bowls, kitchen sinks etc. Everyday things which I take advantage of, have never been experienced by some of my own relatives.

"On a recent trip to St. Vincent, I stayed at the Cobblestone Inn for three nights. It is located in the heart of Kingston, and is a lovely place to stay. However, after preparations were made for my stay in St. Vincent, I stayed with family members in [ayou. It was a terrible experience for me.

While I do not look down on anyone, especially those forced to live in the conditions of these people, I only lasted there two days. After the second day, I went back to the Cobblestone Inn for three days and then stayed with family in New Montrose. I would again stay in Layou overnight. When I saw how these people lived It disgusted me. To think this island with all it’s beauty to endure, could have people living like savages Is beyond my comprehension."
!! (Gaymes 2000)

While I have witnessed many blacks living in these conditions also, the majority of the people living this way are the East Indians. They are forced to live like this and It is rather unfortunate.

"I remember one coolle girl from Layou, that manied a black man. His family disowned him because he shamed them. It was like an insult to them. He didn’t think enough of himself to marry a black woman. His family felt like he lowered himself to be with that woman. To this day they don’t speak to him. He have children with the woman and he family refuse to recognize them as their blood. His family says she ain’t nuttin’ but a gold digger. How she only went after him because he have family in Annandale and she want for house in Annandale." (Young 2000)

In reality racism will be experienced in all walks of life. It is not uncommon and has been ongoing for a long time. However, It is rather unfortunate when a group takes on a role as the racists in a community, where it benefits no one.

There are many stereotypes, myths, and untruths spread about many ethnic groups. The East Indians are not the first to experience this type of behavior and they will not be the last, however they have much to overcome in St. Vincent.

However, with race dying out slowly, through death, interracial marriages, losing cultural identity and the racism, which causes many to try to conform to the ideologies of the blacks. It will be a long journey, which may not result in a positive outcome.

I have explored how the East Indian population in St. Vincent receives the majority of racism against them.

I have done this by showing that East Indians are the minority of the island, and how the Black population in St. Vincent are prejudiced against East Indians.

I have pointed out the stereotypes and myths told about the East Indians and suggested that the racism against East Indians In St. Vincent stems from times of enslavement.

I further suggest that due to the racism and prejudiced, East Indians in St. Vincent have been deculturated.

I have used many written sources and all backed-up my arguments with interviews conducted by myself.


Burke, Camille. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by the author. Camille is a 39 year old, black nurse, who resides in St. Vincent.

Gaymes, Tracy. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by author.
Tracy is a 22 year old, East Indian Vincentlan. She was born in New York and has resided in New York her entire life. She visits St. Vincent every summer

Gullick, CJMR. Myths of a Minority, 1985. Van Gorcum & Comp., Assen, The Netherlands.

Gunsam, Kathy. 2000. Personal Interview conducted by the author.
Kathy is a 31 year old housewife. She has a degree in education.

Lowenthal, David. Consequences of Class and Color, 1973. Anchor Press/Doubleday. Garden City, NY.

Skinner, Elliot. Peoples and Cultures of the Caribbean, 1971. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.

Young, Madonna. 2000.
Personal Interview conducted by the author.
Madonna is manager of CBC Bank.





In 1944 Norbert and Lyris Nyack of Hermitage, St. Patrick purchased Belmont Estate, in St Patrick, Grenada from the trustees of the Houston Family.


The Nyacks were the first Grenadians of Indian decent to own an estate on the island. Though simple people with only a basic education from the River Sallee Government School, they were both entrepreneuring, diligent and savvy. They made Belmont Estate their home and the base of their new business - operating the plantation. At one time they owned six of the most productive estates on the island – Waltham & Diamond in St. Mark; Plains, Le Tage & Belmont in St. Patrick; and Mt Horne in St. Andrew – and employed more than a thousand persons.


The Nyacks also purchased the Hankeys business at Grenville and commenced the business of a supermarket, hardware store and lumberyard. Mr. and Mrs. Nyack were also horse lovers. They owned several horses over the years and raced and won at horse races in Grenada, and Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana. They established the Telescope Race track, just outside of Grenville, a popular sporting and social destination in Grenada in the fifties and sixties. They were a socially vibrant couple – entertaining and being entertained.


They both had strong social and civil consciences. They gave of their time, talent, love and money. Without fanfare, they shared benevolently with Grenada’s Homes for children, the elderly, hospitals, churches and schools, and to individuals or causes in need. Mr. Nyack was actively involved in politics, and he was appointed Senator, by Premier Eric M. Gairy, a post he held until his death in 1969. His wife Lyris continued to reside at and manage the affairs of Belmont Estate up until her death on December 19, 2001, at the age of 94. She was laid to rest close to her residence at the estate. Belmont continues to be owned by the Nyack Family.


Belmont Estate is a rich historical site. Dating back to the late 1600s and early 1700s, the estate was owned by the Bernego family of France. Following the cession of the island by the French to the British in 1763, the estate became the property of Mr. John Aitcheson Jr. of Rochsolloch, Airdie, Scotland.


Upon his death Belmont Estate went to his father, Mr. John Aitcheson Sr. who in 1770 leased the estate to Mr. Alexander Campbell Esq., owner of the then adjoining estate, Tivoli. The lease was for a period 13 years at a price of £2,520 a year.


In 1780, Mr. Aitcheson Sr. left Scotland for his estate, Belmont where he died on May 31st, 1780 at age 75. He was buried at the estate’s cemetery. In his will, Aitcheson bequeathed to his eldest daughter Bethia all his property in Grenada which she was to sell in the event of his death and after paying all his debts, the proceeds were to be shared between her two sisters, Margaret and Isabella, and his nephew Gilbert Hamilton, a merchant in Glasgow. At the time of Aitcheson’s death, the total value of the estate’s assets - including the slaves, animals, sugar mill, coppers, stews, ladles, skimmers, sugar pots, stills, furnaces, still heads, tools, implements, chattels, lands and buildings - was £21,183.00 about £1.5 million or US$2.5 million by today’s standards.


Following Aitcheson’s death Belmont was sold to Robert Alexander Houston of Clerkington, East Lothian in Scotland. Following his death Belmont was bequeathed to Major James Flower Houston and his son Lieutenant Alexander Houston of Her Majesty’s Royal Artillery, both of whom were from Montepelier Square, London. The estate remained in the hands of the Houston Family for more than 170 years.

Throughout its history, Belmont has made played a major role in Grenada’s agricultural economy. In the late 1600s and early 1700s, it was one of the 81 plantations established on the island with coffee being its major produce. Sugarcane was introduced as the main crop later in the 1700s; the ruins of the water mill remain as testament to that part of its history. Cotton was also a major crop of the estate, being later replaced with cocoa, nutmegs in the 1800s and later bananas. The estate is still a major producer of cocoa and nutmegs for export.

The estate is one of those that received Indian indentured workers

Today, Belmont Estate welcomes visitors both local and tourists, to tour and witness a traditional historic plantation at work. There is also a restaurant and cultural presentations. As far as we can tell, nothing Indian is offered.

The family has also opened a museum of their own possessions so you can learn what life was like on a working plantation 50 years ago.



Sour Memories of Sweet Guyana


    At this same time Guyana was through a very tough time because of its bias and racial politics. Dr. Jagan and the PPP had lost to Mr. L.F.S. Burnham and his PNC Party, which formed a coalition with Mr. Peter D'Aguiar who was the leader of the United Force. The East Indians supported Jagan, the Negroes voted for Burnham and the Portuguese, the middle-class and businessmen supported D'Aguiar.

          At one time Burnham belonged to the PPP and he and Jagan were buddies. At that time the country was called British Guiana, after Independence, the country was renamed "Guyana."  Jagan and Burnham even went to India to visit the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India. Nehru was a pupil of the Great Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, the father of non-violence. Nehru sympathized with Guyana's situation with the British. Nehru withstood 9 prison sentences for non-cooperation with the British. Jagan went to prison for the same thing. Burnham was his right hand and the Indians and Negroes lived in harmony.

          The violence started to roll all over Georgetown. There were chain gangs, which roamed the streets with bicycle chains, which they used to smoke the helpless East Indian folks, by lashing them as they walk, ride bicycles or evn in passenger cars. The women were robbed in public places as the police looked the other way. After any PNC political meeting they were urged to get even. They climaxed their anger by rioting and looting only the Indian stores in Georgetown.

          The gov't. banned all firearms yet the blacks had guns. Those who opposed the government, would be removed from their homes in the dead of night, disappeared or were sent to Sibley Hall, a detention prison up the Demerara River. There were numerous reports of corpses found in rivers, trenches, by the roadside, in culverts and by railway lines or at farms and abandoned areas.

          Vigilantes were in every village in the countryside. In Kitty we also got together and formed a vigilante group, I went out for my Uncle who was not well, actually I think he was scared. My shift was from 7 to 12 in the night. It was very scary and nerve racking. We were armed with only sticks and whistles and whenever a truck approached us, our hearts were in our hands, for there was no way to recognise the enemy from the real soldiers. Many blacks somehow got access to army uniform and ammunition. Bombs thrown from passing trucks killed many vigilantes.

          When we saw an approaching vehicle, we dispersed and laid flat on the ground by the parapet until the vehicle passed. Many times I said my prayers and thought of Deeca and remembered her smile and pretty face, for that is the last memory with which I want to leave this life.

          Going to the city, Georgetown, was like running the gauntlet  and you said a silent prayer when and if you arrived home safely. There was fighting, killing and even massacres as what happened at Wismar, a very prosperous little town near MacKenzie (Now called Linden after Burnham) up the Demerara River where the two races lived in harmony.

           The Burnham’s gov't. put a ban on the document called the X-13 Plan. A plan of the Guyana Coastland divided into 13 sections where East Indians were predominant. The PNC intended to annihilate all East Indians at a certain time on a certain day. The Wismar affair backfired and the plan eventually fell in the hands of the Opposition.

          The Gov't., speechless and embarrassed, and of course denied any knowledge of its existence. Anyone who was caught with a copy of this hot document, were sent straight to Sibley Hall without a trial. Many copies were floating in the PPP strongholds. Goon squads were sent out to houses of PPP activists and printing shops to search for the X-13 Plan.

          Today the Indo and Afro Guyanese born in N/A don’t have an iota of knowledge of what happened on that fateful day of May 24th 1964. They should know for just like the 28 terrible years of Burnham, its part of our history and we don’t want to repeat History

          Sometimes it’s very hard to pretend that all is well in your country, when politicians put their ideology before people, when they bury their heads in the sands, preach denial or just plain scared to handle the truth. It makes me mad and very sad. Mad because I can’t take a gun and go on a rampage, can’t talk about it for its not politically correct and sad because they politicians who are in power, whom you voted for, who promised to do something have done nothing and turned out to be a big disappointment, and many folks are left by the wayside holding their heads and crying for justice. Sad also because the world, the West Indies and not even the UN never did anything to bring closure to the victims and survivors of this tragedy.


          The violence was so much out of control that the British had to send troops to Guyana to keep the peace, but by time they reached Georgetown, the damage was done.


          The atrocities should be brought to justice as they did in South Africa headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I’m writing this several Harvard faculty members will be flying to South Africa at the end of this month to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Harvard group, along with colleagues from India, Israel, and American universities and law schools, is studying the role of truth commissions in preventing conflict in divided societies as part of a multiyear project sponsored by the World Peace Foundation. Maybe Guyana can get involved in this too.

          Since this massacre happened I ran into many folks who once lived in Wismar, and they all had one thing in common about the violence. They all claimed that if the police were not all Blacks this would not have been so catastrophic. Not only they looked the other way with violence taking place before their eyes, they helped and did some damage too. Many members of the Police and Volunteer Forces took part in the looting, beating and killing of Indo-Guyanese as they had specialized military training as a profession.
In one incident two armed Black Volunteers refused to intervene when two Indo-Guyanese women were being raped. Instead, the women had to be rescued by employees from DEMBA. In another case, the Volunteer Force shot a young Indo-Guyanese man to death because he refused to stop at their command.

          I was born at Nabaclis, sandwiched by Cove & John and Golden Grove, predominantly Negro populated villages, I grew up with Negroes and we got along fine. I still remember my best friends were blacks, Vibert and Marvin, who all lived at Nabaclis, my neighbours were blacks, the
Scotlands, I’m still looking for Vincy and Sancho. But when blacks did something like this because they were politically motivated, it’s too much to swallow. For the black folks I knew were humane folks just like us.

           Imagine a black woman shouting, showing no remorse “De gat wa dem deserve" (They coolies get what they deserved). Did the family whose home was burnt and was confronted by a large mob who beat the wife unconscious, repeatedly stabbing the husband and then continuing to kick and molest two smaller children deserved this kind of dying? Were the women who were raped then got their private parts damaged by pop bottles deserved such excruciating pains?

          However, some families who managed to escape from the villages into the nearby forest were also hunted down like animals. They wanted to leave no living evidence. In addition to the mass burning and looting which resulted in over 1500 Indo-Guyanese becoming homeless, and the indiscriminate beating of Indo-Guyanese men, women, and children, 8 women were raped including two girls. Some of the women were repeatedly raped as the marauding band took turns on Indo-Guyanese women victims.

          This figure may even be higher since Guyanese women who were victims of rape seldom come forward and admit to such a heinous crime due to the shame associated with it. One man was also burnt alive. Another, Mr. Ramjattan, a supporter of the PPP was found decapitated.

          This was not Darfur, it happened in Guyana and for 38 hours it happened to 2,000 Indo-Guyanese living in Wismar when over 18,000 Afro Guyanese  armed with cutlasses, wooden poles, gasoline bombs and guns burnt and destroyed over 230 Indo-Guyanese homes and businesses.

          I say to all Guyanese how can this atrocious catastrophe go unpaid and swept under the carpet? Indo-Guyanese who thought they could find shelter in their own homes were confronted and beaten by large mobs of Afro-Guyanese screaming kill de coolies as their homes were burnt to the ground. Injuries were in the hundreds, ranging from gunshot wounds, knife wounds, burns, broken bones, and mutilated bodies. One Indo-Guyanese man had both his legs and feet broken. An employee from the Demerara Bauxite Company said: "The Indians never had a chance".

          One man from Wismar who barely escaped by hiding in the river told me, “The blacks were telling the police they gone that way and the fire is over there, and when the police gone that way and over there, they continued their looting, burning and killing nearby. The scariest part of this affair was the PNC were the master mind behind this massacre and they had it all planned in black and white called the X-13 Plan. Guyana’s mostly predominantly East Indian areas were divided and they were going to attack all 13 areas at once. This called for a lot of strategy and logistics which can only be done by specialists many who were in the Police Force.  Wismar was the guinea pig and the pig got slaughtered.

          Two river steamers were commissioned to take the first batch of 1300 Indo-Guyanese refugees to Georgetown where they were booed, jeered, and pelted with bricks by Blacks as they arrived. A Red Cross worker said of the survivors: "Few wept, but the hundreds of children appeared terrified and frightened." In those 38 hours of the massacre no Afro-Guyanese was arrested and only two wounded by bullets.

          Mrs. Janet Jagan, then Minister of Home Affairs on June 1st in a speech to the Guyana Parliament equated the suffering at
Wismar to genocide since the police had done nothing to prevent the massacre. She said,

 "It is possible for anyone to believe that, with the widespread violence, arson, rape, and murder, there could have been no show of force by the armed police and armed volunteers. Since this is impossible to accept, one can only come to the conclusion that planned genocide of a village was carried out with the connivance of all concerned."
She then resigned to protest the British Police Commissioner not responding to her orders.

  Shortly thereafter, Guyanese were to learn that their country would be granted political independence two years thence.  And what would be that date? You may guess it by now. May 26 1966.

 Who set that date? Why was that date chosen? Your guess may be as good as mine!


This year May 26th  2007 is a Saturday when Guyanese would celebrate Independence Day, all Guyanese should clamour for a change of date, for how can I stand and sing Greenland of Guyana and think of what happened to those poor folks at Wismar 43 years ago. All I can think of is this poet who expounded on this subject about Wismar:




          It was a dark and red-lettered night

          When they swept down on peaceful Wismar

          Leaving a people in a miserable plight

          Leaving each with an indelible scar


          The mastermind was the infamous Chippy

          Whose ambition was to kill every man

          Woman and child in that peaceful  ommunity

          By carrying out the evil X-13 Plan


          They swept down viciously on doves like hawks

          With blazing guns and set bayonets

          Annihilating all that walks and all that talks

          Sparing none with their racist bullets


          Not even the sleeping babies escaped

          Not even the pregnant women and mothers

          Even the young and aged were raped

          Even the children and little sisters


          And as if that was not enough for these animals

          All the innocent females were defiled

          And many were crippled as in historical annals

          Of wars of the barbarous and the wild


          After they butchered the inhabitants

          They did their looting and burning

          Pillaging the shops and restaurants

          And swiftly left Wismar a-smoking


          Yes they left the city ablaze

          And the waters red with blood

          This was only the first phase

          Leaving body parts in the mud


          Death was welcomed by those in excruciating pain

          As the waters of the Essequibo carry the chill

          Many committed suicides and many became insane

          And their plight is always remembered still


          And on a very still or clear day one can hear

          The cries of babies and their groans from afar

          The wailing wenches and women in agony and fear

          Amidst the flow and ebb of the waters of Wismar



Life of an indentured: Rani Singh


Mayda Ghany (mother of Fran Seebaran) and Rani Singh, Mayda's mother in this 1944 photograph. Photo courtesy Fran Seebaran

By Adrian Boodan

IN 2006, Francisca Seebaran journeyed from her home in Dallas, Texas, in the United States, to India, hoping to get some insight into the life of Rani Singh, her maternal grandmother who came to T&T as an indentured labourer.

Seebaran hopes to produce a motion picture on Rani’s life one day and the role she played in turning her life around at a time when women in India were faced with little choices after becoming widows.

After a year of constant coaxing, Seebaran decided to tell Rani’s story to the Guardian.

Rani was born in India in 1889 to a financially comfortable Thakoor/Thakur caste family of landowners.

At 22 years old, Rani married Debi Singh, a high-ranking Indian army officer, and in April, 1912, gave birth to a daughter Parbatia. Soon afterwards Singh died and Rani’s in-laws started ill-treating her.

Rani and Parbatia soon left the home because she would not take any of the three traditional choices offered to Hindu widows; which were to commit Suttee, by burning herself on her husband’s funeral pyre; spend the rest of her life in an ashram (temple); or marry her husband’s youngest brother. Rani decided instead to leave India.

In July, 1912, Rani was approached by a Kangani (a recruiter for the indentured workers). Seebaran said: The recruiter told her Trinidad was by far a much better place and the streets were paved in gold; she was further enticed by the 15 shillings a week offered to Coolies going to Trinidad. All she had to do was chiney chalay (sift sugar) and food and all living accommodations would be provided.

Rani agreed.

At the sub-depot of Kanpur on July 6, 1912, Rani told the magistrate she would consent to migrate to Trinidad.

She travelled by train to the main Immigration Depot in Calcutta, where she and Parbatia stayed for 15 days; mother and daughter were checked by a doctor and issued a health clearance certificate on July 9, 1912.

On July 22, 1912, Rani, Parbatia and 404 other immigrants were taken out to sea to board the SS Indus. They shared a cabin with several other single female passengers and their young children, and slept on bags on the floor. Bhaat (rice) and dhal (split peas) soon became Rani’s staple meal for the voyage.

On September 12, 1912, after 62 days at sea, the ship docked at the Immigration Depot at Nelson Island.

following a three-day quarantine, Rani and little Parbatia travelled by small boat to the Port-of-Spain jetty, and were later transported by mule carts to the Non-Pariel cocoa estate in Sangre Grande. They moved into a tiny room in a barrack house occupied by ten families. Mother and daughter were allotted a clay stove for cooking and bags for sleeping on the floor.

At first Rani tended the flower and vegetable gardens around the main estate house; she later became a domestic servant in the main house.

Seebaran said: Mrs Fabian, the childless estate manager’s wife, grew fond of Rani and Parbatia and treated Parbatia as her own.

Mrs Fabian christened Parbatia a Roman Catholic, but to Rani and Parbatia, this was only for outward conformity, as they maintained their Hindu faith for the rest of their lives.”

Seebaran said it was during the lonely years that Parbatia remembers seeing her mother, sitting on the floor in a corner of the barrack room, with her ohrni (head scarf) covering her head, and thick silver bracelets on her hands and feet, smoking a chulum pipe and crying uncontrollably.

Parbatia later understood that her mother was grieving for Baba, her younger brother she left behind in India.

Parbatia’s early memories included the second marriage of her mother Rani to Abdul Ghany, a muslim, who gave Parbatia the Muslim name Hapijan.

On December 19, 1914, Rani gave birth to Karim, Ghany’s son. Rani dubbed the child Baba, in memory of her brother.

In 1917, Ghany and Rani Ghany concluded their indentureship contract at Non Pariel cocoa estate and headed for the Golden Grove coconut estate at Arouca. The couple had six other children.

Ghany loved his new country and never considered returning to India.

He bought several pieces of real estate at bargain prices, and soon became a successful landowner, businessman and landlord of rented houses despite his lack of education.

In 1947, after a long, painful battle with cancer, Rani died at age 58 in Garden Village, Arouca. During her illness, her 18-year-old daughter, Maida (Seebaran’s mother), kept a close bedside vigil and cared for Rani with much love and attention.

Abdul eventually remarried an East Indian woman named Bhagwanti, and ran his provision shop on the Eastern Main Road in Laventille, as well as his rental properties until his death to cancer in 1960, at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital.

Usha Manhas-Singh of Dallas, left, and Fran Seebaran, a Trinidadian now resident in Dallas, USA, check out a rice field in the Punjab when the duo, along with Guardian photographer Adrian Boodan, visited the area near the Pakistani border in 2006. Photo: Adrian Boodan

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited


The Enigma of Arrival: John Mohan in Port of Spain

From left, Jang Bahadoor, Brownie Qawaal, John Mohan, Siu Persad and Jhagroo Qawal.

By Kim Johnson

"My real name is Dharam Dev Mohan, but I was known as John," says John Mohan, after whom, he claims, John John was named.

Mohan, 85, is reminiscing with boyhood friends Narsaloo Ramaya and Abdul Samad at Samad's Morne Coco home in Petit valley.

I'm here because these were the true arrivants in a different sense.

Indian Arrival Day marks the landing of the Fatel Rozack on May 30, but the actual "arrival" of Indians was a more complex, drawn out event. It involved less the physical arrival of indentured labourers than their children and grandchildren' s assumption that Trinidad was home.

