I am very disturbed with the contempt shown for Indian intellectuals by Abu Bakr. I urge him to inculcate and show respect for those with whom he engages or seeks an intellectual discourse.
The media has made a one-sided affair by not publishing all the responses to his attacks on Indian advocates. In focusing on Indians who advocate “the Indian cause”, Bakr unwittingly gives them credit for their work unlike say the PPP that deliberately ignores the significant contributions made by these altruistic figures. However, Bakr misses the importance of their intellectual work as well as their (grass roots) activism in focusing on problems facing Indians. Indians don’t live in isolation; Indian problems are national and affect others as well. So when Indian intellectuals address issues affecting Indians, (except in some cases,) they are in all likelihood addressing national matters. They are interested in the welfare of the entire nation. There is no definition of an African intellectual. So why must there be one for Indians or for other ethnicities.
One may or may not be considered an intellectual by others. The honour is ascribed by others who hold regard for the person as being “bright” or has consistently laid out an argument based on logic and evidence; it is not a self-ascribed honour like what Freddie Kissoon gives himself; Freddie lacks the characteristic of an intellectual and he frequently misunderstands what he reads. I consider Bakr, David Hinds, Kwayana, etc as intellectuals. Generally speaking, an intellectual is someone who has distinguished himself or herself in some field(s) of endeavour (academic or otherwise) and/or has consistently propounded on public issues or national discourse as Tacuma Ogunseye has done.
The Indo-Guyanese Diaspora would not agree with Bakr’s description of eminent personalities who advocate for Indian interests as “self-defined intellectuals”. Indian intellectual thought emerged a few decades after indentureship. Peter Ruhoman, JB Singh, etc were some of the early intellects.
Dr Ramharack’s book “Centenary Celebration of the Arrival of Indians in Guyana” gave some glimpses of the work of earlier intellectuals.
Dr Jagan came later. But he did not celebrate his Indianness or focused on Indian issues. He focused politics of race, national unity, and development.
Vassan Ramracha, Baytoram Ramharack, Rhyaan Shah, Ravi Dev, Swami Aksharananda, Annan Boodram, Harry Hergash, etc are emerging as outstanding contemporary intellectuals who are held in increasingly higher esteem. They advocate and respond on behalf of Indians when none of their kind (not even those in the PPP) ever historically did so.
Bakr’s acidic response serves notice of the contempt Africans have of these intellectuals. At the grass-roots level, the ideas of these individuals are finding stronger resonance and people view them as more than intellectuals.
In the US, Canada, UK, Trinidad, and India, these names are highly respected for their writings, activism, advocacy, altruism, social thought, etc. Their views on various issues are highly sought after. They are invited as keynote speakers and presenters at various conferences, seminars, banquets, and other public functions. Their prominence and recognition as intellectuals are felt at Indian Diaspora conferences. They have been the vanguard speaking up (fighting on behalf) of Indians which the PPP and Indian groups failed to do when Indians were under attack. These Indian intellects (unlike their de facto party leaders) elevate the voices and perspectives of discriminated (and disenfranchised) Indians to build a just, better and inclusive society.
Bakr made reference to “inferiority of creole (African) culture and the superiority of a millennial Indian culture” (apparently stated a decade ago) and warned “they have another think coming” if it is repeated. But none of the Indian intellectuals ever put down Black culture. So what is Bakr’s pique? To be identified as a proponent of Indian or Amerindian rights is not socially or politically correct? Indians get attacked even from some totally disconnected Indians who don’t even know who they are.
The socio-politico views and “ethnic ideology” expounded by Ramracha, Dev, Ramharack and other intellectuals I have worked with over the last few decades come nowhere near the idea of a superiority of any culture or ethnic group.
For as long as I have known Ramracha when we originally commenced university studies at CCNY in 1977 and later met Dev around 1984, we have advocated for justice for all. The fight for justice is something Bakr should applaud the Indian rights activists for; few stood up like them for equality and freedom. The Indian rights thinkers (in ROAR or other organisations) have never sought special or exclusive privileges for Indo-Guyanese. They have devoted themselves to the upliftment of all groups.
They have not negated Africans or others. They are not seeking the elevation of Indians or Amerindians or others at the expense of the rights and freedoms of anyone else. They have initiated the idea of power-sharing. They have consistently advocated for a system of governance in which power and resources are shared among the diverse ethnic groups and no group will be superior to another group. They have also articulated for the devolution of power away from the centre and towards the local communities so that all the groups will exercise power at the local level and not feel alienated as currently obtains or as obtained under the previous regime. They have not negated Africans.
A report last week pointed out that some 50 years after independence, Indians are still required to say Christian prayers in government schools. An Indian girl was banned from her church because she danced an Indian classical dance at a Hindu function. Should intellectuals not raise these and similar matters? Aren’t these enough proofs that (up to now) Indian culture is considered to be inferior, despite what Bakr may feel about some Indians say about superiority of Indian culture?
Bakr stated he was critical of his own when they “violently attacked and robbed Indians”. Indian rights exponents have also been critical of their own; they have critiqued the politics of the PPP on racial tokenism and of neglect of its own supporters. They have condemned the appointment of someone from another racial group to be the representative of that group. Africans won’t accept them as their reps even if they advocate African interests as they in fact did in the PPP cabinet. That is the reality of Guyana’s politics.
Ethnic groups have to choose their own leaders to advocate for and represent them. No party should appoint representatives of groups. Such racial manipulation is bound to fail as experience in Guyana and other multi-ethnic societies have shown.
The Indian intellectuals are saying that members of all groups should be free to articulate their concerns – ethnic and otherwise. There should be no marginalisation of any group.
Right now, Indians, Amerindians, and Chinese complain that members of the dominant group view others as outliers. Also, one ethnic group’s culture is considered as the norm for others. For example, the government has introduced pan and calypso in the school’s curriculum. Is this not discriminatory? What about the music and culture of Indians, Chinese, Amerindians and Portuguese? Should they not be treated with respect and equity and given the same prominence as the norm?
The Indian opinion writers in the mass media have become leading advocates for racial equality. They have worked to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons regardless of ethnicity. But there is still a long way to go and much work to be done to combat all forms of racial discrimination. We must applaud the Indian intellectuals for their honesty and courage to address controversial ethnic issues. While others (politicians) have evaded the issues, the Indian intellects confront them head on just like how Prof Cornell West does in America in fighting for the Black cause. Bakr and other Afro intellects (and Indians as well) have to be honest to themselves – how many Afro intellects have advocated an Indian concern or vice versa?
We must all work together (regardless of ethnicity) to eliminate racism and to advance racial equality. The Indian intellects have been calling on African leaders or intellects for all of us to work together in finding an acceptable response to ethnic issues. We cannot bury our heads under the carpet and pretend there are no ethnic problems.