Dear Editor,

Reference is made to Mr Abu Bakr’s letter ‘Has been looking at suicide phenomenon for years’ (SN, Nov 26) wherein he incorrectly concludes that Vishnu Bisram stated “[Bakr has] no right to explore the implications of the call by Dr [Baytoram] Ramharack for more activism by more Indian intellectuals.” That is not my position or the position of any of the Indian intellects commenting on the issue. Mr Bakr misreads the remark on African letter writers. I do not subscribe to such a narrow, partisan, intra-ethnic view, restricting commentaries pertaining to Indian issues (experience) only to Indo-Guyanese writers. Academia does not function that way; everyone, regardless of ethnicity, can comment on or study issues relating to Indians. It is noted that some of the early writers (academics) on the Indian experience were non-Indians. And Indian intellectuals should be grateful for their pioneering work. It is the writings of non-Indians that have helped me in my studies, and I am sure others who have studied Indians in Guyana and elsewhere. Thus, they cannot be excluded from commenting on the Indian experience.

Given the legacy of abuses Indians suffered ever since they arrived on the shores, and shared experiences with Africans, the intellectuals have an obligation to speak out on grievances groups have, and/or help guide future generations of scholars in their research by offering their view. Too few (Indian) intellects are concerned with anything other than their own personal success in life. Some forget that it was the struggle of others (like myself, Ravi Dev, Baytoram Ramharack, etc) that helped make many intellects who they are today and are responsible for the restoration of democracy. Owing to many social problems and the ongoing reality of racism and other systems of oppression being experienced by Indians, Amerindians, etc, Indian (and other) intellectuals should be more active in addressing these issues. They must also be vigilant in confronting the many obstacles that may arise to hinder the progress of the communities. This is even more reason for (Indian) intellectuals to speak up. They and intellects from other ethnicities simply cannot stand by and watch as they themselves and others suffer from various abuses.

Everyone must speak out. We may not agree with every viewpoint, as has been the case with Mr Bakr, but at least we will have a variety of perspectives on an issue to examine and form our own conclusions. Hopefully, we will learn from each other.

When intellectuals of different backgrounds address an issue, it is expected they will have different opinions because, obviously, they have varied experiences and live in different neighbourhoods. It is better to have many voices than having a few doing all of the advocacy for a people or addressing issues facing a group.

The liberating potential of the collective community is enhanced when there is the full participation of scholars irrespective of background. Indian intellectuals cannot do it alone. Black intellectuals and those of other ethnicities also have a role in addressing issues affecting Indians. Only then will it be easier to talk about ‘race’, and it won’t be a taboo issue or pushed under the rug. The burden to start and carry on conversations (writings) should not fall on the shoulders of a few (Indian) intellectuals, and that is the main point made by Prof Ramharack. Mr Bakr and intellectuals of other ethnicities are welcome to join the conversation.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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