Mohan's grandmother never spoke English. She referred to him in Bhojpuri as "Jaan," meaning "dear one." It was anglicised into John.

He was born in Laventille. After indentureship at Petit Morne estate his grandparents, who carted coal to sell in Port-of-Spain, moved to Old St Joseph Road opposite Toll Gate, where carts paid a penny to enter the city.

That was around 1900. Later his grandfather bought five acres, two perches of Picton Hill.

"It was very hilly, with mainly blue stone and gru gru," recalls Mohan.

Other Indian families settled there, mostly from Petit Morne. They built shacks, 25 in all, renting from Mohan's grandfather, who raised a track of rock that's still known as "Stone Hill."

There were also one Portuguese family, De Freitas; Henrietta Stafford from Barbados, whose husband was a ship's cook; and Josiah Moore, better known as "Toujour Breaks."

"He was very muscular and had large, red eyes and thick lips," recalls Mohan. "He played stick but never charged, he always breaks.

"Toujour Breaks had a beautiful handwriting and wrote all the receipts for my grandfather, who allowed him to live on his plot free."

It was Toujour Breaks who told Mohan that John John might have been named after him.

Ramaya was closer to India. His parents crossed the black sea in 1912. Although his mother, having fled a brutal marriage in India, knew she could never return, Ramaya's father never ceased to pine for India.

Ramaya, however, born in Forres Park in 1920, is nostalgic only for the sugar estate of his formative years.

"I played, romped, bathed and fished in the pond, played bat and ball in the factory yard, flew kites, spinned tops, skated down the hills, pitched marbles," he told me on a previous occasion.

"That the task work was getting harder, and the estate was employing fewer and fewer people, was not part of my world.

"My life consisted of school and play, whereas my parents' days were filled with only work and more work, and hardly any time for relaxation. Consequently, when my parents packed up in 1931 and moved to Port-of-Spain, as beautiful and wonderful as the city appeared in my eyes, still I wept and begged my father to take us back."

Moving to Duncan Street in 1931 Ramaya enrolled in the Bethlehem RCI School (the Roman Catholic Indian or "Coolie School"), where he befriended Mohan and Samad.

Samad's Muslim parents were immigrants. His mother came on the same boat as Mohan's grandmother. His father, a tailor, was close to other immigrants, such as knife-sharpener Sela Meah, who had a small mosque up Rose Hill.

"Meah" is a Muslim honorific, and Sela indicated his vocation before arrival — sailor.

Growing up in Port-of-Spain, the three friends, especially Mohan and Ramaya, discovered their Indianness in 1935, when the first Indian movie came down, Bala Jobhan.

"It was a revelation for us, for me in particular," recalls Mohan.

"Literally, bala means youth and jobhan is breasts, but it really refers to a teenager," he says, "but I didn't know that. I ask a fella and he say `Learn Hindi.' He say it crudely and it hit me, so I decide to learn the language."

Ramaya's eyes were opened too.

"Samad had told me about a movie advertised with photographs of Indian stars in the showcase of a Frederick Street store," he had told me before. "It was opening at Globe theatre, which had only been built two years earlier.

"Already familiar with Hollywood movies and their glittering array of beautiful screen stars, Samad was excited by the idea of an Indian movie."

The movie gave Indo-Trinis a sense of self-respect from which they could engage the Creole world.

"It was," explained Ramaya, "a revolution in consciousness. "

Ramaya bought a violin and joined a small Indian orchestra led by Samad's brother-in-law Chook Cham, a tailor in whose shop they all limed. Mohan and Samad got mandolins, but never took it seriously. Ramaya did, and became an accomplished Indian musician.

"We'd go Indian singing competition, riding all Chaguanas from Port-of-Spain at night," says Mohan.

"Once rain start to fall—flood, we cyar see the road. All of a sudden one fella in front disappear: he gone down the drain. We pull him and the bike out and reach the hall soaking wet."

Samad adds, "Another time upstairs Philmore Hall at Duke and George Streets was so packed, they locked the door, and people throw rope for fellas to climb up."

And in 1943, when Murli Kirpalani decided to organise a musical play to raise funds for famine-stricken India, Ramaya was invited to be a part.

Loosely scripted and produced by Budbir Singh, the proprietor of the India Club, Gulchan Bahar had the best musicians, singers and dancers, including Nazeer Mohammed, Narsaloo Ramaya, Chook Cham, Tarran Singh, Champa Devi, and other local stars.

Samad helped organising performances and Mohan played a saddhu in the first act, and a mendicant in the second act, which climaxed with an emotional song he wrote.

"The tune was from a picture I saw and I composed new lyrics," explains Mohan.

Ramaya adds, "It was a very affecting song which Champa sang with great emotion. People wept. While Champa sang, people went through the aisles with collection bags, which the audience filled generously."

Gulchan Bahar played to packed theatres and halls throughout the island, and with donations raised more than $50,000 to alleviate the suffering of the land that had been left for good.

That was a fortune in those days. The Indians had arrived.

From left. Abdul Samad, John Mohan and Narsaloo Ramaya.


Trinidad Guardian

Saturday 31st May 2003




Baboolal Ramadhin of Barrackpore 

Richard Charan of the Trinidad and Tobago Express tells us that Baboolal Ramadin of Barrackpore, Trinidad, celebrated a century this month - with a prayer service, dinner and more prayers..

Ramadin was born in 1907. That was three years after the first airplane flew. And before the television, ballpoint pen or sliced bread.

He lived through almost all of the 20th Century. He lives in Barrackpore alone in a house where he raised ten children, who have given him 42 grandchildren, 48 great-grand children and eight great great grand children.

Doctors can find no medical ailment for Ramadin, said his son Bonan, 62. He eats anything, has no wrinkles, does not need spectacles, and has a memory dating back to when he was a teenager. The average life expectancy in Trinidad is 69-years.

Ramadin remembers working all his life in the sugarcane industry, riding mules, and donkeys and horses. He never drove a car.

His first job was to chase corbeaux from the sugar mills. He followed the way of other "East Indians" - moved from laborer to land owner, from cutter to planter, buying land and keeping his family close.

He still owns the land on which sugar is cultivated. Ramadin says its up to God how many more years he will be given.

"If he helps me, I will live longer" he said. He has no secret to long life except to eat well, and don't drink or smoke. He never misses the 7pm news, washes his dishes, and uses the microwave. He can cook, but family members deliver his food.

Ramadin's wife has long died. But every other descendant is alive. His eldest daughter in 76, the youngest is 51. He has a grandson who is 60. They believe they had his longevity gene. And they feel blessed, his son Paul said.

Ramadin has traced his family back to the city of Alahabad in Uttar Pradesh. He cares nothing for India. He is all Trini, said his relatives.

But Ramadin's saddest memory is that of his mother dying and of his father leaving ten children, saying he was visiting someone in San Juan, and instead returning to India on a ship, never to be heard from again.



 April 22, 2002

*The Indian Community in Trinidad:
An Interview with Viranjini Munasinghe

Viranjini Munasinghe is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian
American Studies at Cornell University. Her new book, /Callaloo or
Tossed Salad?: East Indians and the Cultural Politics of Identity in
Trinidad/ (Cornell University Press, 2001), is an historical and
ethnographic study of an Indian community in the Caribbean, with an
emphasis on the politics of cultural conflict between Trinidadians of
Indian and African descent. By redefining the term "creole" to include
the Indo-Trinidadian community, Professor Munasinghe portrays
Indo-Trinidadians as active creators of a unique, hybrid culture.
/AsiaSource/ spoke with the scholar from her office at Cornell University.

*Can you explain the title of your book? Why is food a good metaphor to
discuss the debate between pluralism and homogenization in Trinidad?*

The use of food as metaphor for the nation is not limited to Trinidad
but characteristic of most nationalist discourses. Trinidadians often
use the local West Indian dish "callaloo" as a metaphor for the nation.
This stew, made from the leaves of the dasheen bush and flavored with
okra and coconut milk, serves as a fitting image for their nation
because it conveys both native origins (in the New World) and the
containment of diverse elements within a single unit. However, many
Indo-Trinidadian cultural and political activists I spoke with during my
fieldwork in 1999 and 2000 took exception to this metaphor for the
Trinidad nation. They argued that since the ingredients making up the
"callaloo" are boiled down to an indistinguishable mush, the original
ingredients lose their respective identities and blend into one
homogeneous taste. They disapproved of this metaphor because it
represented an extreme level of blending or "mixture." Instead they
opted for the metaphor of the "tossed salad"--an image which also
signified diversity but one where, unlike the callaloo, each diverse
ingredient maintained its originally distinct and unique identity. Thus
the food metaphors of the callaloo and the tossed salad for the nation
of Trinidad and Tobago convey very different ideas of mixture --
callaloo depicting a process of mixture that produces homogeneity and
tossed salad signifying the co-existence of diverse elements in
pluralism. Indo-Trinidadians who are intent on preserving what they
believe to be their unique and distinct "Indian" identity are against a
"callaloo" nation because of the extent of biological and cultural
mixing signified by this metaphor.

*Can you discuss the historical circumstances of Indian immigration to
Trinidad? When did this movement occur and what factors influenced it?*

When the slaves were emancipated in the British Caribbean in 1838, the
planters looked for alternative supplies of docile and servile labor
that could replace the labor of the former slaves. Planters claimed that
emancipation caused a labor shortage in many of the British Caribbean
colonies such as Trinidad. However, I, along with a host of other
scholars, argue that it was not that labor was in short supply but that
former slaves were no longer willing to labor under the terms offered by
planters. Therefore, planters had to look for a controllable (as opposed
to "free") labor force to work in the sugar plantations.

Some colonies such as Trinidad were particularly well poised to realize
huge profits with increased sugar cultivation because many of their
resources were still unexploited. The planters and the British
Government instituted what some academics such as Hugh Tinker have
labeled "a new system of slavery," or indenture, to provide the planters
with the desired labor. After brief experimentation with different
groups, India, a British colony, became the major source of this
alternative labor supply. India was a suitable source because India's
population was vast, the majority accustomed to agricultural labor under
tropical conditions, and because the country was under British control
there was no need for negotiations with foreign authorities. Living
conditions were also grim for many Indians in the nineteenth century due
to famine, disease, overpopulation and the increasing encroachment of
the East India Company. As a result, many Indians were destitute and
looked to opportunities outside of India in order to improve their
impoverished lives. Between 1845 and 1917 (when indenture was abolished
due to pressure from Indian nationalists) approximately 143,939 Indians
came to Trinidad.

*How and when were differences between South Asian immigrants such as
caste, sect, region, language, and religion collapsed into a singular
?Indo-Trinidadian? identity? Did any of these differences survive?*

While the common perception is that Indian immigrants constituted a
homogenous group because the vast majority who settled in Trinidad came
from the densely populated central plain of the Ganges in northeast
India (the United Provinces, Oudh, Bihar and Orissa), they were in fact
a very diverse group characterized by religious, caste, linguistic and
regional differences. While it is hard to pinpoint a date for the
attenuation of these distinctions, once in Trinidad this originally
diverse population of Indians developed into a relatively homogeneous
group with the emergence of a common language, Bhojpuri, the
standardization of Hinduism, the attenuation of the caste system whereby
only certain distinctions now carried valence, and changes in the family
structure in which certain features of the joint-family structure still
persisted, but in modified form. Religious divisions between Hindus and
Muslims, caste distinctions between Brahmins and Chamars and to a lesser
extent, regional differences between the few "Madrasis" (South Indians)
and the rest of the Indo-Trinidadians whose ancestral origins lie in
northern India, still persist today.

