UG should have hosted conference on indentureship

UG should have hosted conference on indentureship

Dear Editor,

I thank KN for fair and balanced coverage of events and of exposing injustices. I write to bring to public attention a perceived unfairness in the failure of University of Guyana to host a conference on indentureship.

An international conference on indentureship was held in Trinidad on the occasion of the centenary of the end of indenture (1920). A similar conference was held in March 2017 to commemorate the end of recruitment of indentured labourers (a practice carried out by arkaityas or betrayers of their people, many of whom were kidnapped and brought to rescue sugar and other plantations around the globe).

A group of Guyanese had planned and organized a similar conference in Guyana in March 1917 and Planned one for May 2020 and approached the Vice Chancellor’s office of the University of Guyana to be a co-sponsor and or co-host and or assist with the expenses and or provide space for staging the event. It was turned down. The APNU+AFC government was also approached for funding in 2017, and it approved an insignificant amount of funds that could not even cover cost for renting an auditorium. The Ramotar led government also rejected a request for funding for a conference on and to be a co-host to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Indian arrival in 2013. It gave a mindset of how shabbily Indians are treated in the country.

Our group rejected the small grant approved by the coalition’s Ministry of Culture in March 2017. Conferences on slavery and annual celebrations relating to emancipation received 50 times that amount. It was an insult to accept the grant. The government did, however, co-sponsor a celebration in Leonora that was attended by thousands in mid March 2017. We organized several other events in Georgetown, West Berbice, Corentyne and Essequibo without government’s assistance. The Dharmic Sabha also hosted a cultural programme and banquet on the historic occasion of the hundredth anniversary of end of indenture.

To mark the anniversary of the end of indenture, an academic conference and cultural programmes were planned this year for Georgetown, Port Mourant, and Anna Regina for last May but have to be rescheduled because of the Corona Pandemic. The Chancellor’s office of UG was approached last year and again earlier this year as a co-host. Since its founding in 1963, UG never hosted a conference on indentureship though it hosted several on slavery and other issues. It would have been ideal to host one on Indian indentureship and on other ethnic communities like the Amerindians, Portuguese, and Chinese. There was no response from UG on an indentureship conference.

Last year, a university in Portugal hosted a conference on Portuguese indentureship at which I presented a paper on the Portuguese experience in Guyana. As our only university, UG should have planned and organized similar conferences on our varied people rather than focus almost exclusively on any single group. The university hosted similar programmes for anniversary on slavery and on diaspora. As an academic institution, the management at UG must demonstrate balance and accommodate all groups, intellectuals, and requests with relative equity. Since it is demonstrating bias, the management and the UG Council should do the honourable thing. The government needs to do a rest at UG and put in place an independent board reflective of the composition of the society.

The government was more helpful (though in words) than UG on an indentureship conference. When approached last year, it unofficially committed funds for the commemoration. The election impasse and Corona led to the postponement of the planned event to mark this important historic milestone. I hope the new government, unlike its approach in the past, would be supportive and that UG would be more accommodative when a new date is possible. By the way, White universities in the so called imperialist countries, that Guyanese like to put down, have been far more accommodating and supportive on non-White people (Guyanese in particular). So much for blaming the White man for all of our problems! Whites tend to treat us with greater respect and dignity than our own.

Yours truly,
Dr. Vishnu Bisram

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