A peasant Hinduism was brought to Guyana
October 24, 2003
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I refer to Ras Tom Dalgety’s letter captioned “Dr. Gibson’s book should be discussed, not banned” [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] (9-10-2003). I have always been an avid advocate of having the fundamental right to freedom of expression upheld but like Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, who had seen the need for society to control the influences that can lead to a situation of irreversible disintegration, I strongly believe that works whose central objective is the unabashed propagation of mischief should be isolated to the dustbins provided for ‘dangerous propaganda’.
One must understand clearly the context in which such letters and Dr. Gibson’s book comes. This will enable us to see the mischievous nature of such writing. Guyana has just been comparatively released from a demonic spell of terror inflicted upon us by black criminal elements where innocent Indian people were kidnapped, murdered and mutilated for political and economic purposes.
In such a blatantly abominable manner Indians are now confronted with a barrage of prejudicial ramblings justifying and diverting attention away from this crisis. It is being suggested that they themselves because of their religion are responsible for the terror that has been meted out to them. It is as harebrained and hate-filled as that.
Dalgety writes in his letter “In her book she pointed out that linguistic dehumanization precedes oppression, which leads to enslavement, and may end with extermination...linguistic dehumanization is pernicious... linguistic dehumanization is the central theme of Dr. Gibson’s book”. If Dalgety is objectively concerned with ‘linguistic dehumanization’ there are two specific documents I would like him to study; 1. The GIFT report on the civil disorders of January 12th, 1998 and 2. the more recently released GIHA crime report which contain numerous examples of degrading remarks to Indians.
It is a crisis of education; we have never been taught comprehensively about each other and of the profound necessity of appreciating each other. This is why it is so disappointing that our educational system still does not provide our children with a thorough and objective exploration of the histories of our different peoples. But instead of dealing with the issue from such a principled standpoint, Dalgety, enamoured by Dr. Gibson’s eloquent racism has sunk to blasphemy. They have sunk to a new level of inhumanity by now launching this delirious attack on the most sacred facet of the Indian’s being, his religion.
We must remember that the Hinduism that was brought to Guyana was a peasant Hinduism since those who brought it were the objects of British economic exploitation. They were largely a people uneducated with regard to the totality and complexity of Hindu philosophy. Because of their poverty and the fact that they were predominantly people of low caste this was denied them. The British sociologist Raymond Smith in a study of the castes of the Indians in Guyana between the years 1865 and 1917 found that only 13.6% were Brahmins and other privileged castes while 30.1% belonged to the agriculture castes, 8.7% represented artisans and 31.1% represented outcasts. Basdeo Mangru tells us in his book Indians in Guyana that the percentage representing the higher castes has to be lower than what RT Smith found because of the fact that a number of immigrants often falsified their caste to start afresh in a new land. Hence we can say that the Hinduism practiced in Guyana for the most part of its history has been a restricted Hinduism disconnected from its real profundity. A British education based on Christianity and a Macaulayite imperialism exacerbated this disconnection.
Whatever are the negative and improper stereotypes that Indians have coined for African Guyanese in our mutual dehumanization syndrome, we must keep in mind that they have come precisely out of this restricted Hinduism; a Hinduism whose people were and in most instances still are inadequately educated with regards to the complexity of its traditions of philosophy. If as a people we are genuinely interested in reforming Hinduism we must pursue its re-enlivening thereby making it more capable of contributing in a more positive manner towards a Guyana of plurality, tolerance and inclusiveness. We must support Hinduism’s rediscovery of itself. We must support Hinduism’s reconnection to its true glory just as we must support the attempts of Ivan Van Sertima to rediscover Africa before its European enslavement.
There are two classic works that Keane Gibson, Dalgety and their like must read in order to grasp some insight into the soul of Indian philosophy. These are; 1. The Hindu View of life and 2. Religion and Society - both by S. Radhakrishnan, former Indian President. In these works they will discover that contrary to their warped, shameful and contorted understanding of Indian thought Hinduism extols the essential goodness as well as oneness of all mankind. They will learn that Hinduism as a body of principles has never in the history of its existence stood for “oppression”, “enslavement” and “extermination” under any guise or cover but on the contrary has always glorified the very antithesis of such.
They will be confronted with the fact that liberty of conscience is situated at the epicenter of Hindu thought.
The caste system is a complex issue that requires separate analysis. I will not question the fact that it deteriorated into an abomination practiced mainly in India, but what must not be disputed is the fact that this deteriorated abomination does not reflect in any way the idealism enunciated in the sacred texts. Radhakrishnan denounces this abomination in his commentary on the issue when he writes “The present morbid condition of India broken into castes and sub castes is opposed to the unity taught by the Gita, which stands for an organic as against an atomistic conception of society”. There are factors responsible for this deterioration. Kevin Hobson’s paper ‘The Indian Caste System and the British Ethnographic Mapping and the Construction of the British Census in India’ is instructive in understanding these factors. Hobson points out that when the British first started establishing control on the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century, their sole concern was rapacious profiteering however in the 19th century responsible trusteeship came to be seen as the new vital necessity. Ways were sought to compartmentalize chunks of an enormously vast population into manageable groups. The main tool used in the British attempt to understand and classify the Indian population was the census. Attempts were made in this direction as early as the beginning of the 19th century. A planned comprehensive census was attempted in 1872. This was done under the direction of Henry Beverly, Inspector General of Registration in Bengal. Such censuses determined the British policy towards the Indian population. For the Indian people, the censuses acted as a catalyst for an increased cociousness of caste as caste status became an increasingly significant factor in attaining material status; the Mahton, a rural agricultural group, were fully aware that the changes of status would allow their members to obtain direct benefits. In and of itself, this definitely shows that the actions of the British in classifying and enumerating castes within the census had heightened indigenous awareness of the caste system and had added an economic aspect that the Indian people were willing and anxious to exploit.
The association of caste with racial connotations is also a product of British dominance. Hobson says that this was because of the British notions of race and the importance they had attached to race in relation to the human condition. For evidence that the British believed that race was the supreme determinate of human activity one need look no further than Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century British Prime Minister who wrote in 1844 that “all is race, there is no other truth” and 1880 that “race is the key to history”. This tampering with the culture of the Indian people had deep and far reaching impacts and is the most significant contributor towards the deteriorated caste rigidity of India. It is this tampered culture, the restricted peasant Hinduism that I spoke about earlier, that was brought to Guyana during the period of indentureship.
This is why Hindus in Guyana have to continue to pursue the rediscovery and regeneration of Hinduism. All Guyana should support this because as a country we all stand to benefit from this. This can be done mainly by reestablishing the popularity and aesthetics of the comprehensive outline of sacred literature.
I will conclude by saying that there is a difference between history and propaganda; the former is the objective search for truth while the latter has always sought to rationalize vested interests. The latter should be vigorously rejected. In this search for truth, so-called academic works that are limited by selective perception and retention will be of little use.