*What role does India play in the Indo-Trinidadian imagination? How much
contact is there between India and the Indo-Trinidadian community? Has
there been travel and exchange in both directions? *

India plays a large role in the Indo-Trinidadian imagination. While
Indo-Trinidadians insist on their commitment and loyalty to the nation
of Trinidad and Tobago, they also express pride in their Indian
ancestry. They don't see these two identities as necessarily in

Identification with India heightened in the 1930s when the independence
movement in India added vigor to the Indo-Trinidadian consciousness. As
early as the 1930s, young Indo-Trinidadian intellectuals began staging
island-wide demonstrations in support of India's demand for freedom.
Public meetings held in Indo-Trinidadian majority areas opened and
closed with Indian patriotic songs and "Vande Matram," the Indian
national anthem. Many of the Indo-Trinidadian organizations formed
during this period, like the India Club, were intent on spreading
knowledge about India and things Indian. Wealthy Indo-Trinidadians
visited India and contributed generously to famine relief funds. Visits
from a host of Indian missionaries and cultural leaders generated new
interest, especially among the Indo-Trinidadian middle class, in the
language and culture of their "mother country." The first Indian movie,
"Bala Joban" was shown to enthralled audiences in Trinidad in 1935.

Contact with India continues today and India as imaginary homeland has
much symbolic import for Indo-Trinidadians. Yet, most Indo-Trinidadians
will emphatically insist on their Trinidadian identity. While the wider
society tends to view Indo-Trinidadian identification with India as a
statement of disloyalty to the nation of Trinidad, Indo-Trinidadians see
it differently. They insist they can be Indian and Trinidadian at the
same time. My book explores why Indian and Trinidadian identities have
historically developed as mutually exclusive identities, and the
strategies through which Indo-Trinidadian cultural activists attempt to
redefine Trinidadian national identity to include Indian elements. The
Indo-Trinidadian dilemma of being viewed as strangers or outsiders in
their society of settlement because of their ancestral culture is quite
typical of how immigrant Asians are viewed generally. Asians, as in the
United States, are often viewed by other groups as unassimilables or as
perpetual strangers because of the unusually heavy cultural baggage
imputed to them.

*Can you discuss the process of creolization? In your book you argue
that Indo-Trinidadians themselves are a product of creolization rather
than inheritors of a strict ancestral culture. Can you explain this?*

Creolization is a concept primarily identified with the Caribbean to
describe and analyze processes of cultural adaptation and change within
deeply hierarchical systems (the plantation/slavery complex and the
race/color hierarchy that accompanied it) whereby new cultural forms
emerged in the New World. A combination of the Spanish words "criar" (to
create, to imagine) and "colon" (a colonist, a founder, a settler), the
term Creole in the British Caribbean refers to people and things that
constitute a mix of elements originating in the Old World. Through this
mix of Old World forms, cultures and people indigenous to the New World
were created. The terms creole and creolization, however, emphasize
primarily the synthesis of African and European Old World elements,
thereby excluding Indians. Thus while those with African and European
ancestry are labeled Creoles, Indo-Trinidadians are never considered to
be Creole. The implications of this exclusion from creole status is
significant for Indo-Trinidadians.

Creolization also implied indigenization whereby foreign elements could
become native to the New World through creative mixings. Thus, all
persons and things ?Creole? signified native status in Trinidad, and by
extension the New World. East Indians who were considered unmixables
because they were thought to be so saturated with an ancient (albeit
inferior) civilization, were as a consequence not accorded Creole or
native status in Trinidad. Thus, Indo-Trinidadians have been
symbolically positioned as outside of the nation of Trinidad before and
since independence in 1962.

My book examines the material and ideological mechanisms through which
Indo-Trinidadians were positioned outside the creolization process and
thereby the Trinidad nation. By examining Indo-Trinidadian practices and
behaviors, I argue that Indo-Trinidadians too can be considered creole
because they are active creators of new cultural forms indigenous to the
New World rather than being mere reproducers of ancestral cultural forms.

*What historical factors contributed to the development of the
Indo-Trinidadian community as distinct and isolated from the larger
Trinidadian population? *

Historically a host of factors functioned to situate East Indians as
separate from the rest of Creole society. Soon after arrival in
Trinidad, Indian indentured laborers were banished to the sugar estates
concentrated in the flatland or rolling hills of the western side of the
island, later known as the sugar belt, thereby subjecting them to
spatial isolation. As indentured laborers they were legally
differentiated from the rest of the population and were subject to a
number of laws that restricted their mobility and hence their contact
with the wider society. Occupationally too, they were confined to the
cultivation and processing of cane. Thus the majority of East Indians
were confined to the rural agricultural sector. Religious and cultural
differences coupled with their inability to speak English, underscored
their alienation from the rest of the population. Symbolically too, East
Indians were represented as outsiders. Since the Indian presence was
thought to be only temporary, very little effort was made by the
colonial government to integrate East Indians into the rest of society.
Even education functioned to separate East Indians. The Canadian
Presbyterian Missions catered exclusively to East Indians and
instruction was in Hindi.

*How does colonial race theory inform contemporary politics on the
island? To what extent is the tension between Trinidadians of Indian and
African descent an inherited legacy of colonialism?*

Colonial policies and racial theories continue to influence contemporary
politics on the island. The division between the two major ethnic groups
comprising Trinidad's population, the Afro-Trinidadian and the
Indo-Trinidadian, which is marked and reproduced by race rhetoric and
ethnic stereotypes with both groups jealously guarding what they believe
to be their legitimate terrain, can be traced to colonial policy. East
Indians were brought to Trinidad as "scab labor" to drive down the
bargaining power of the Afro-Trinidadians. Thus, East Indians from the
beginning occupied a structurally antagonistic position to

Planters were also instrumental in creating particular kinds of
discourses about the character of the "Indian" and the "Negro" in order
to make their case for the need for indentured labor. Caricatures of the
luxury-loving, lazy, immoral Negro and of the docile, hardworking and
cunning Indian abound in planter discourses of the period soon after
emancipation. Many of these derogatory racial stereotypes continue to
this day as the two groups use these same caricatures to undermine one
another. Unfortunately, as is the case with ethnic/racial stereotypes,
these negative racial traits are thought to signify natural
characteristics of the respective groups and the specific colonial
history that led to the creation of such discourse is forgotten or
remains unacknowledged. A major concern in this book is to historically
situate and understand the development of race relations between
Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians and to examine the continuities
and disjunctures between the colonial and postcolonial periods.


The Wismar Massacre

"I am surprised and amazed that similar action has not been taken at certain areas on the West Coast of Demerar a where murder, rape, arson and intimadation has become the order of the day for the last 14 weeks, and in spite of the declaration of emergency..."
Forbes Burnham, commenting on the response of the police and government towards Wismar, which, ironically was very late. May 27, 1964

"From Saturday May 14th to Monday May 26th,
There's no time more glorious
For reflection upon history,
Both great and notorious,
It's all part of the story...
Guyana way"

"In these times of national crisis, the corporation of all is needed but this cannot be obtained, for there is such glaring evidence of discrimination."
        —Forbes Burnham, May 27, 1964

“In May 1964, the Negroes at Wismar formed themselves into gangs and went to the business places and homes of the Indians and demanded the keys of the safety boxes and drawers in which they kept their cash, jewellery and other valuable articles. Shortly afterwards, a house at Third Alley was set on fire and soon the whole area became an inferno as the gangs roamed looting, burning and terrorizing the 1,600 Indians as they tried to escape. Every man, woman and child was attacked. The men brutally beaten and the clothes of the women and even girls of tender ages were ripped away. The women and girls were raped in full public view by gangs of men.”—Dwarka Nath, A History of Indian in Guyana.



May 26—The Wismar Page: One















by Rakesh Rampertab













Essay, May 26: Taboo

The Wismar Report

Wismar Page Two









Wismar is a charged topic not only because Indian people were murdered, Indian women raped, Indian-owned proerties burned, and hundreds of Indians forced to flee from there homes despite being taxpayers and free men and women of the British Empire. Wismar is a charged topic because one half of Guyana continues to deny its seriousness, refusing to accept that wholesale public denounciation of May 26 is a necessary part of any possible reconciliation for the future. Wismar is a charged topic not only because every national election is an occasion for Indians to be attacked, robbed, sexualy assaulted, shot, and intimidated in general. Wismar is a charged topic because the national political leadership by the PPP and PNC have thus far, allowed Wismar to remain a taboo subject instead of history. In the future, children of Guyana shall speak of Wismar as something that never happened.

When I say wholesale denounciation, I mean that Guyana cannot move beyond Wismar unless it selects a new date for its Independence celebration. By wholesale denounciation, I mean something much more that a children song, such as was done (in a doggerel) for the 1980 Independence celebration by Mr. Edwin Vanderyar which says;





by Fazil (Raymond) Ali

In the early 1960s Wismar and Christianburg were two mixed villages where Indo-Guyanese resided in the predominantly Afro-Guyanese (90 per cent) mining town of Mackenzie, located some 65 miles up the Demarara river from the capital of Georgetown.
But after independence from Britain, the name of the bauxite town was changed from Mackenzie to Linden. The PNC leader Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham named it after himself. It had been the scene of his greatest political triumph.
Did Burnham really change the name of the town from Mackenzie to Linden because he wanted to remove the colonial legacy and substitute a local name for a foreign or colonial one? If this was truly Burnham’s intention, then could have renamed Georgetown, which was of course named after King George of England.
Instead Burnham’s real motive for naming the town after himself was to symbolically establish his stamp and mark over a massacre where he had reigned supreme over Indo-Guyanese.
In short, "Linden" was a message to Indo-Guyanese that if they challenged him (Burnham) they could expect the same fate as the Indo-Guyanese community experienced on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of Mat 1964 in Mackenzie.
However, Burnham’s move to change the name from Mackenzie to Linden was only of his many acts to show his supremacy and superiority over the Indo-Guyanese community. He had earlier humiliated the same community by recommending the 26th of May 1966 as Guyana’s Independence Day to the British. The PPP was had fought so hard for the freedom of Guyana welcomed the end of British rule but did not participate in the independence celebrations with the same enthusiasm with which if fought to free Guyana. This was the same exact date and month that Indo-Guyanese in Mackenzie were murdered, raped, and burnt alive Blacks in the country’s worst racial violence.
The intensity of the racial violence perpetrated countrywide by Forbes Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC) and Peter D’Aguiar’s United Force (UF) was instrumental in bringing down Dr. Jagan’s PPP government after reaching its apex in Mackenzie.

The massacre of Indo-Guyanese began at Wismar and lasted for over 38 hours, beginning from Sunday May 24th and ending on Tuesday May 26, 1964. In the 38 hours of brutality, barbarism, and savagery on some 2000 Indo-Guyanese living in villages of Wismar and Christianburg, some 18000 Afro-Guyanese armed with cutlasses, wooden poles, gasoline bombs and guns burnt and destroyed over 230 Indo-Guyanese homes and businesses. Indo-Guyanese who thought they could find shelter in their own homes were confronted and beaten by large mobs of Afro-Guyanese screaming "kill de coolies" as their homes were burnt to the ground. One family whose home was burnt was confronted by a large mob who beat the wife unconscious, repeatedly stabbing the husband and then continuing to kick and molest two smaller children. This occurrence was by no means isolated. Some families who managed to escape from the villages into the nearby forest were also hunted down like animals.

