The modernization of the East Indian Guyanese – By Freddie Kissoon

The modernization of the East Indian Guyanese

Today marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Indian indentured immigrants. It comes at a time when the majority of sugar workers will be facing a bleak future. One is emotionally lacerated at this tragedy. But let us be honest, sugar is a king that once dominated the land but its time has passed.

I was walking next to Khemraj Narine, the vice chairman of the university’s workers, in the May Day rally and I told him if we are going out of sugar, let us give the vast lands that the sugar canes once stood on to sugar workers. This country is very poor. It has endured 60 years of economic and political stagnation but one of the great human features that makes this country stand out against all others in the world is its genetically driven resilience.   

A majority of nations around the world would have regressed into Hobbesian madness if it had to face the long flame of economic and political fire that has extinguished the sun in this land. But not Guyana.

I don’t believe we have achieved any greatness as a nation except that phenomenal resilience. Sugar may have died but you give those fields to our former sugar workers, you will see that unleashed spirit of perseverance. This is what Guyanese have been good at. I don’t think for a moment that there would be economic stagnation if we share out untold acres to former sugar workers. Those hard-working souls will turn those lands into fields of gold.

Tacuma Ogunseye told me that the PPP is peddling a myth that thousands of workers will be unemployed with the miniaturization of the sugar industry. I don’t know if he is correct. I did tell him if that is not so then the government has to counter that cheap propaganda by the PPP. I believe strongly that if we are closing sugar estates and those lands will be left unattended then unemployed sugar workers must be given these assets.

As we are talking about lands, I am an inflexible supporter of any commission to look into the delivery of African ancestral lands. This country is so large that it is idiotic to juxtapose land right claims of East Indians, Africans and Amerindians. But people are doing it and all it does is culturally deform us as a people in deeper ways and it sociologically caricatures our collective mind.

After nearly two hundred years of occupation of Guyana, the ontology of Guyanese East Indians torments my psyche. I simply do not understand this ontology. I have seen and met Indians all over this world and they seem a less racially oriented people than the Guyanese Indians. I know of countless cases of Guyanese Indians in New York who did not want Barack Obama to be elected. This was unthinkable among Indians in the US from Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad etc.

What is wrong with an Indian Guyanese that can live in a post-modern city like New York yet retain an old psychology that they grew up with in the era of Burnham versus Jagan? And it is frightening to note that this mental anachronism can be found in Guyanese Indians who hold professorship in universities around the world. The list includes professionals in every conceivable area of knowledge.

If I have met ten Indian greeters since the APNU+AFC came into being then nine of them do not want the Coalition Government to remain in office. I will ask my readers to forgive my little expression of chauvinism – I meet this type every passing day. I mean each day. If I meet ten African Guyanese who discuss the Coalition Government with me, five would be for and five against. This was not what I found among Indians when the PPP was ruling.

How does one explain this peculiar attitude of the Guyanese Indian mind? It is a very inscrutable dilemma. You can literally count on your fingers the Guyanese Indians who can do a plausible, scholarly explanation of it. For the moment I can think of perhaps only two persons whose analysis would be deadly accurate.

There is Moses Bhagwan, formerly of the WPA who lives in New York. I have a deep appreciation for the keenness of Moses’s mind. The other is Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine. I end with the optimism that as rural Indians become more attached to modernized values, mores and institutions, they will leave old psychic graveyards behind. It has to happen.

Despite this strange frame of mind, Guyana is a better place because of the arrival of the Indian people who have made invaluable and priceless contributions to this territory.

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  • Tulsie T Das  On May 5, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    The Honourable Freddie Kissoon is living in dreamland, handing over the Land to the sugar workers is tantamount to blasphemy, the V A T that was passed in Parliament is the Law, that in itself will literally kill any hope of them surviving let alone be prosperous your commentary is null & void.

  • detow  On May 5, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Tulsie T Das you have chosen to comment of Kissoon’s suggestion of vacant sugar estate lands being handed over to laid off sugar workers but have astutely avoided the question of the Guyanese Indian psyche. How do you explain the fact that India has moved ahead of the time of indentureship but the Guyanese Indians have steadfastly remained in those dark ages. It is time for them to realize that they are not the here all and end all of everything and best of the rest, but are just equally insignificant beings on this small sphere called earth.

