A deliberate misreading of letter

Dear Editor,

Annan Boodram clarifies some points in a previous letter of his, in the contribution of October 16 published in your paper under the caption ‘Assertion in letter neither stated nor implied.’

He denies accusing me of “intellectual dishonesty” for not acknowledging what I understood to be his claim that some Indo-Guyanese social problems had their “genesis” under the PNC. He had clearly said so. But modifies it to read that by “genesis” he wished simply to say something like “suicide/alcoholism/domestic violence, per se … all predate independent Guyana,” but only wished to signal “their exacerbation into social issues under Burnhamism and the PNC.”  Facts from World Health Organisation documents show the “exacerbation” occurring under the PPP, and post 1992. But again, it would be unfair to claim that the PPP is the cause. We do not do so.

I now understand that he is saying at the moment that these problems existed, but that, with the existence of the PNC, sufferers now had a (for them) new credible cause among all the pre-existing others. Real and imagined and exaggerated by their depressive state.  Hence we conclude that, in the universe he inhabits, “the PNC and Burnhamism” represent a negative force that pushes weak sensitive Indians to the bottle of liquor and Malathion, to beating wife and kids, to the accentuation of all the pathologies that lie latent. He therefore shuts himself in an argument of “perception”, which type of argument he is, in principle, against, and needs to guard against the type of demonisation of the PNC/Burnhamism, for the bad effects its propagation is likely to have. Asserting that the PNC banned foods to hurt them, or that National Service was designed for the sexual servitude of their females is simply to add another layer of unprovable illusion to the fantasies being collectively cultivated.

There seems also to be a deliberate misreading of some parts of my letter. In fact, the quote about Guyana Indians having perhaps the highest suicide rate in the world comes from a Ravi Dev column I invited him to read. Mr Dev breaks it down to 50 per 100 000 for Guyanese Indians and cites an Al Jazeera article on the exact question of suicide in Guyana. Mr Boodram’s argument, then, should be with Mr Dev. Also, not in contention is the ranking of India among suicide-prone countries. I made no mention of a ranking. But what is indisputable is the prevalence of suicide in certain agricultural regions. Diluted within an enormous population, the statistics are watered down at the country-ranking level, but are highlighted by the prevalence in the micro-environment in some states. A different discussion there.

Then, to paint me with the pro-PNC dirty brush, he asserts that I have never found anything wrong with blacks supporting the PNC, and implies that I object to Indians supporting the PPP. This is dishonest of Mr Boodram, who can neither quote nor prove that I have ever had published anything, in perhaps a decade of letter writing, on the subject of African support for the PNC beyond acknowledgement of its existence. I challenge him to prove that I have done so. In terms of Indian support for the PPP, I have affirmed, countless times, that Indian support for the PPP is neither due to a questionable “ethnic security dilemma” nor to a simple racism. But is in fact entirely attributable to what I consider normal community identity formation. That there are elements of racism in this identity formation is admissible. But I have quoted Hoetink on Suriname, for example, on the tendency of Indian emigrants to create political parties once they reach a critical mass. Mr Boodram has not read everything I wrote. He needs to do so and avoid the caricature in which he seeks to place me. The tendency to suppose that every black man is a PNCite has always puzzled me. But neither all Indians are PPP nor all Afro-Guyanese PNC. He has written on the WPA, and needs to consider the black support for WPA or AFC and the sceptical abstentionism that has also marked the political psychology of some in the Afro group.  As an aside, while it is true that Ravi Dev has never claimed to be the progenitor of the term “ethnic security dilemma”, neither has he, in his writings on the subject, ever bothered, as far as I can recall, to go beyond Horowitz to give us the benefit of its origins and of its occurrence in the literature of ethnic conflict. It would have been useful to do so.

Mr Boodram also takes issue with my characterisation of his references to harassment of Indian girls in the National Service as a “fantasy”. He ought to have read Colonel Desmond Roberts’ letter on the issue some years ago. Indian girls from UG were relatively few. The statistical breakdown is not reconcilable with claims of widespread sexual imposition. It is, however, an issue dear to the hearts of the band of activists of which Messrs Boodram and Dev form or formed part. Odious in its implications, it is daring in its eyepass and surprising that it has survived all these years. But the mass of illusions on which the Indo-centric discourse is based is proof to argument and fact. It proceeds from a will to believe bad of the others, whom they wish simply to incarcerate in a role that they themselves would find ridiculous, reprehensible.

A certain amount of ignorance is to be expected in the give and take around ethnic issues. A certain amount of stereotyping also. But to insist on conflating Afro-Guyanese and labelling the malignant “Burnhamism, PNC” is to play on the abhorrence that some flaunt as they beat their own drum. Mr Boodram should, as I recommended, look at statistics about suicide in Guyana over the decades. As far as I remember, the annual figures have always hovered at about 200 cases, irrespective of who is in power. His assertion that the PNC government “exacerbated” the trend is false.

On the site “Top ten countries with the highest suicide rates” it is listed “In the Eastern Berbice region, the rate is 50 per 100 000, higher than any country in the world… The leading reasons are depression and domestic disputes.” Not PNC/black domination. It is unscientific to attribute this phenomenon to the PNC.

World Health statistics show that suicides in Guyana rose in the nineties from a base that was stable until 1987 or thereabouts. So in fact, suicide increased under the PPP, and has risen constantly since the “return of democracy.” But this is taken beside the fact that, globally, suicide rates have increased by 60% over the past decades, mostly in suicide prone countries. The problem then, goes beyond the ethnic security perceptions of a people collectively haunted by the bogeyman of the PNC/Burnhamism, a gloss for the Afro-Guyanese group.

While people like Mr Boodram find false causes and therefore solutions (change of government) disconfirmed by statistics and fact, the problem continues and continues to grow.

Some respect ought to be shown to people and families who are victims of suicide. To exploit the series of tragedies in the weaving of a racist narrative may be irresistible to the sufferers of a different type of pathology. But it is neither empirically useful to the mental health community, nor is it laudable in light of the social cohesion we wish to create. Ceaselessly portraying a community as hapless sufferers is demeaning. Ceaselessly portraying another as wicked and violent is also demeaning. Both of oneself and of the subject group. Mr Boodram and others of his ilk should stop.


Yours faithfully,

Abu Bakr