The following is a report on Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre (ICC) online public meeting held on 6th September, 2020 on the topic “Political violence against Indians in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad – past and recent: Strategies to achieve peace and unity.” The meeting was moderated by Dr Kumar Mahabir of Trinidad and Tobago.
The speakers were Ravi Dev (Guyana), Angelique Ali Hussain Del Castillo (Suriname), Basdeo Pandey (Trinidad) and Dr. Tara Singh (Guyana) as the discussant.
Guyana has a long, bloody history of violence and murders. Way back in 1964, the New York Times reported that 3000 East Indians were beaten and driven from their homes by Africans in the Mackenzie mining district. And recently, on January 12th 1998, 200 Indian-Guyanese were beaten and assaulted in the streets of Georgetown in full view of the police; yet no arrests were made. These riots were triggered by the victory of the Indian-based People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in the elections of December 1997.
In Suriname, former President Desi Bouterse was convicted of torturing and killing15 political opponents in 1982. The victims of the “December murders” included Indians (Hindustanis) such as Baboeram, Shamber, Oemrawsingh, Rambocus and Sohansing. However, ethnic violence against Indians (Hindustanis) in Paramaribo and elsewhere is rare.
In Trinidad, Daurius Figueira has written a book on the political violence against the Indian-based Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the 1960s. When DLP politicians attempted to stage campaign meetings in either San Juan, Barataria, Laventille or Port of Spain, they were heckled, cursed and pelted with bottles and stones.
Figueira wrote that in both Guyana and Trinidad, a “racist British strategy” destroyed East Indian political ascendancy “and placed a minority race in power through successive fraudulent elections.” Figueira’s book is entitled The East Indian Problem in Trinidad and Tobago 1953-1962 & Terror and Race War in Guyana 1961-1964 (2009).
Angelique Ali Hussain Del Castillo is from Suriname. She is a former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Indonesia. She is the Chair of the Democratic Alternative91 (DA’91), a liberal political party in Suriname. Del Castillo is also the Founder and Chair of the Foundation Platform for Politically Active Women. She is also the author of a book entitled The Positive Branding of Islam.
Del Castillo said:
“Political violence, as described by the WHO, is the deliberate use of power and force to achieve political goals. It is characterized by both physical and psychological acts aimed at injuring or intimidating populations. This includes deprivation and deliberate denial of basic needs and human rights.
The Case of Suriname: The Surinamese community of today is the result of immigration both forced and free over the centuries from Asia, Africa and Europe. In the current demographics, Surinamese with Indian roots make up about 30% of the population. Their position has improved from the period of indentured labourers to one where they are active in business and in government as well as in law, medicine and any other professions. Fundamental to this emancipation process was education and additional political participation.
Governor J.C. Kielstra had an instrumental role in the development of the Indian community in Suriname. Because of Kielstra, Asian Marital law was introduced and accepted as a law in Suriname. He also used his right to appoint five members for parliament for appointing mainly Indians and Indonesians. With this, the threshold for political participation was crossed. He laid a foundation for recognition.
An important icon of Indian politics in Suriname is Mr. Jagernath Lachmon. Another notable politician, also because she is female, is Indra Marijke Djwalapersad. Important was their philosophy drawn from Confucius: ‘The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.’ Lachmon and Djwalapersad believed in promoting unity in diversity as opposed to assimilation, in building a political power structure based on the diverse ethnicity and culture of Suriname.
Hard political violence against Indians did not materialise even though Indians chose to leave the country around independence out of fear, but then the early political leaders chose to contest elections as coalitions of political parties with a diverse ethnic base.
The political scene as well as the political behaviour of many ethnic groups, including the Indians in Suriname, is much a product of fears and rules for acceptance.
There have been crucial moments when it could have gone either way: physical political violence or just staying with the still-present undercurrent of psychological political violence. Our independence in 1975 was such a moment. Most recently the elections held in May 2020 were based on a campaign of ethnicity.
Skin-colour, ethnicity and gender are weapons that could have been used in the psychological political violence.
We will have to emphasize education, leadership and politics based on programs, ideals and principles. This strategy will allow for a deeper understanding, and less fear and unconditional acceptance. It will lead a collective ‘We’ instead of an ethnic “I”.”
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