    • Tata  On July 11, 2017 at 10:21 pm

      Detow! You’ve “hit the hammer on the head”. I’ve worked with some Indian nationals who don’t see their gene pool in the likeness of any Guyanese.
      –Sadly, We have “a class” of people, living in a FOOLS PARADISE and just cannot get over the fact that they are Guyanese. Guyana has given them a life-India never gave their foreparents.
      –That SLAVE SHIP did not bring India’a finest, History has taught us that no PANDIT came onboard that ship, but with surety, “The Untouchables” made their way to Guyana to seek a better life for themselves and those after.
      –On the other hand, we have a generation of UNGRATEFUL Bastards who have not learned from their past.
      —Everyone’s fore-parents except the NATIVE INDIANS came from somewhere else and have embraced the land that BIRTHED them – except the Guyanese “East Indian”.
      —You know, your forefathers came on a 5 year contract, so why don’t you’all renegotiate the contract with the Indian Government and head on back to where you believe you belong.
      –This my land, the one that GAVE birth to me.

  • Zarena Zena Ali  On May 6, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Is this what you think of Indo-Guyanese….sad situation!

  • demerwater  On May 7, 2017 at 5:34 am

    What motivates a person to lead a 3-ship journey from Spain into the unknown?
    What motivates a group of persons to embark on a journey across the Atlantic in a sailboat named “Mayflower”
    What motivates a group of people to leave the relative comfort and security of their motherland for the dream of a better life across the oceans? To become, at best, indentured, third class, ‘citizens’!
    I believe that one’s DNA has a lot to do with that kind of decision making. My earliest experience of emigration from B.G. was in 1951. My uncle, a very proficient “Tailor & Cutter” left for London. He did acquire an enviable reputation for hand stitching – a skill in high demand on Saville Row in those days. He could not achieve that kind of reputation in B.G. The exodus continued into my generation; and the destination also changed – to places like Canada, USA and Australia.
    If I follow up my proposition about the role of DNA in this motivation to pursue a “better life”, then I have to conclude that the particular gene pool for this motivation will dwindle in time.
    What will remain is a population that will lack this ‘spirit’ – for want of a better term.
    Has this happened in Guyana?
    I am too out of touch with the present population in the country to form a considered opinion; but from the little I read and hear, I am tending to believe that it is so.
    I was once told, in no uncertain terms that, ” … anybody who is making it in Guyana, relies heavily on the generosity of relatives abroad”. I am unsure about the volume of “barrel” consignments to Guyana nowadays; but it used to be brisk.
    Then there is the suicide rate; and crime rate.
    I am repulsed by the barbaric treatment meted out to women by some men; by the high number of traffic deaths. I can easily believe that alcohol consumption – even alcoholism – is the ‘connective tissue’ here.
    All these negative behaviors were there for as long as I can remember.
    It is the intensifying of each that makes me want to give up hope for the fate of the country.
    And yet, that gene pool that landed on the 5th. May 1838; that gave us the Luckhoo’s, the Ramsahoye’s, the Jagan’s, Toolsie Persaud etc.
    Has it mutated?
    Overpowered by other ‘dominant’ genes?
    Or merely emigrated?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On May 8, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    Kissoon laments:
    “…the ontology of Guyanese East Indians torments my psyche. I simply do not understand this ontology. I have seen and met Indians all over this world and they seem a less racially oriented people than the Guyanese Indians. I know of countless cases of Guyanese Indians in New York who did not want Barack Obama to be elected. This was unthinkable among Indians in the US from Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad etc.”

    Kissoon, as a UG lecturer, unfortunately shows his chronic bankrupt intellect. Assuming he is truthful, if Guyanese Indians are different from Indians in the wider diaspora – ‘more racially oriented’ – doesn’t he realize that he is close to the solution? That all he has to do is to simply look at what is different about the situations that the Indo-Guyanese endured in Guyana? But it is reveals that Kissoon needs to detoxify his intellect (as dieters detoxify their digestive systems of poisons) so to move to the next logical step. Kissoon, as well as David Hinds, operate in mental ghettos about ‘racially oriented’ and ‘ethnically deliberate’ Guyanese Indians. These two university teachers need a program to detoxify their intellects otherwise they would continue to wallow in their poisonous fixations about Indo-Guyanese racism.

    As I wrote when commenting on Prof David Hinds “ethnic trap” by the PPP and accusing Indo-Guyanese of being ‘ethnically deliberate’ the following are also applicable to Freddie Kissoon’s failed search about the “ontology of Guyanese East Indians”:

    • A significant fact that is forgotten by those old enough to know and unknown to the young is that May 26 is not only the commemoration of Guyana Indepenence Day but it also commemorates the ethnic cleansing of Indian Guyanese from Wismar, May 24-26, 1964; and by the choice of that date at the independence conference Mr Burnham/PNC were sending a clear warning to Indians not to step out of line.
    • Secondly, when a few years ago Indian women were stripped and or had their hair cut-off in the market places and other places along the East Coast Demerara, those were clearly not “simplistic attitude to race and ethnicity” as Prof Hinds.

