Indian schools were discriminated against by the Christian establishment

Dear Editor,

In letter titled ‘Teachers in colonial times had to be members of the particular faith which controlled a school’ (SN, Oct 17), Mr George N Cave claimed that the British Guiana “Education Department paid the salaries of the teachers and provided small grants for equipment and special equipment; gardening; latrine and sanitation; sweeping; needlework, etc, for all primary schools, including Hindu schools.”  From all of my readings, there is no public evidence supporting that claim.

On the contrary, researchers have consistently written that Indian schools were discriminated against by the dominant Christian establishment. Hindu and Islamic schools were privately funded and were not the beneficiaries of state grants and handouts and they were not even accepted by the state until the introduction of self rule. There were three schools that can be considered to be Hindu oriented though they employed non-Hindus and enrolled Hindus – Rama Krishna (Kitty), Saraswat Unde-nominational (Central Dem) and Santanaist (Canje) and they were not recipients of state grants. It was an established fact that Muslims did not seek grants from non-Muslims and they receive a lot of zakats (donations or tithes) for their institutions. Some Hindi (not Hindu) and Urdu (not Islamic) part-time schools received grants for evening classes. It was Balram Singh Rai who sought to do away with the Christian denominational and non-denominational schools.

With regards to conversion to Christianity and employment, it was an established fact that many Hindu and Islamic educators were required to convert to Christianity in order to obtain teaching jobs, as Harry Hergash penned in the Guyana Journal. Hergash wrote that “up to the mid-1950s, qualified Indians had to convert to Christianity in order to become a teacher in the colony’s school system. Likewise, Indians had great difficulty gaining entry into the country’s Civil Service although they were very well qualified. In fact, those who came from the countryside from parents who were agricultural labourers were almost totally excluded from entry, irrespective of qualification. Education was only beneficial to those who converted to Christianity and were able to gain scholarship for their studies.”

It was common knowledge, as revealed to me by my seniors in Port Mourant and the environs that if you wanted a job at the three nearby denominational schools, you had to convert to Christianity.  I can’t think of which Indian teacher at my school (English school) during the 1960s or of any of the nearby denominational schools who did not convert to Christianity to get or retain a teacher’s job and or a promotion in the system. Also, I remember while a youngster during the 1960s that Christian advocates went around the community converting Hindus telling them that if they wanted a teacher’s job, they should embrace Christianity; many abandoned their ancestral faith and started attending church services. I remember Aunty Shonuqua, a devout Hindu, encouraging me to convert to Christianity saying that it would help me to become a teacher. I should note that there were (Indian) Christians who were employed as teachers although they were less qualified than Hindus and Muslims who were rejected for teaching jobs. The priests at the Xavier Roman Catholic School in Rose Hall and the Anglican school in Free Yard and the other Christian schools in the area encouraged youngsters to embrace the Christian religion. While a little kid in school, we had to glorify the Christian faith.

Can Mr Cave provide the source of his claim that Hindu (or Islamic) schools were beneficiaries of the state’s largesse?  Can he say how much money they received and when? A document published by Randall Butisingh suggested that educational grants were given only for Christian schools for “Negro Education.” He stated that the grants “established schools in church buildings and of significance was the fact that teachers were either clergymen or they were closely associated with the Church.”  So Hindus or Muslims were not beneficiaries as “the grants were mostly for ex-slaves.”

Also, Dr Jung Bahadur Singh and other leaders of the British Guiana East Indian Association wrote of the discrimination Indians faced in establishing schools and the lack of funding for Indian schools. Any literature on the subject of colonial funding to Hindu schools will be of tremendous help to those of us studying the subject.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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