However, their chances of survival were much better in the forest than in the villages. In addition to the mass burning and looting which resulted in over 1500 Indo-Guyanese becoming homeless, and the indiscriminate beating of Indo-Guyanese men, women, and children, 8 women were raped including two girls. Some of the women were repeatedly raped as the marauding band took turns on Indo-Guyanese women victims. This figure may even be higher since Guyanese women who were victims of rape seldom come forward and admit to such a heinous crime due to the shame associated with it. Once man was also burnt alive. Another, Mr. Ramjattan, a supporter of the PPP was found decapitated.

Injuries were in the hundreds, ranging from gunshot wounds, knife wounds, burns, broken bones, and mutilated bodies. One Indo-Guyanese man had both his legs and feet broken. An employee from the Demarara Bauxite Company said: "The Indians never had a chance". A Black woman showing no remorse said: "De ga wa dem deserve" (They coolies get what they deserved).
The evacuation of Indo-Guyanese from the massacre sites at Wismar and Christainburg did not take place until the evening of May 25th.

Two river steamers were commissioned to take the first batch of 1300 Indo-Guyanese refugees to Georgetown where they were booed, jeered, and pelted with bricks by Blacks as they arrived. A Red Cross worker said of the survivors: "Few wept, but the hundreds of children appeared terrified and frightened."

Out of the 1300 that arrived, 300 found shelter with relatives while the rest slept on the concrete floor of the pier warehouse in Georgetown huddling in fear while covered with tarpaulins and rice bags.
Temporary shelter was soon set up at a factory outside Georgetown with many other refugees later being put up in predominantly Indo-Guyanese areas.

For the rest of the 26th, 27th, and 28th about 500 Indo-Guyanese who had been hiding in the forest surrounding Wismar and Christainburg came out and were taken to the refugee camps outside Georgetown.

It is quite clear that the results of the massacres could have been significantly reduced or even avoided altogether, if the 75 members of the Mackenzie Police and Volunteer Force had not been all Blacks. The entire armed forces detachment at Mackenzie, which was heavily armed, took no offensive action while many friends, family and neighbors were carrying out the atrocities. Many members of the Police and Volunteer Forces took part in the looting, beating and killing of Indo-Guyanese as they had specialized military training as a profession.

In one incident two armed Black Volunteers refused to intervene when two Indo-Guyanese women were being raped. Instead, the women had to be rescued by employees from DEMBA. In another case, the Volunteer Force shot a young Indo-Guyanese man to death because he refused to stop at their command.

In those 38 hours of the massacre no Afro-Guyanese was arrested and only two wounded by bullets.
Janet Jagan, then Minister of Home Affairs on June 1st in a speech to the Guyana Parliament equated the suffering at Wismar to genocide since the police had done nothing to prevent the massacre.
She said, "It is possible for anyone to believe that, with the widespread violence, arson, rape, and murder, there could have been no show of force by the armed police and armed volunteers. Since this is impossible to accept, one can only come to the conclusion that planned genocide of a village was carried out with the connivance of all concerned."

She then resigned to protest the British Police Commissioner not responding to her orders.
However, it was not until after 24 hours of the violent massacre that British troops eventually arrived in the mining town. Their only suggestion was to evacuate the area.
The British troops they were powerless to stop the violence and the most that they (the troops) could do was to impose a curfew. The curfew did manage to quiet the situation but most of the killing, rapes, burning and beatings had already taken place.

The massacre of Indo-Guyanese in Wismar and Christianburg has remained a well-hidden and well-guarded secret. Not only have Guyanese failed to record and seriously document this important part of our history but also the older generations of Indo-Guyanese have not passed on this information even orally. Up to today these is no accurate figures on the number of Indo-Guyanese that have died during the Wismar massacre.

When Guyana’s Independence Day is celebrated on May 26th, Indo-Guyanese should also take time off to acknowledge those who suffered and died in the Wismar-Christianburg massacre. It may be necessary some atrocities orchestrated against them by the PNC, but we must not forget how and why it occurred.
All Guyanese must ensure it does not happen again. How can this be done? Obviously the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recommendations which the PNC government agreed to implement must now be reflected in the Guyanese armed forces. Then any "ethnic cleansing" of other communities like Mackenzie will not reoccur again. Never again!

New York Times: "East Indians flee race violence in British Guiana mining area." Wednesday, May 27th, 1964.
New York Times: "Official accuse Police in British Guiana." Thursday, May 28th, 1964.
Time Magazine: "British Guiana race war." June 5th, 1964.
Newsweek Magazine: "Politics of violence." June 8th, 1964.
Facts on File, Volume XXIV: "British Guiana." June 4, 1964.

[Editor’s Note: The writer, Mr. Raymond Ali is a 1992 graduate of Brooklyn College with a BA in Economics. He served as Vice President of the Indo-West Indian Movement at Brooklyn College (1990-1991). Article being sourced from East Indians in the New World: 155 Anniversary (1838-1993). A publication of the Indo-Caribbean Federation of North, May 15, 1993.]






Indian Women of Guyana
reflections of their existence, survival and representation

By Janet A. Naidu

How shall the wealth and power and glory
of a nation be founded
save on the immutable honour of its womanhood?

– Sarojini Naidu
Indian Nationalist and Poet

One of the major consequences of British colonization and imperial oppression of Indians in the Caribbean is the deprivation and erosion of their cultural and social heritage. After slavery was abolished, British sugar cane planters brought 238,909 Indians to Guyana between 1838 and 1917 to work on the sugar plantations. These indentured Indians came with their languages, religions and other cultural practices, and retained their customs, but this was primarily because of their residential segregation on the sugar plantations where they were allowed to eat their own food with spices brought from India, maintain marriage customs and religious practices. Their survival spans many decades of great hardships during the periods of indenture, post-indenture and post-independence.

Although Indians have contributed significantly to Guyana’s economic and social development, they continue to struggle for their heritage survival and national representation. Most importantly, Indian women have been relegated to subordinate positions as their presence continues to be limited in the social and political fabric of Guyana. Both men and women suffered tremendously at the hands of the colonizers, but Indian women suffered doubly in the patriarchal society.

This article examines the existence, survival and representation of Indian women of Guyana, but specifically provides some insights into their existence and survival during the indenture, post-indenture and post-independence periods, not only as a unique group to the region, but also their placement within the larger community.

May 5, 2004 marks 166 years since Indians crossed the kala pani1 and arrived in Guyana. On a 5-year contract as ‘Indentured Laborers’ with the condition of a free return passage to India upon completion of their contract, they were transported to various sugar plantations. Those who came after 1862 had to pay their own expenses; otherwise, they were forced to be re-indentured for another 5 years for a free return passage, making it 10 years under contract. In this way the British colonizers kept a tight leash on Indians. To understand their great suffering in a foreign place, far away from India, it is essential to understand that British planters turned to India to revive the failing sugar plantation economy, after previous attempts with indentured laborers from other countries. The first arrivals in 1838 on the sailing ships, Hesperus and Whitby, numbered 396 of whom only 22 were women. The only reason that immigration agents subsequently secured more women was because sugar cane planters established certain quotas of laborers to meet their economic gains. Therefore, they encouraged depot marriages to increase laborers and yet maintain low expenses.

Gender Disparity
While immigration increased and quotas were established, women were still disproportionately represented with a ratio of 35 women to 100 men and 50 to 100 in 1860. The indenture system facilitated this gross disparity. Even as late as 1890, the proportion of women to men declined to 41 women for every 100 men. Although repeated requests were made to colonial immigration agents for more women, the disparity of female indentured laborers remained throughout the indenture period. The planters viewed women as ‘uneconomical’ and recruiters were not encouraged to meet the recommended quotas; few Indian men wanted to bring their wives as they intended to return to India. As a result, the disproportion of the sexes created a social problem for men and women on the estates. They were not only “exposed to planter tyranny and neglect, but they also suffered from the serious disproportion in the sex ratio which produced considerable tension.” Planters abused their position of authority and engaged in sexual relationships with Indian women, and in most cases, another man’s wife, without recourse.

With the disproportion of men and women, morality became an issue as some women were depicted as being unfaithful. As a consequence an alarming number of murders occurred where, for example, during the period “1859-1864, some 23 murders of Indian women by their husbands or reputed husbands were recorded.” Murders continued into the 1920s and barbaric acts were committed by the use of a hoe or a cutlass. Although some women came with their husbands, Rhoda Reddock revealed that about two-thirds were single, and that “the majority of Indian women came to the Caribbean not as wives or daughters but as individual women.” For example, when Annapurani came on the ship, Ganges, in 1915, almost all of the few women who came were single and between the ages of 18 and 25 Indian women were not only placed in a minority position,requiring protection against a dominant male culture, but they were also subject to “sexual abuse by drivers, overseers and other estate personnel.”

In 1896, a sexual relationship between Jamni, an Indian woman, and the deputy manager at plantation Non Pariel caused orders to be given to the police who shot and killed five Indian men, including her husband, Jungli, as well as injuring 59 men who protested. Earlier in 1871, a Royal Commission Report stated that it was not “uncommon for overseers, and even managers, to form temporary connections with Coolie women, and in every case with the worst possible consequences to the good order and harmony of the estate.” The brutality against Indian women was taken lightly by colonial powers as they viewed such exploitative relations as having greater impact on the stability of the estate than on families.

While Indian men suffered because of the scarcity of women and were even killed as a result of British overseers’ sexual exploitation of women, Indian women suffered even more, not only by British overseers on the estates but also by their husbands at home. The scarcity also led to the perpetuation of child marriage, with many young women forced to have older husbands and this, in some cases, leading to domestic violence and murder of women. In 1896, 11-year old Etwarea’s marriage was arranged by her parents to the wealthy Seecharan, age 50, who paid her parents “a cow and calf and $50 and made a Will leaving his property to his wife.” He later suspected her at around age 16 of being unfaithful and ‘sharpened his cutlass and completely severed [her] right arm’ after which she died. By perpetuating their ancestral custom of ‘child marriage’ (with the legal marriage age set at 13 years for girls and 15 years for boys) young girls became housewives and were subject to their husbands’ commands.

Even though in 1900 the gender ratio was 62 women to 100 men, there is no written data to suggest that the shortage of women was a main factor for the abuse and murder of Indian women. But it is highly suggestive that the exploitation of men by their colonial master caused some men to function as the patriarchal authority in the home where a new dimension of sexism developed. Humiliation and self-degradation contributed to their low self-esteem and they began to harm their wives and children, the people closest to them.

Daily harsh treatment under colonial rule caused many Indian men to drink rum after a hard day’s work. Then they would go home in frustration and behaved cruelly with their wives and children. This was very common and hence, the stereotypical ‘wife beater’ image attached to the Indian male. On the other hand, gender identities were shaped by Indian values as depicted in Indian religious texts.

The role of women such as ‘Sita’ of the Ramayana and ‘Radha’ of the Mahabarata were portrayed as the pure and ideal wife and these representations continued to influence gender relationship expectations between men and women (at least among the Hindus). During the periods of indentureship and post-indentureship, many Indian women and men maintained the ideals of a good wife and a devoted husband particularly embodying the roles of Rama and Sita in the Ramayana. However, the displacement of Indians in a western environment created some difficulties for men and women to maintain their ancestral heritage in gender identities. As Patricia Mohammad argues, Hindu symbolisms act as a strong influence in “the construction of masculinity and femininity among Indians,” where the women had to ‘prove’ their virtue repeatedly. Women who resisted or were accused of violating the oppressive patriarchal structures within Indian family structure were abused or even murdered. Among the women killed in this early period were “Anundai, Baumee, Goirapa and Saukalia, for allegedly deserting their husbands.”