    Additionally, a couple other reasons for anxieties and a significant atrocity:
    • Indians were subjected to ‘kick down the door bandits’ in the countryside. When I visited my father would lock all doors/windows and reinforce with greenheart or iron bars as soon as dusk fell, leaving all sweltering in the heat.
    • Indians in Annandale/Lusignan had to erect barriers between their communities and Buxton.
    • Then there was the horrific 2:00 am massacre of eleven (11) sleeping poor Indians, including children and mothers in 2008.

    This pernicious victimisation of Indians which Kissoon and Hinds seem methodically blind to, go all the way back to the very inception of indentureship, about which I will reveal details in my upcoming book later in the year, when I challenge Prof. Clem Seecharan’s biased “revisionist” narrative about indentured Indians (in his 2014 speech re El Dorado Complex…).

    Veda Nath Mohabir

    • Ron Saywack  On May 9, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Well stated!

      It appears that Kissoon suffers from a case of selective memory loss. It is noted that he can recall the anniversary of the arrival of the first ships of Indians at Georgetown from the Port of Calcutta (179 years ago). But, in order to bolster his fatuous argument about the Guyanese Indians, he conveniently chooses to forget the egregious, heinous atrocities committed against those very same Indians in 1964 and beyond.

      All informed, judicious Guyanese should, from this day forward, demand that Independence Day be changed from May 26 to one that is acceptable to all citizens. Blood-stained May 26 is a day that shall forever live in pain and infamy.

      If Kissoon hopes to gain a modicum of respect as a historian, he can start by calling out Burnham for his evil, sinister decision to choose one of the ugliest dates in Guyana’s history to celebrate its severance from colonialism.

    • Tat  On July 11, 2017 at 10:51 pm

      Kisson is an intellectual and a historian- if you clear the FOG that has permeated your psyche for This long, then you will not be a prisoner of your manufactured reality.
      —Here’s something for you read to–by the great Greek philosopher, PLATO- who compares “the effect of education and the lack of IT in our nature”

      “Allegory of the Cave” — —–this should be an “Eye Opener” if you get it.!

      I hope this is not your reality?

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On May 9, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    An important issue to clear up is that the Indo-Guys whom Kissoon claimed to have talked to who didn’t want Obama as Pres doesn’t automatically mean that they were racist. In fact, voting for Obama because he was ‘black’ would have been racist. The Indo-Guys were simply exercising their democratic right to choose – something lacking in Guyana since 1968; even current Guyana where it took days to get last Election results, with claims that different printed forms were used, etc. Then there is/was the Official worksheet that does NOT tally vertically and horizontally.

    I myself approved of Obama 51% vs Clinton 49%, at the last moment.
    Reason? I, like Maya Angelou, wanted a woman as pres. Women were/are too long oppressed by virtually all societies. Yet, in last election, I did NOT want Hillary after I found out that she was anti-India, pro-Pak and even had a personal Asst who was Pak.; as well the UnderSect’y for Asian affairs was also anti India.
    At least, since early 90’s, Pres Clinton and Joe Biden et al. undermined India.

    I left Guyana in 1969 even though I had a very important job at the Treasury as the Supr/Mgr of the IBM data-processing system (for all government accounts). As well, I was a regular performer at the Theatre Guild (last two shows in Hamlet (with international cast) as Laertes and in Slade Hopkinson’s Spawning of Eels); along with participation in a radio plays, commercials and GIS programs. I left because I would have been harmed – I felt, as I knew too much. When I took over the position, my Asst, Wilmot Wright immediately approached me to share my promotion pay. Then, when I took staff out for a drink (at El Globo) he boldly told me he would get my job. Reason: Soon after I took over he got seconded (at midday, immediately – order signed by by Home Affairs Minister, Llewellyn John, was sitting on my desk when I returned from lunch) to the Elections Commission to run the data processing section there (the 1968 election was the first fudged results under Burnham). So because of his yoeman service to the PNC gov’t he was promised my position.
    That weekend I decided to leave Guyana!

    Re May 26 Independence Day: I wrote a letter to editor (Indo Carribean World) over twenty years ago recommending that a law be promulgated to change the date, or at a minimum, celebrate independence on a different day (as the Queen does for her BDay).
    Veda Nath Mohabir

    • Ron Saywack  On May 10, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      “I left Guyana in 1969 even though I had a very important job…”

      Thanks for sharing your rather poignant story, Veda. There’s a sense of melancholy, of loss in it all. Yet, that scenario has continued to play out every day for nearly a half century later.

