I must commend my friend David Hinds for taking the initiative to lead the charge for African Guyanese to empower themselves and to become self-reliant. I am also quite pleased that the bigots have not crawled out of the woodwork to label him a racist, the way they did Ravi Dev, when Dev was talking about the need for Indian ethnic security, a need that has become even more urgent in the wake of the recent upsurge of robberies with violence and executions.
A similar treatment was meted out to those, including myself, who organized the first Indo-Caribbean Awards in New York City, Yet, ironically, many Afro-Caribbean award programmes had been held for years prior to that, and continue to be held afterwards. Given the mission by Dr Hinds and company, I now take this opportunity to appeal to Ravi Dev, Ryhaan Shah and others to do the same for Indians in Guyana. For the stark reality is that Indian communities suffer from the same economic maladies and social pathologies that African communities experience, among them poverty, deteriorating local infrastructure, unemployment and underemployment, alcoholism, domestic and relationship violence and a growing incidence of drug use.
Also, while Afrocentric writers have been lamenting the African condition and calling for African activism and militancy for decades, Indians only recently started doing so and in very small numbers. Yet many of these Indocentric writers, especially Ravi Dev, have also been labelled racist. Now that African activists regularly call for African activism and militancy without being deemed racists, it is hoped that Indocentric writers will be viewed through similar lenses so that more Indians can take up the cudgel on behalf of fellow Indians and help Indian communities to also become empowered. The simple fact is that once communities are empowered and self-reliant, then the nation advances socially, economically and otherwise and everyone benefits.
Furthermore, I would like to place the ball centre stage by replicating David Hinds’ call and directing it to fellow Indo-Guyanese. It is time to stop abusing and killing our womenfolk and children. Women are the glue that hold families together and are the pivots of the socialization process. Let us give them pride of place in our homes and our communities. Children are an extension of us, and the reason for our being. For what we build will be their foundation after we say our goodbyes, a structure that will be enhanced by them as life continues and new generations spring up.
Community organizations and local leaders also need to start focusing on the twin evils of alcoholism and suicide. Alcoholism invariably leads to violence and heartbreak. Suicide has become the regular and normal response to problems of every kind. Our mandirs, churches and mosques, our community leaders and professionals must join hands to address these two ills that are eating away at the entrails of our communities. If our communities can organize to tackle alcoholism and suicide, then the resources made available by the government and non-profit organizations can be harnessed in this thrust. Our population is too small and lives too precious for us to sit back and allow the havoc that results from alcoholism and suicide.
Additionally, I call upon Indians to stop being robotic followers of religion, unless the religion helps you in concrete and pragmatic ways to better your lives and the lives of your families and communities.
However, this does not mean that you cannot embrace your spirituality. For a truly spiritual person would live an ethnical and moral life that does not encourage abuse, dishonesty, cheating, and lies. Instead a spiritual person is compassionate, kind, caring, honest, truthful and helpful. And these are the qualities that are necessary in order to empower yourselves and your communities. Such qualities will force you to not condone wrongdoing and to speak out against oppression, suppression, fraud, bribery, corruption and wastage. For when you allow these creatures to sit among you, you lose your dignity, your courage, your self-reliance and your self-independence. However, my call to East Indians differs from Dr Hinds with respect to spending money. I want to tell Indians to spend your money where you get the most value for it and where you can obtain that which you need at the best possible price. For this is the only way in which economic endeavours can thrive and consumers can benefit most. I will also add that Indians must begin to act smart as they go about their daily lives. For example if you run a business never keep large amounts of cash at home and never carry large amounts of cash on you. Find alternative ways – checking, debit and credit cards, money transfer via banks, whatever – so that you do not become a target for those who make a living by preying on you. Take all necessary measures to secure your homes from invasion. Be careful who you cultivate around you, as there are some who always bite the hand that feeds them. And never be predictable or set a pattern with respect to activities and your daily lives, for then you become an easy target. Be alert always and think safety first, last and always. And be each other’s keepers so that all of you can help each other protect your lives and your property as it has become quite clear that Indians are under siege; the ethnic security dilemma so cogently spelt out by Ravi Dev almost two decades ago (and recently mentioned by Malcolm Harripaul who failed to give Ravi due credit) is still an urgent imperative.
Also I want to tell my Indian brothers and sisters that while charity begins at home, you do not live in isolation from other ethnic groups in Guyana. And so the best way for you to empower yourselves and address the range of problems that beset your communities is by extending a hand to other communities and ethnic groups because they also, essentially, face similar issues. The reality is that while Guyana’s politics has always been contentious, ethnic divisiveness and conflicts have never suffused our nation; rather communities of all shades and tints have always worked together, especially in the rural areas, in spite of the machinations of politicians.
Thus our history speaks of strength and safety in numbers. Besides we have a track record premised on the adage that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Thus by extending a hand to other groups and communities you build goodwill and strengthen the capacity to seek redress, develop self-reliance and advance your communities – together and collectively. At the end of the day a nation moves forward when all communities are safe, strong and empowered. Above all else may I remind my Indian family that the Mahatma, Mohandas K Gandhi, has proven by example that you do not have to be violent to obtain justice; you simply have to be organized and ‘be the change you want to see’.