Although the gross disparity of women created the conditions for sexual exploitation, it also served to strengthen their resistance movements throughout the indenture period. The importation of Indian females served as a stabilizing force on the predominantly male plantation workers. However, in spite of efforts to bring more women, “sexual immorality, polyandry, and bride purchase [thus] continued, providing the Indian nationalist movement [in India] with a powerful weapon against the continuation of the system.”

Perceptions of Feminine Image
Feminine images also impacted upon the perception of women as generated over the years by western and Creole ideology. As Indians in the Caribbean were adapting to western and Creole culture, they also struggled to maintain their own customs. Within this context, Indian women’s development contrasted against Indian role expectations of their ancient texts, where changing values were their greatest challenge in the Caribbean region.

Although Indians make up more than half of Guyana’s population, Indian women continue to fulfill traditional roles of wife, mother and homemaker. As Ramabai Espinet states, women “have to fight doubly hard to even begin to find the ground for emergence” and that they must face this battle “in isolation from support of the males in their domestic sphere, as well as in that isolation from each other that patriarchal societies have always been careful to construct.” Espinet claims (arguably) that the "ohrni" or the "chador" was an instrument of isolation and that the ohrni shields the chaste wife or daughter from the gaze of the outsider as well as her mate, making the woman as an unseen being.

Ramabai Espinet writes that Indian men are “conditioned to not really ‘see’ the Indian Woman” and to interact with her, but that she exists in his imagination “in a framework which is static, already defined, and to which numerous rituals are attached. The place of Indian women in society is enacted through the mechanism of this existing framework.” However, this perception is contrary to Indian customary attire where wearing the ‘ohrni’ depicts the woman as honorable or religious. The ‘ohrni’ was not a traditional Indian garment, but a modified version of the ‘sari’ where the ‘dupata’ was used to cover a woman’s head and face. (Similarly, Christian women of the Catholic or other denominations wear traditional headwear for religious reasons.) Indian women in the Caribbean continue to wear the ‘ohrni’ to religious and social functions.

Indians recognize a marriage celebrated with “due publicity and performed according to established rights and customs legal, whether registered or not.”26 This was a carryover from their Indian heritage as practiced in India where in the 1880s, over “93% of the Hindu population were listed as married before reaching the age of 14.” Even though a marriage may occur when the girl may be age 10, she was not sent to her husband’s home until puberty. While this early marriage law allowed Indians to continue their practice, thereby restricting and preventing their possibilities for education, it also satisfied the plantocracy to secure an additional labor supply for its economic gains. In many instances, parents also needed their children to help with their work on the plantation.

Unlike Christian marriages, colonial authorities did not recognize Hindu and Muslim marriages and thus, they were not legalized. Not only were children labeled as ‘illegitimate’ and further displaced by British imperial rule, but also women were unrecognized by the Government as not having any rights. If their husbands died without a Will and left any asset, even if they had only a few cows, the government did not recognize the widow and children as beneficiaries. Although Indians endured a series of tests before they received a marriage certificate, their marriage was not recognized by the colonial authorities until the period between 1957 and 1961 when Cheddi Jagan as Premier pushed for official recognition of marriages by a Hindu Priest or Muslim Moulvi.

Elimination of Caste
In the Caribbean, Indian adherence to Hindu caste system became diminished as there were only a few of the different castes compared to India. The majority of Indians to Guyana between 1868 and 1917 were identified as agricultural castes and low castes, with a small number of Brahmins and other high castes. Many bonded with each other of different castes while traveling as ‘jihajis’ on the ships and remained friends upon their arrival in Guyana. Women found the caste system restrictive and “since there was a shortage of females in the colonies, especially upper caste women, it became impossible to maintain upper caste endogamy.” However, as Moses Seenarine aptly states, ‘varna [color] has replaced caste, and although there is no strict correlation between occupation and caste [in Guyana], Brahmins are an important exception. Hindus in the diaspora do claim a caste or varna identity.” Families would seek brides who were ‘light color’ for their sons. Generally, the reduction of the caste system helped men and women to overcome prejudices and barriers of casteism and subsequently helped to reduce the oppression among Indians and bring them together as a distinct group within a multi-racial environment.

The gradual elimination of the caste system allowed Indians to unite as ‘Indians’, not as ‘Hindu’, ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’. However, many still practiced ‘caste’ in their treatment of each other. The slow change in caste identity was also observed in the way Indians referred to the caste Chamar when derogating a person. While the ‘caste’ categories were eventually (but not fully) eliminated, new terminologies such as ‘high nation’ and ‘low nation’ were established to distinguish caste.

Women on Sugar Estates
Indians lived in logies with poor sanitary conditions throughout the indenture period. Further, they were obligated to toe the line while working on the estates as Planters insisted that workers “complete the stated five tasks per week or their pay was docked,” a form of exploitation that women were also subjected to. Children and young women worked on sugar plantations in the ‘weeding gang’ and later in the ‘task gang’ or ‘creole gang’, earning poor wages. Even at the height of their pregnancies, women were expected to maintain planters’ expectations:

“Indian women’s reproductive and productive role to which they were so accustomed in India was not seen as important in Guyana…. Illness and even pregnancy did not guarantee lighter tasks. Indeed, many Indian women worked in the sugar plantations late in their pregnancy, a
phenomenon that still exists, although not necessarily on the sugar plantations but in the wet-land rice fields in rural Guyana.”

In the late 1940s women would leave their babies at the Estate creche and go to work in the fields. They would also carry their babies in the fields, until an older child was able to stay home and look after the younger sibling. Beyond this, sugar planters imposed harsh working conditions on laborers, so that many strikes (riots) occurred. Labor unrests were often as a result of workers’ protests against mistreatment of estate workers, especially since the first riots on estates broke out in 1869.

Women also participated in protests against planters’ mistreatment of workers on sugar estates. In 1903, at Plantation Friends in Berbice an indentured woman, Salamea, urged Indians to fight against the plights of indenture. Moreover, after indenture ended in 1917, while Indian women continued to protest as they struggled for justice, they also became victims of the planters’ oppressive practices on the sugar estates. In 1964, Kowsilla, at age 44 and mother of 4, was “mowed down by a tractor [at Leonora sugar estate]. She became another martyr of the Guyanese working people movement.” Her death on May 6 is remembered for a woman who stood up bravely against a system of exploitation and oppression as during 1964 especially, many suffered during the sugar workers’ strike. Few such experiences and forms of resistance were recorded against planter oppression.

Prior to the 1950’s, many Indians did not send their children to school. Several factors – education combined with Christian indoctrination, schools predominantly in urban centers (mainly Georgetown and New Amsterdam), children employed under age 12 and girls could marry at 13 – contributed to 80% not attending school in 1901 and still 71% not attending in 1923.41 No Indian women organization emerged to address this problem.

However, while those in existence, such as the British Guiana Dramatic Society in the 1930s worked to develop cultural and social activities, women in organizations worked with their husbands who served on religious, cultural and social organizations to push for girls’ education. Under the direction of Alice Singh and N. Ghose, an Indian national, they held activities in Georgetown, staging the play 'The Maharani of Arakhan' in 1936, held dances, lectures and Hindi lessons for its members. However, these activities were limited to the social circle in Georgetown. (Later in 1936, Alice Singh founded the Balak Sahaita-Mandalee, a voluntary child-welfare society, which was belatedly recognized by the Indian middle-class for its work on the “desperate.)

It was not until the 1920s, organizations such as the Hindu Society, British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA) and British Guiana East Indian Institute advocated for the education of Indian girls. The deprivation of girls’ education also occurred within the multi-ethnic and coeducational public school environment which was dominated mostly by Christian male teachers. Indian girls were also alienated around issues of Indian religion, language and culture. Undoubtedly, Indian women were oppressed as they were denied the right to educational opportunities.

While the majority of Indians maintained their religion, the indoctrination of Indians into Christianity served to help them become more ‘western’. According to the 1931 Census, out of the Indian population of 124,000 (nearly 50% of the total population), 1,958 were Roman Catholics and 3,465 Anglicans.

Indian families were strongly involved in keeping up their cultural and religious practices and were against sending their children to be educated in Christian schools and to be Christianized. The schools did not teach Hindi or Arabic. In 1904, an order was passed (which remained in force until 1933), that no pressure should be placed on Indian parents who wished to keep their daughters at home and not send to school. Also, co-ed meant that girls would have to sit near boys; their parents would not tolerate this type of mixing and subject their daughters to possible relationship. Still, the colonial government actively connived at denying Indian girls an education. In 1925, only 25% of Indian children in primary schools were girls. In 1929, Subadri Lall was the first to qualify for exemption from the Matriculation to attend the University of London, establishing a unique record for local girls. In the 1950s, attitudes to education for girls had changed sharply within the Indian community as attempts were made to catch up with other sections of the population. Iris Sookdeo became the first and youngest woman to achieve a Doctor of Philosophy (Sociology) at the University of Sussex in the 1969.

Nevertheless, access to the limited educational opportunities did provide some girls with new options during the late period of indenture and schooling began to have a much more positive influence in the lives of many women after the mid-1930s. During the 1930s, Indian enrolment in primary schools had increased by 50%, but these would have comprised mostly of boys since girls were being groomed for marriage. However, despite these changes, educated women’s access to formal employment and equal status were severely limited by colonial and post-colonial policies that were patriarchal in structure.

While many Indian women, especially among the working poor, had not attended school, they were working to maintain their families and to send their children to school. Thus, these women contributed significantly to their household and community, especially as ‘financial managers’, developing ways to improve their economic position. These included planting their backyard with greens, raising chickens, goats, sheep, looking after their cows, selling milk, and buying and selling produce. Some also managed little shops in the villages and assisted in their husbands’ businesses, such as the tailor-shops and grocery shops. In the early 1930s and 1940s, Indian women preserved domestic life by participating in ‘throwing box hands’ to save money for their children’s education or marriage and, in some cases, they would ‘pawn’ their jewelry to obtain sufficient funds. In spite of the tremendous responsibilities they had to shoulder, their strength sustained the home greatly. Without birth control, many Indian women had large families, some having between 6 to 10 children or more, and therefore had to find ways to increase the family income to support a large family. In spite of the denial of education, Indian women performed a wide range of jobs such as selling cow’s milk, selling greens in the village and market or working in the rice or cane fields to sustain their families. During the post-indenture period, some families whose daughters received a better education were able to access other occupations. It was not until the 1950s that some Indian women were able to access employment within the commercial industry as noted when Barclay’s Bank employed the first three Indian women as ‘Tellers’.

Post-Indenture and Post-Independence
In the early part of the twentieth century, women on the whole were relegated to the home, apart from those who were out working to help their families. The majority of Indian women worked and resided in the rural areas and often were the primary organizers of social customs. Undoubtedly, the retention of Indian culture was owed “much to these industrious, resilient women on the plantations and in the villages while at the same time exerting much energy on their many children.” Because of their direct involvement in preparations religious and social functions such as pujas, jhandis, weddings, Eid, Diwali and other social customs, they formed a strong foundation for their cultural retention. Mothers not only organized elaborate functions, but their daughters also were completely involved in the arrangements for social activities. Many of these women were not part of an established organization with leadership opportunities, but they formed the pulse of the nation’s cultural development and progression. Further, not only was it a social taboo for Indian women to join social organizations and carry the banners but also they received little or no respect.