      The seemingly permanent loss of talents and intellects is immeasurable. Guyana, needless to say, is the poorer for it. At the moment, an estimated 1.2 million Guyanese now reside abroad compared to 740,000 at home. I cannot think of another nation where this tragic, disproportionate level of emigration is occurring. Syria comes to mind, but not even close.

      Let’s hope that Guyana, a land that holds so much potential and promise, can attract its sons and daughters back home; and become a beacon to the world, where it would be talked about in the same manner as a Hawaii or a Macau or a Mykonos or something of that sort.

      Keep up your great contributions and insights to the site and good luck with the book.


  • hinduindianvoice  On May 10, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I take an opposite view from Freddie Kissoon on two areas, giving the sugar cane lands to the former sugar cane workers presumably for farming, and blasting the Indians for their racism.

    Firstly, giving the sugar estate lands to sugar workers and cane farmers sounds like a wonderful idea, but we tried that in Trinidad and it was a horrendous failure. Why? Just giving land to people without adequate drainage and irrigation, access roads, availability of marketing, and most important capital to start vegetable/animal farming is a joke. Such farming needs infrastructure and funding, seeds and fertilizer, machinery and paid labour, which we all know the present government in Guyana does not have and cannot supply.
    Secondly, where are the farmers who will take up this wonderful offer of land? The experienced veteran farmers of the previous generation are nearly all dead, very old, or have migrated to greener pastures in Queen’s and Toronto! Younger Guyanese Indians, the children of those farmers, want little to do with farming, on the advice of their parents who faced heavy punishment since the Burnham era. In Trinidad, little or no farming has resulted from giving out the Caroni lands to sugar workers for the reasons cited above. Besides, there is the question of whether the heavy clay soils that were good for sugar cane are suitable for vegetable and market gardening, rice cultivation, and animal farming. Freddie should check on that!

    As to blaming Guyana Indians for their racism whether in Guyana, USA or elsewhere, I ask what is the point of all this nonsense? Guyana Indians are not listening to Freddie Kissoon or any other detractor. They are mostly gone from Guyana, the brightest and best and most educated and entrepreneurial of the Indians are long gone. Guyana Indians living in Guyana today are just 295,300, or 39.8% of 741,962 total Guyanese (Wikipedia 2015 figures). And how many Guyanese Indians in the diaspora? About 800,000 by my count! Let’s see, around 160,000 of the estimated 225,000 in Canada, and about 60% of the estimated 450,000 Guyanese in the USA (we usually estimate twice the Canada figures). That would be 270,000 Guyanese Indians, immigrants, children and grandchildren in the USA. In the UK I give a low figure of 50,000.

    The current Guyana ambassador to Venezuela Ms Cheryl Miles has said there are 250,000 Guyanese in Venezuela (Indo Caribbean World April 19, 2017). How many Indians? I would say probably 175,000. How many in Suriname? The black joshuaproject web site says 72,000 Afro Guyanese in Suriname, and I don’t think I am out of line to suggest at least that amount 72,000 Guyanese Indians in Suriname. I have heard an estimate of 100,000 Guyanese in Trinidad, most of them Indians, let’s say 75,000. That’s 752,000 already and I haven’t even counted Brazil, Mexico, the European Union except Beitain which could bring up the 48,000 to make it 800,000 Guyanese Indians out of Guyana. Anybody care to dispute my figures?

    My point is that cussing out Guyanese Indians for their sins of racism or whatever, is useless and unproductive. It’s not flogging a dead horse, it’s trying to flog an absent horse that has bolted the stable!

    Guyanese Indians have largely voted with their feet 8-3 on their future prospects in Guyana. Those who remain in Guyana are mostly waiting for that visa to migrate away from the tender mercies of Freddie Kissoon and his PNC/AFC gang.

    I think Freddie is just like the kid in the movie who says, “I see dead people!” He sees Indians who are not dead but gone just the same, gone to Queen’s and Fort Lauderdale and Miami and Toronto and London and Paramaribo and Caracas, gone from his reach, never to return.

    Ram Jagessar

    • tata  On July 11, 2017 at 11:09 pm

      By Maya Angelou

  • detow  On May 10, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Zarena: No that is what I think of all Guyanese, you have all become so obsessed with your own ethnicity that you cannot see the trees for the forest. After 48 years of absence I returned to Guyana in 2011 with the thoughts of remigrating but after just two weeks I though it best to return to my home and forget about the land of my birth. It appears to me that Guyanese as a whole are so obsessed with their individual ethnic being that there is little hope that Guyana will ever evolve into a true nation. My wife who is a free thinking person and also a Guyanese of Indian descent, agrees with my point of view.

