National celebrations on Republic need to be inclusive of all groups

Dear Editor,

In a letter in SN on Feb 28, captioned ‘Republic Day celebrations should be reformed,’ Sandra Khan made reference to a claim that the PPP had dissuaded Indians from participating in Mashramai celebrations. However, not much prominence was given to Indian culture in Mash at the time, so Indians did not have reason to participate in it.

I do not know if the PPP actively discouraged Indians from partaking in the Mashramani celebrations which started in1970 in Linden.  I did not hear PPP activists in the localities coming out publicly against the carnival theme. But such anti-Mash advocacy among PPP officials was not necessary in Indian communities. As a youngster growing up among Indians in a racially divided nation, Indians naturally avoided activities relating to or connected with the PNC for a variety of reasons – not the least being the stealing of their votes in elections. Indian community leaders, politicians, moulvis, pandits, etc, felt the Burnham regime was peripheralizing and marginalizing Indians and their culture.  So they boycotted anything having to do with the illegal PNC regime.

When the PPP was elected following the restoration of democratic rule in 1992, the Jagan administration did not place much emphasis on Mashramani preferring instead to use scarce resources for constructive development.  As more money was budgeted for culture under the Jagdeo administration, larger amounts of funds were allocated to Mash. And the PPP, much to the chagrin of Indian community elders, did push for Indian participation in Mash. In general, from the inception, Indian leaders see several aspects of Mash as degrading to Indian culture.  And Indian moulvis told me that they do not feel comfortable with their followers participating in what they describe as a lewd and vulgar celebration.  So Indians are generally observers rather than participants in Mash.

As Sandra Khan stated those who are calling on Indians to join the bandwagon behind Mash are seeking to perpetuate the cultural hegemony of Mash of the 1970s. Anthropolo-gists and sociologists would recognize that it would take a lot more for Indians to assimilate the type of culture being promoted in Mash. Much of it is not in conformity with Indian culture.  As Ms Khan suggests, national celebrations need to be more inclusive of all culture groups within the society with no culture having hegemony over others and no culture being marginalized as happened during the era of dictatorship. In America, there is cultural autonomy and each group celebrates its own culture on its national day.  So we have Greek, Italian, Romanian, African, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Guyana Day celebrations, etc. In Guyana, there is need for dialogue on what constitutes our national culture and respect for all cultures.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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