The separate but equal philosophy ROAR is advocating seems like something from the past

Stabroek News

October 1, 2003

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Dear Editor,

Dev Prakash in his letter captioned “ROAR supports a national front government for five years” (26.9.2003) seeks to de-ethnicise the proposal for separate and distinct homelands that has come to be associated with ROAR.

The clarifications he has brought are welcome and are noted for future reference. But his intervention throws up the question as to how another document, fundamental to the ROAR ideology and presented by Ravi Dev in the late nineties, has to be interpreted.

In his “Aetiology of an Ethnic Riot” Dev offers an analysis of the causes and results of the racial problem, proposes as a solution the federal system, and concludes “In a federalised Guyana Africans will be guaranteed power in Demerara, Amerindians in Rupununi and Indians in Berbice... each state will have an ethnically different majority..”

And he explains “Guyana is fortunate that because of the historical pattern of settlement, the three major ethnic groups dominate in different parts of the country. A federalised system of governance offers the greatest set of benefits in terms of a disengagement so that areas of comparison are lessened.” Understandably, we say, the creation of such states will lead to internal migration and the reinforcement of the racial character of each of the regions cited.

It is this concept of “disengagement” in administrative enclaves dominated by a single racial group to which I referred in my letter. Dev Prakash denies that ROAR is in favour of such a solution. Perhaps Ravi Dev’s work was written in the heat of the moment (after the riot), and has now been modulated. But it is not possible to accuse anyone of distorting its conclusions.

Dev Prakash also says that ROAR is not advocating keeping the races pure.

But Ravi Dev, in a letter to Stabroek News on the Naipaul issue, could speak with passionate disapproval of an Afro-Caribbean plot to destroy Indians by “miscegenation”- marrying them out of existence. Amar Panday, another ROARite, could permit himself, also in Stabroek News, to denounce “negrification”.

Ravi Dev, again in his “Aetiology”, describes the attitudes underlying that struggle to remain pure.

Africans and other Creoles he says defined Indians in terms such as “backward”, “primitive” “outlandish”. And the Indian had his own take on the African

Dev writes of Indian attitudes “The African, he (the Indian) asserted, was lazy, violent and bereft of his own culture. By the end of indentureship the Indian had moved very far towards re-evaluating his caste system and incorporating all castes into a unitary system of “nation” or “jati” and allocating the outcast position to the African. To mix and mingle with the African much less “combine” was beyond the pale in this scheme.” Perhaps Keane Gibson, arguing that blacks are regarded as outcasts, read Ravi Dev.

When Dev Prakash writes that he is in favour of “resisting absorption into the Creole mainstream” it is possible he is not intending racial purity, but a cultural purity. But since race and culture, in the Indo-Guyanese context, share the same boundaries, an explanation is needed. Does he want black Hindus, or every man in his own racial/cultural “jati”.

In any case ROAR, like any other political movement, will draw to itself a diverse following. Whatever the official ideology, the racists have found and will find reason to rally to it. And, like the PPP or PNC, its ideology and praxis may vary over time. What it was saying yesterday may not be what it says tomorrow. It is hoped that the excesses and exaggerations of its leading intellectuals will be repressed or shed.

But we are not convinced that the movement will, Kwayana-like, move from an urgent concern with the welfare of a single race to a preoccupation with the welfare of all of us.

For there are political stakes. And as Dev states in his “Aetiology” “The most successful and the least successful are often the most vociferous supporters of the ethnic enterprise.”

ROAR is in the phase of creating a constituency. One of those “least successful” which Dev describes. It is unlikely ever to break the hold of the PPP on the Indian electorate.

What has occurred in Guyana is comprehensible in terms of the social psychology Dev mentions in his work. A new social identity has been created by Indians in Guyana. A component of that social identity is adherence to the PPP. The mechanism functions in the same way it would in the case of someone born in Paris supporting the football team, Paris/St Germain, or in the West Indies supporting the West Indies eleven. It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, or if the captaincy is bad and the selectors have made mistakes. We support them anyway.

This applies to the masses. But there will, of course, always be Indians in the WPA, PNC, Catholic Church, etc. This is also comprehensible. In a new environment, and exposed to new stimuli, some will consciously make other choices.

Lutchman Narain and Rajkumar Singh also gave their views on this issue.

Lutchman may not be aware of it but Dave Martins, Harold Bascom, and I also grew up on the stretch of road on the West Coast. Yet both Martins and Bascom have written recently in favour of greater racial harmony and an end to the divisive rhetoric. They don’t seem to be saying the same thing as the Dev brothers.

I remember, at the Vreed en Hoop crossroads there was on one side Chung’s shop and Chinese restaurant. Facing him was the Madeiran Portuguese Dos Ramos. On the other side an Indian muslim family, the Raymans. And on the fourth corner the St Swithin’s school where we, of all races, were expected to mix and to mingle, and to become good creoles.

In fact, one learns, but only much later, that what was being done here was but a reflection of a similar process, vigorously applied in Europe. A cultural uniformisation that would be imposed, and, in our case, be supported by the natural evolution that occurs when people share the same space. In most of the new world the process is over and people are content with defending the few symbols that remain of their culture of origin.

The “separate but equal” philosophy that ROAR is advocating seems hardly to be the wave of the future. More something from a frightening past. South Africa or the old southern USA.

Yours faithfully,

Abu Bakr