Bakr speaks only for himself

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to Mr Abu Bakr’s query ‘Who is the Indian intellectual?’ (SN, Nov 19). A response of mine to an earlier riposte making reference to me (Oct 30) was not published. I am disturbed with the tone of the language and the contempt shown for Indian intellectuals by Mr Bakr’s recent responses on Indian intellectuals. His latest letter is interpreted as promoting division between Indian and African Guyanese. He misunderstands the objective and role of the Indian intellectuals with whom he engaged; Indian intellectuals have been promoting racial healing and a common destiny based on mutual respect and shared space. The Indian intellectuals are not shunning the issue as Mr Bakr claims. They want it to be fleshed out and a resolution be sought for racial equity for all groups.

Mr Bakr wants to know who the Indian intellectual is; what he/she wants; and ten grievances Indians want addressed, among other queries. Why does he not tell readers of ten grievances of Africans and who is responsible for them? The questions raised by Mr Bakr are not relevant to the topic of discussion.

Is Mr Bakr’s insistence on fleshing out the character and role of the Indian intellectual premised on some sort of guiding principle to define all intellectuals? Is he suggesting that there must be a sort of homogeneity as regards Indian intellectuals? He cannot expect that the term ‘Indian’ in front of intellectual creates connotations that would be different from intellectuals from ‘African’ and all other ethnic groups. Is not the Indian intellectual simply someone who’s Indian and who is an intellectual, but whose intellectualism is not necessarily confined within the boundaries of his/her ethnicity? Does Mr Bakr apply his yardsticks to other ethnic groups such as Blacks or Whites for example? In any case, since Mr Bakr claims to speak from a religious (‘Black’ Muslim) perspective, one cannot fathom why this sudden obsession with the Indian intellectual.

Mr Bakr’s entire last letter is very contemptuous of Indians and seems to be attempting to promote the (long existing) wedge between Indians and Africans, using a kind of logic that sets its own premises, draws conclusions that are neither explicit nor implicit in the writings of the Indian intellectuals he criticises. He effectively says Indians must not complain about their sufferings or grievances. No other Black intellectual has supported him publicly on this matter.

Why is Mr Bakr not similarly obsessed with African intellectuals and does not condemn them for focusing on the grievances of the African community?

Mr Bakr keeps harping on about 10 things that Indians are particularly deprived of, in a discussion that started off simply as an appeal by an Indian intellectual for other intellectuals to express themselves on issues impacting on the Indian community. By what leap of logic has this become an issue exclusively on Indian deprivation? That was not the intent of Prof Ramharack’s appeal.

Many Africans have said over time that Indians have no authority (or business) to pronounce or define the Black reality. But Indians were never so conditioned not to preclude intellectuals from other ethnic groups from commenting on Indian issues. Should Indians now insist that they alone express themselves or pronounce on issues of Indian realities?

The problem with Mr Bakr’s exchanges is that he infuses into a debate started by Dr Ramharack issues that were not the intent of the writer. And then Mr Bakr keeps insisting that his interpretations and questions must be answered. He will determine whether the Indian grievance is legitimate. Can an Indian or White or Chinese or Amerindian intellectual decide whether an African grievance has merit? Prime Minister Cameron said the demand for reparation for Black slavery has no merit. Should that be accepted by Black intellectuals?

Mr Bakr indulges in the logic of transference by ascribing to the writers he wants to engage exactly those features that characterize his own writings. He pens: “The problem with a certain kind of mindless and meaningless race-baiting that sometimes passes for ethnic advocacy is that it is empty, inconsistent and intellectually disreputable. Indefensible, better left unsaid in most cases.” Really? His angst is not being taken seriously and is dismissed. And I must confess, I myself am shocked because I had deep admiration for his writing and viewed him as fair. Contrary to what he pens, the grievances of the Indian experience are real and have been stated umpteen times in so many commentaries and reports.

In the last paragraph of his letter he writes: “I look forward to the manifestation of the avatar being summoned, the ‘Indian Intellectual.’ Believe me, we are equipped and confident”. Why the choice of words and venomous tone? Why this attack on Indians? Is he proposing a confrontation between the intellectuals of the two groups?

The problem is that while Mr Bakr uses the majestic plural ‘we’, he speaks only for himself from afar. No other African intellectual has supported his position on grievances experienced by Indians.

Editor, while the media are free to continue to entertain Mr Bakr’s meanderings, Indian writers have better things to do than to engage with someone who seems to be perpetuating acrimony. Mr Bakr misunderstands the role of Indian intellectuals who identify (some) problems facing the society and are simply interested in finding solutions promoting racial healing and equity as consistently advocated. Mr Bakr should join, not oppose, them in this endeavour.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram