Resistance to May 5 being a national holiday
Stabroek News
April 30, 2002

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Dear Editor,

May 5 2002 will mark the 164th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Guyana. There is great significance attached to the date for the Indian community and it is most unfortunate the date has not been given the prominence it deserves as a national holiday. The debate on whether May 5 should or should not be a national holiday has been discussed in numerous letters and in a few Stabroek News editorials.

My intent is not to rehash those discussions, but to go beyond that and try to understand why there is an unwillingness to declare May 5 or "Arrival Day" a national holiday.

In Guyana most if not all issues are political and therefore the answer to why "Arrival Day" is not a national holiday can be firstly identified in this area. There is the perception that Indian arrival day is a copy cat phenomenon with "Arrival Day" in Trinidad or "Emancipation" day in Guyana. But this is furthest from the truth. The demand for Indian "Arrival Day" has its origins as far back as the 1960's with the British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA). To their credit the BGEIA was effective in sensitizing the Indian population on this issue, but due to lack of political backing and fierce opposition from other ethnic groups the holiday never materialized.

The PPP in opposition championed the cause of May 5 to be declared a national holiday as a means of intensifying the struggle against the PNC. The PNC rejected the notion of May 5 as a national holiday.

On the other hand the PPP, now in government has promised year after year to declare May 5 a holiday and year after year has broken this promise. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, May 5 is no longer important as a major rallying call. It was used as a method of demonstrating the PNC oppression against the Indian community. This is no longer the case since the PPP is in Government. Secondly, the PPP is ultra cautious about being labeled an "Indian Government." As such the party will resist from issues that are Indian oriented and will in fact "bury" such issues in order to appease and portray the image of a "multi-racial" party.

Presently at the political level the issue of whether May 5 or "Arrival Day" be granted the status of a national holiday is with a PPP/PNC committee set up a year ago to review all national holidays. I am not sure if this committee still functions.

In addition to the political dimension is the cultural dimension. By this I mean assimilation and creole culture. Unfortunately our cultural society due to its history has developed along the line of assimilation rather than unity in diversity. Assimilation creates a situation of either you are with me or against me. There is no in between.

As such "Indian arrival" day is viewed by other ethnic groups, some in civil society and the press, as contra to assimilation and creole culture and therefore toward an Indian hegemony and eventual cultural domination. The idea that different cultures can exist side by side without either feeling threatened has not yet taken root in Guyana. Historical attitudes continue to influence future practice.

I recall while living in the United States a number of Southern States had refused to declare Martin Luther King Day a holiday. An African American friend made an interesting point when he indicated that racism in these states run deep, when people are not willing to give up a day's work to acknowledge an African American. I hope the same is not true of Guyana and Guyanese.

Yours faithfully,

Chandra Tagore