In a recent conversation with one of the reviewers of Ms. Gaiutra Bahadur’s book “Coolie Woman…”, I said that I would not continue my critical analyses of this book, at least not openly in the local Guyanese media. My promise emanated from the thought and expectation that if a constructive dialogue on the book takes place, instead of finger pointing, I will join in with the intent to bring the social as well as political aspects of Indian indentured historiography forward, namely to weed out, not wed, inaccuracies, favouritism, nepotism, stoicism etc. I have to break this promise since this book continues to be peddled as the “Bhagavad-Gita” or the “Sita” of Indian female indentured experience in Guyana. Of course, some areas of Bahadur’s book do make a contribution to the field of indentured servitude. However, a majority of the book, let me repeat, a majority of the book is counterbalanced with a slew of sleazy crackpot analyses. Again, the book is based mainly on the author’s personal experience rather than research. Research techniques are poorly applied.
A lot of interviews are dropped in the book as facts rather than analyses. Take for example, the “Surviving History Guyana, 2010.” In the first three pages of the chapter (191-193), there are forty-three “I” or the personal use of the letter “I”. Come on, is this research? Now, the general thesis of this chapter is that the hardships (wife-chopping, abuse, rape, domestication, double-burden, etc) Indian women experienced during indenture are essentially still around in the contemporary period, mainly in Cumberland, Canje. Notwithstanding the sources, of which some are drawn from newspaper clippings, the author’s narrative purported that Indian women in Guyana, not only in Cumberland, are in a state of continuous brutalization from their alcoholic husbands.
The choice of weapon is the cutlass, a sugar-cane knife used during and after indenture on the sugar plantations. No one denies the violence inflicted on women in Guyana but when reading Ms. Bahadur’s chapter on “Surviving Guyana”, the impression is that Cumberland, Canje, is the murder capital of Indian women in the Indian Caribbean Diaspora. Never has it occurred to the author that violence on Indian women has more to do with other contemporary realties of Guyana. Instead of relying on and extending the colonial cutlass mentality coupled with Indian male jealously, Indian women gender disparity and alcoholism to explain violence against Indian women, why not examine the impact PPP communism has had on Indian males that might have caused them to take out their frustrations on their female counterparts. Here again is a missed opportunity. There is evidence, though more research is needed, to justify that the PPP self-styled indoctrination of communism has had an enormous impact on the minds of Indian males, many of them are now in their 60s and 70s living in North America seeking psychiatric and psychological help. Many of these individuals are still in Guyana and do not even know that their minds have been scarred and scared.
Except for Mr. Freddie Kissoon’s short assessment of Bahadur’s book in one of his daily columns, no one has come out and criticized this book. Mr. Kissoon is correct on the quotes.
Where is the Indian Arrival Committee? Where is the Ethnic Relations Commission? One can only imagine what would have been the repercussions if the book was written by a non-Indian using the “C” word. Finally, I truly believe this book is a draft, and if it was re-viewed carefully, it would have made a contribution to the field of Indian indentured servitude.
Currently, the book remains, if at all, in the basement of Indian indentured historiography. How-ever, the author has a unique opportunity to correct her mistakes. Ask the University of Chicago Press to recall the book and engage in substantive revisions. Dismiss the title, delete the first and last chapters, and ensure that the introduction chapter has a sound explanation of your methodology; right now there is none. Lastly, clean up the references and give credit where due rather than bamboozling and hoodwinking the public into believing with presentations after presentations that the book in an attempt to recover and recapture the lost voices of Indian indentured women. The public is much wiser.