    Veda: I remember you from the days that I worked in Organization and Methods at the Public Buildings with Pat Farnum as the lead systems person. I was not aware of the circumstances under which you left Guyana but it appears that we suffered the same fate. I hope that all is well with you.

    Ron: If you were the Saywack who also worked at the Treasury Department then I know you as well. I hope that all is well with you.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On May 10, 2017 at 11:34 pm

    Detow (Nom De Plume, I’m sure). I remember Burke, Lewis and Rachel and another gentleman (forgot his name) in O&M. Farnum was Deputy Accountant Gen and then took over from Fraser as AG; later Dir of Audit. Did you know Harold Minnoo from Garnett St? That person I believe he had an Indian wife. Nevertheless, I am glad that someone can corroborate my story.

    There is more to the story of my decision to exit Guyana. Wilmot Wright revealed to me after the 1968 Xmas party for the Elections Comm staff (I was the only outsider invited) that he was pressured to by a certain high functionary in the PNC (was a civil servant) to pad the 1968 elections list. Wright was scared (got extremely fearful and paranoid) so he had to tell someone. He felt I would understand.
    He became so paranoid over what he was forced to do that on one earlier occasion when he visited the Treasury there was a ‘white woman’ statistician who would occasionally come over to me to get financial data from the accounting reports I would keep. It turned that this woman was the wife of the PNC functionary (who later became a CEO of a large corp). After she left, Wright was beside himself telling me the woman was there to spy on him. I knew who the woman was but pretended not to know to hear his story. Later after the Xmas party( at the CSA auditorium) he wanted us to have a private drink so he could tell me his problems. He said he was being watched so we went to El Globo (where he got even more scared because it was darker). We ended up another bar on Regent St. which was more lighted so he could speak.
    That was just two weeks before the 1968 Elections and I left Guyana six weeks later! I became more worried about my own safety; and would worry that a bottle bomb would be tossed at night in the home I was staying.
    Also, the Elections Comm was permitted to use my IBM machines in an evening shift. In the mornings there would regularly leave IBM punched cards behind. I would immediately call the Commissioner (forgot his name) to have them come an pick up the boxes of cards. I felt that that I was undergoing a test to see if I would sabotage the process. It is because of this up-front action that I viewed as trustworthy and helpful so that he invited me to the Xmas party.
    Wright wasn’t necessarily wrong about the spying. A friend who (earlier worked at the Treasury) went on a PNC scholarship. When he returned he would come to visit me and on a couple occasions he would whisper to me that such and such guy (in dark shades, lol!) was his bodyguard + spying on him.

    I don’t think Ron is the one who worked at the Treasury otherwise he too would remember me. Saywack was the first name of that guy (went off the Rice Board as accountant).
    Veda NM.

  • demerwater  On May 11, 2017 at 5:10 am

    “It’s not flogging a dead horse, it’s trying to flog an absent horse that has bolted the stable!”
    I agree. A matriarch of my grandparents’ generation may have coined this expression:- “Nah ghotay dah same dahl ova and ova!”.
    If you need someone to ‘translate’ that for you, look elsewhere.

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On May 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    “Nah ghotay dah same dahl ova and ova!”.( Translation: ‘Don’t “ghotay” the same boiled split peas over and over”). First, she is referring to the process of making Dhal/Dholl (with split peas). When the peas is partially cooked, esp if you didn’t add salt to raise the temp, the peas often need to be crushed. This crushing is called “ghotay” using a “Dhal Ghutney” (wooden swivel stick – with a rounded circular bottom). The back and forth swivel action with the stick handle between the palms to get a smooth Dhall is what she is referring to. In other words, your extra efforts would not produce any noticeable improvement.


    • detow  On May 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      Veda you remember well. The other persons in the O&M office were Johnson and for a short while Hugh Georgevwhovwent on to be secretary of one of the larger insurance companies in Georgetown. And yes, Harold Minoo was my buddy pal and yes, I did and still do have an Indian wife. I know that you have by now figured out who I am as we got together a few times in Toronto in the seventies. Let’s continue using my Nom De Plume. I left Toronto over thirty years ago and occasionally return as I have my brother and sister there, my daughter in Mississauga and my son in StCatherines. I will look you up in the telephone directory and call you when next we are in Toronto.

  • detow  On May 12, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    Some typos in my last post as I was using my cell phone when I initially replied. On the second line the reference to Hugh George should have read “Hugh George who went on to ……” and Harold’s surname should have been “Minnoo”.


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