However, a small group of middle-class Indian women in the urban areas were beginning to participate in public circles. In fact, after indentureship, in the 1920s they were contributing to the “visible Hindu and Muslim culture festival” especially in Georgetown and New Amsterdam where they provided forms of entertainment, but primarily associated with religious functions.

One of the first known women to demonstrate resistance against the injustices of colonialism was Esther Saywack Mahadeo (born in 1872) who was widowed at the age of 28 with 4 children. Having inherited a small shop, she refused her parents’ offer to return home. Instead, she became one of the leading merchants in New Amsterdam. As a young girl, she learned business skills while her father went to work selling oil on a donkey cart. With determination, she looked after her children and never remarried. She became very involved in the business and community, and became the first woman President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce. Recognizing the injustices against plantation workers, she took a petition, signed by hundreds, to the Governor in Georgetown, protesting the shooting of innocent workers who participated in a riot at Plantation Rosehall, Canje where Indians were shot and some killed in 1913. At this time, it was unthinkable for a woman to have done this, especially an Indian woman and a widow. She died in 1948, leaving a legacy of an Indian woman’s early voice against oppression. She took part in social work and was the first woman President of the Berbice Turf Club. To have achieved this singular position in this time in a colonial environment showed a tremendous clout, resilience and courage.

Social and Cultural Organizations

Alice Bhagwandai Singh, born in Suriname and married to Dr. J. B. Singh, (a former President of the British Guiana East Indian Association – BGEIA) directed several plays directed several of the plays produced by the British Guiana Dramatic Society of which she was President. In June 1927, she founded the East Indian Ladies’ Guild which emerged about 10 years after the BGEIA and which functioned primarily in a social, cultural and religious capacity representing Indian concerns. As President of the Ladies’ Guild, she and other women organized and promoted cultural events. In April 1929, they produced the play 'Savitri' based taken from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Her husband, Dr. J.B. Singh played Satyavan and Miss I. Beharry Lall played Savitri.

Later in 1936, Alice moved towards a greater role in terms of reaching out to the poor. She founded the Balak Sahaita-Mandalee, a voluntary child-welfare society, which belatedly recognized by the Indian middle-class for its work addressing the “desperate poverty on the estates.” It was a time when few Indian women would have been accepted in the public and in contrast to many women in the country-side, most women in the middle class and in Georgetown were supported by their husbands and othe male associates to participate in organizations.

History has not justly recorded many leading women in the countryside who were already active in their communities. Many of them were the backbone of Indian cultural retention by their everyday life in arranging religious ceremonies, such as jhandis, preparation of food, organizing weddings, singing bhajans and many other activities. Although one can point to organizations in Georgetown where the middle class and elite helped to keep a momentum of Indian national consciousness, it was really the Indian women in the villages who carried on the cultural traditions of their ancestors. Jeremy Poynting states that Alice Singh and her colleagues acted in a “self-liberating way what they thought was the best of Western culture, linked always to a strong sense of pride in their distinct cultural identity.” In this context it appears the westernization of Indian cultural identity was to appease the Anglo-Saxon taste, and as this did not spread nationally.

One daring young girl left her foster home at Aurora Village, Essequibo, at age 13 and traveled to Georgetown with the hope of staying with her aunt. By dint of fate she began a singing career and later acting in the 1930’s. She performed throughout Guyana, in Suriname, Trinidad and Venezuela, and became the “Indian version of the famed Madame O’Lindy”. Her name is Pita Pyaree, now 86 years old. (Story in Guyana Chronicle 01/21/2002)

During the indenture period, while women worked primarily on the sugar plantations and generally looked after the domestic affairs, including arranging their children’s marriages, they actively participated in religious practices and cultural celebrations such as Diwali, Kali Mai Puja, Eid and Rama Navami, which became very popular after the end of indenture.

Indians resisted colonial oppression and were allowed to maintain their ancestral religious practices through the establishment of Hindu Mandirs and Muslim Mosques – with 2 Hindu Temples in 1870 and progressing to 50 Mosques and 52 Temples in the 1920s.

Although Indian women were part of Guyana’s Indian cultural celebrations, either through the temple, at home or in the villages, celebrating Indian festivals, they did not participate in political affairs as they were still immersed in a life deeply rooted in traditional Indian (albeit predominantly Hindu) culture. Unlike African educated women who were nurtured by Christianity in bringing them into organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Presbyterian Berbice Girls High School, Indian women did not benefit from their Hindu and Muslim religious organizations in this regard, but, given the patriarchal culture, they contributed their time to help their husbands or other men to lead religious organizations. They mostly fulfilled the roles of ‘wives’ of religious and community leaders, which restricted them to meal preparation, childcare and home responsibilities, and also worked in the fields, the market and other ‘servant’ jobs in the estate managers’ homes.

Today even though many Indian women are now educated and have moved up in the social, political and religious organizations, they are still marginalized. In some cases, many educated Indian women who are capable of becoming leaders continue to be restricted. While it can be argued that, in earlier times, many women suffered from a form of subservience which was reinforced by religious patriarchal indoctrination and other social demarcations, one can recognize that there is still a long road ahead for women to access higher leadership in such areas are unions and politics.

The fact that very few Indian women have emerged in the Caribbean in the literary and artistic field is not surprising. Perhaps this is attributed to their oppression socially, culturally and politically.

Some Guyanese Indian women have contributed to poetry and journalistic writings, but very few, if any, have produced a novel. Unlike Trinidad and Tobago with Shani Mootoo, Laxshmi Persaud and Ramabai Espinet, Indian women of Guyana have not been provided with the freedom and opportunity to develop their literary talents. No organization was established to help the wider population explore their talent that will be recognized nationally.

Although Jeremy Poynting states, “several male Indo-Caribbean writers are enabled to write full-time because they are supported by their wives, but there are not, one suspects many males who look after their children to give their wives the same opportunity,” it is likely that the oppressive environment contributed to the ‘silence’ of many Indian women.

In relatively recent times few women writers emerged, notably Rajkumari Singh and Mahadai Das whose poetry reflects themes of pain, oppression and gender assertion. Rajkurmari Singh, a one-time Indian radio announcer at the Demerara Radio Station, wrote the play Jitangali and published A Garland of Stories in 1960. She was instrumental in staging plays at the Theatre Guild. With her mother, Alice Singh, and her father, Dr. J.B. Singh, who were among other leading advocates of promoting Indian culture in the 1920s and who were part of the Indian upper middle class (Hindu and Muslims), religious and cultural institutions to help Indians retain their ancestral heritage, Rajkumari Singh was greatly influenced in the arts. Like her mother, she pursued the arts and probably became the first Indian woman in Guyana to explore local talents. From the early 1970s, she contributed to the cultural life of Guyana, as a radio announcer of Indian program, a poet, dramatist and editor of a literary booklet Heritage. In the Messenger Group she mentored younger artists, stage performers, writers and poets, such as Gora Singh, Mahadai Das, Rooplall Monar and others during the early 70s. Many of them would gather at Rajkumari Singh's home for guidance and inspiration, holding long discussions. Both Rajkumari Singh and Mahadai Das were amongst the first published Indian women poets of Guyana.

It appears that their entry into the oppressive and exploitative Guyana National Service (GNS) in the early 70s led to the stagnation of their talent in Guyana. While a student at the University of Guyana, Mahadai Das joined the GNS. She subsequently studied in the US but due to illness had to return to Guyana. Unfortunately, her creative talent was completely obstructed as her illness took a great toll in her life for many years. Although Mahadai Das’ poems were published in England, her books were hardly honored in Guyana. Her books, I want to be a Poetess of my People (1976), My Finer Steel will Grow (1982) and Bones (1988) are still unknown to many in the Caribbean literary circle. In later years, Laxhmi Kallicharan, a leading figure in the reconstruction and preservation of Indian heritage, wrote poetry, and acted as a public voice for women’s identity, and helped organize for the Indian Arrival historical site. She helped edited They came in ships, an anthology of Indo-Guyanese writing.

The PNC and the PPP regimes have not satisfied the public with the investigative findings and, to this day, little is known about the details of this tragedy. While one may be wary of Rajkumari Singh’s acceptance of the position as Coordinator of Culture in the PNC government sponsored Guyana National Service (GNS) institution, it is believed that she had strongly pushed for Indian cultural heritage to be promoted within GNS. However, it seemed that the PNC regime did not give much support to Indian consciousness. Undoubtedly, her struggles must have endured many trials. Rajkumari Singh was an activist and became involved in the PPP in the 1960s and was appointed to the Commission that investigated the Wismar brutality against Indians, particularly girls and women. The PNC not the PPP regimes have not satisfied the public with the investigative findings and, to this day, little is known about the details of this tragedy.

Many people have criticized, ridiculed, labeled and scandalized Rajkumari Singh’s efforts in Guyana’s cultural formation in GNS, particularly Indians who felt she betrayed them by working with the PNC. They view her role not as an act to promote Indian culture, but to support the PNC regime which did not support Indian culture. With the dissolution of the GNS, there was no preservation of Indian culture and no legacy of efforts at GNS. But this does not discount Rajkumari Singh’s efforts, particularly since she attempted to use this opportunity to ensure that Indian culture was included in Guyana’s cultural identity. For a woman who was stricken by polio at age 5, Rajkumari Singh worked tirelessly to bring Indian cultural heritage to the fore and as such, her role in Guyana’s Indian cultural heritage retention should be remembered. However, although very few authors have emerged in poetry and plays, none has published a novel of experience and survival of Indian women of Guyana during the periods of post-indenture and post-independence. It was only until recently, scholars have produced some work. Professor, artist and writer, Arnold Itwaru examined the Indian woman’s strength and resistance in her plantation world in his novel, Shanti. Sasenarine Persaud’s Dear Death touches upon a mother’s relationship with her son and in recent times, and refreshingly, Professor Moses Seenarine has written extensively and produced a doctoral thesis on the indentured woman’s experience in Guyana. His comprehensive research and scholarly work invites new insights into the Indo-Guyanese female experience.

Although a number of Indian women in the rural areas might have had limited education or were even uneducated at the time, they knew their cultural activities and values to heart. Yet, the middle class who were predominantly in the city core did not fully reach out to the working class Indians and this may be due to the ‘class’ consciousness imposed by the European colonial influence. However, the middle class Indians were instrumental in maintaining some cultural awareness through the establishment or Indian cultural organizations, including the establishment of the Maha Sabha.

Indo-Caribbean women’s writing is still sparse. Guyanese Indian women writers are few and have emerged at a slow pace. As Ramabai Espinet states, “the silence of the Indo-Caribbean woman needs much fuller investigation.” Further, much more investigation is need in the areas of Indian women as professionals – teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, technologists, professors, civil servants.

Indian Cultural Retention
The British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA) was instrumental in promoting Indian culture. Its elected all-male representation was common of the times. It served to bring Indian women into a public forum through the production of plays and other cultural activities.

Yet, by 1967, the powerful and European-oriented National History and Arts Council began to omit Indian culture from the national identity. They sought only to promote Indian culture through frivolous depictions of having young Indian girls dancing with sexual gyrations. By 1969, Indian artists in general either went underground or left the country. Musicians such as Sonny Deen, Ramdhanie, Tilak, Latiff, Sumiran, Gobin Ram, Ramakrishna and many others were easily forgotten.

In the 1960's during the Indian Immigration Celebrations in Guyana, Cheddi Jagan and the PPP were accused of showing no interest in Indian cultural awareness in spite of its annual commemoration, but many did not realize that Cheddi Jagan was fighting against a class-conscious British colonial order as well as fighting against Burnham’s PNC African consciousness movement. He did not want to create a segregationist objective and, in his push for unity of all, there were misunderstandings that he did not demonstrate an ‘Indian’ consciousness. Yet, he was one of the few bold Indians who courageously “fought almost single-handedly against the oppression of the working poor, the majority of whom were Indians, in the local legislature against foreign rule.” Although he formed the PPP political party in the early 1950 together with a few others, and became the leader, during this period, very few Indian women were in any position of public recognition. However, Indian women joined the later formed the Women Progressive Organization (WPO), an arm of the PPP which was led by Janet Jagan and included Winifred Gaskin and Frances Stafford61 to address women’s concerns. However, there were no Indian women in their circle. Indian women did not emerge in leadership role in a political party, as they were culturally and socially groomed to fulfill a gender constructed role. Women in Georgetown or those among the upper-middle class were homemakers or businessmen’s wives and did not participate in political activities, but maintained business relations in social circles.

Although the PPP was elected in 1953 and 1961, they were robbed in 1964 by a US-UK influence and the PNC formed the Government.62 Out of being left on the sidelines, some Indians joined the PNC in the late 70s and 80’s, as well as the Working People’s Allisance (WPA). There are allegations by people who speak quietly that Indians girls were raped in National Service but there have been no investigation or report of disclosure. In spite of the participation of women in National Service, and the military training they received, none emerged in political activism. It is only fitting to observe that both Black and Indian women suffered in what many note was a very bad decision by the PNC regime.

Many Indians opposed the PNC’s introduction of the compulsory Guyana National Service in 1973. When the lists for compulsory induction were published at the University of Guyana they contained “53 Indo-Guyanese of the 63 persons listed, and that of the 25 women listed, 90% were Indian. This meant only one thing to the majority of Indians. Many Indian girls were reported to have dropped their university applications.”

National Representation
In exploring the area of national representation, while Indians were marginalized during indentureship, Indian women were not seen in public organizations advancing the cause of independence in the 1950s. Even among the middle class, they were still functioning as wives or political agitators or were restricted to religious and social responsibilities. Thus when the International Commission of Jurists investigated racial imbalances in the public services they found Indians seriously under-represented. The report recorded, but did not comment on, the even more dramatic under-representation of Indian women. For instance, “at a time when Indians were 50% of the population, in 1965, Indian women comprised only 2.85% of all employees and only 13.5% of female employees on the staffs of all the Government ministries.” Further, during the PNC era up to 1992, Indian women rarely held Government positions unless they carried a PNC card. While a few were actively involved in the trade union movement, a few others were politically active.

The formation of trade unions and political organizers became a forum for women to advocate for issues of concerns, as in the 1930s to early 1940s with the formation of the Manpower Citizens’ Association. Nelly Sudeen, its first Indian female and co-founder who came from a very poor family, was never married and had no children. As a political leader across the country, she represented the MPCA and spoke out against Indian men sending their women folk to work in the fields and against child labor (10 to 12 years of age) on sugar plantations. Sudeen and many other East Indian women who were against “upper caste/class, patriarchal and racial constructions of Indian political discourse, were purged from Indian political, religious, cultural, and even women’s organizations.” After she exposed the corruption of the MPCA, its patriarchal leadership shut her out of office and after retiring around 1944, she never re-entered politics. The MPCA aligned itself with the plantation owners and lost the support of Indian workers. Other Indian women in the early 60s, such as Sandra Butchey, Amina Sankar and Shirin Edun became highly trained in England, the latter two were the first Indian women lawyers, and held top professional positions, yet little or nothing is recorded of their place in Guyana’s history for the progress of women, particularly Indo-Guyanese women.

During the PNC era, Indian women have been invisible in political life, and very few occupy important positions in the Government. Although Jean Maitland Singh was a senior member in Viola Burnham’s Young Socialist Movement, it was not a recognized position of any value and it can be construed that this may have been a token ‘Indian’ presence in the PNC fold, as her husband worked in the Ministry of National Development and reported to Ptolemy Reid and Forbes Burnham. Still, very little is written or known of her contribution in the PNC political movement. Further, a few Indian women whose families had joined the PNC also held positions. Some of these women included Sattie Jaishree Singh, Latchmee Narayan, Rabbia Alli Khan and Amna Alli, (currently active), but still very little is known about them.

It was not until 1992, with the return of the democratically elected PPP regime and the ousting of the PNC, that Indians (though in small numbers) were recognized in public life. One of the first Indian women, Indra Chanderpal, made it to a Ministerial position, and recently Bibi Shadeek as Minister of Human Services, Social Security and Labour. The fact that the PNC regime dominated the Public Service with Afro-Guyanese, even with the return of the PPP, Indians are still underrepresented in the Public Administration. During the 28 years of PNC dictatorship, Indians were subjected to racial and cultural discrimination and exclusion from national life. However, in recent years, women’s issues with respect to access to public life participation have been addressed through committees’ presentation on discrimination against women. Now that Indian women are beginning to participate in social and cultural formations, they are still absent in the political stage to effect change and progress.

However, it is recognized that many Indians have immigrated to places such as England, Canada and the U.S. and this paper is not extended to capture the development of Indian women who have left the shores of Guyana and found other freedoms in the diaspora. Further, while this essay offers room for ongoing examination of the development of Indian women of Guyana, it provides some insights into their experiences – from the women who courageously traveled across the treacherous ocean (the kala pani) to Guyana as laborers on sugar plantations to those striving for higher education and participation in national life. They formed roots in another land, raised their children under harsh colonial conditions and post independence turmoil, and made sacrifices to give their children a better education. Their daughters continue to face many challenges where their womanhood is still under scrutiny.

Birbalsingh, F. (Ed.), From Pillar to Post. The Indo-Caribbean Diaspora. TSAR, 1997.
Espinet, R. Representation and the Indo-Caribbean Woman in Trinidad and Tobago, Indo-Caribbean Resistance.
Espinet, R. A Sense of Constant Dialogue, Writing, Woman and Indo-Caribbean Culture. The Other Woman. Ed. Makeda Silvera. Ramabai Talks to Elaine Savory. Toronto: Sister Vision, 1994.
Jagan, C. The West on Trial, The Fight for Guyana’s Freedom. Michael Joseph Ltd., London, 1966.
Mangru, B. Benevolent Neutrality: Indian Government Policy and Labour Migration to British Guiana 1854-1884. London: Hansib Publications Limited. 1987.
Mangru, B. "The Sex Ratio Disparity and its Consequences Under the Indenture in British Guiana," in David Dabydeen and Brinsley Samaroo (eds.), India in the Caribbean, London: Hansib Publications Limited. 1987.
Mangru, B. Indenture and Abolition. Sacrifice and Survival on the Guyanese Sugar Plantations. Toronto: TSAR Publications, 1993.
Mangru, B. Indians in Guyana. A concise history from their arrival to the present. Adams Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1999.
Mohammed, P. From Myth to Symbolism: the Construction of Indian Femininity and Masculinity in Post-Indentured Trinidad. Matikor. (Prototext)
Moore, B.L. Cultural Power, Resistance and Pluralism, Colonial Guyana, 1838-1900. McGill Queen’s University Press, 1995.
Poynting, J. "East Indian Women in the Caribbean: Experience and Voice," in David Dabydeen and Brinsley Samaroo (eds.), India in the Caribbean. London: Hansib Publications Limited. 1987.
Reddock, R. “Freedom Denied: Indian Women and Indentureship in Trinidad & Tobago: 1898-1960.” Economic and Political Weekly: Review of Women’s Studies, 20, no. 43. (1984)
Roopnarine, L. East Indian Women and Labor in Guyana. http://www.saxakali.com/indocarib/lroopnarine.htm
Ruhomon, P. History of the East Indians of British Guiana 1838-1938. Government House, Georgetown, Demerara, British Guiana, October 1946. Reprinted by the East Indian 150th Anniversary committee, Georgetown Guyana. April, 1998.
Seecharan, C. India and the Shaping of the Indo-Guyanese Imagination 1890-1920. University of Warwick. England: Peepal Tree Press. 1993.
Seenarine, M. Indentured Indian Women in Colonial Guyana: Recruitment, Migration, Labor and Caste.
Tinker H. A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920. Oxford University Press 1974. Reprinted by Hansib Publishing Limited, 1993.

Additional Sources:
Chelema, Naidu. Indian woman of Guyana, 80 years of age, living in Canada. Toronto. December, 2002.
Girdhari, Gary. New York, 2004
Rayman, Evelyn. Toronto. April, 2003
Tiwari, Rampersaud. Toronto. April, 2003

Editor’s note:
This paper does not cover contemporary Indian women. This is only because of the limited available information. Many are excelling in the Arts and Culture, Science and Medicine, Law, Academe, Literature and other areas. Further, the Guyanese diaspora is far and wide, and empirical studies will have to elaborate this.



The infamous Indian barracks


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Angelo Bissessarsingh

A typical set of barracks on a Naparima estate circa 1910.

When Indian indentured labour began arriving in the British colony of Trinidad in 1845, certain provisions had to be made for accommodating the newcomers. Aside from a food ration for the first two years of the five-year contracts, medical attention from a physician and housing were mandatory.


The latter was the source of much contention, since it consisted of the infamous barracks—long ranges of single rooms, barely separated from each other and lacking even the most basic amenities. Robert Guppy a 19th-century lawyer and a man of noble character, described the barrack system of housing to a Royal Commission in 1888:


“As first in the list of evils which afflict the Colony, I look upon the system of housing the Indian immigrants in barracks….The barrack is a long wooden building, 11 or 12 feet wide containing perhaps eight or ten small rooms divided from each other by wooden partitions not reaching the roof. By standing on a box the occupant of one room can look over the partition into the other one and can see their boys and girls if they have children. All the noises and talking and smells pass through the open space from one end of the barrack to the other. There are no places for cooking, no latrines. The men, and women, boys and girls go together in the canes or bush when nature requires. Comfort, privacy and decency are impossible.”


This was no exaggeration, since the claustrophobic environment of the barracks made life tense and dismal for many immigrants. Sadly, due to these conditions and the fact that numerically, men exceeded women by a significant ratio, adultery and resulting wife-murders were common, as Guppy also indicated: “If a man is sick, he is not allowed to be nursed by his wife, he must perforce go to the hospital far away, leaving his wife perhaps without the means of subsistence to her own devices. With all this, can anyone wonder at the frequent wife-murders and general demoralisation amongst the Indian immigrants?”


The only escape was for a family to save its pittance earned from toil, purchase a bit of land elsewhere and move into a mud hut of its own. Some barracks, however, like those at Orange Grove, were a little better, having washing facilities as well as a many acres of provision grounds where labourers grew rice and vegetables for consumption and sale. When Presbyterian missionaries began establishing schools for the children of the immigrants in the period 1870-1920, those who lived in the barracks were looked down upon as “bong (bound) coolie chirren”.


The psychological and sociological impact of barrack life was immense. It is one of the harrowing experiences of the diaspora which never really disappeared, since barrack-dwellers were common well into the 1980s in some of the sugar-belt areas. Even today, there are still estate barracks in places like La Romaine which have been converted into decent dwellings.



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