Mr Kissoon’s analysis of Dr Gibson’s book is flawed

Stabroek News

October 25, 2003

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Dear Editor,

Once again I note with alarm, another letter lacking in objectivity and factual content from Mr. Freddie Kissoon (SN 28th Sept 2003) in which he sought to undermine the credibility of Dr Gibson and her timely work “The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana”.

Every day African-Guyanese suffer propaganda campaigns accusing us of waging some form of ‘terror’ against the Indo-Guyanese community. It has come to such a state that a crime is only an issue if the victim is an Indian and the perpetrator is African. Today quite clearly, there is no equivalence of value between the lives of the two ethnic groups; we are truly “at the bottom of the ladder”. But we should not despair or be angry at the antics of Mr. Kissoon, to do so misses the point, he is doing a job; we need to understand this. It is reminiscent of the Apartheid era in South Africa where any attempt to “educate to liberate” resulted in the banning of books, suppression of free speech, false imprisonment, etc.

Mr. Kissoon declares that Dr. Gibson is “assisting political forces of an extremist brand”. This is very much in the vein of his ‘Ocean Eleven’ nonsense. It is though, reminiscent of similar attacks on the Dalits (Untouchables) civil rights groups by the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) who presently govern India. It must be remembered that there are over 160 million Dalits suffering appalling human rights abuses.

Mr. Kissoon seems to ignore the fact that the African-Guyanese are suffering severe and unprecedented human rights violations. He knows that we suffer disproportionate homelessness. He knows that we are largely landless and thus without the proper means to develop as a community. He knows that we suffer higher levels of street homelessness. He knows that we suffer extreme levels of poverty and inadequate infrastructure in our communities. This was the case even during the period of PNC rule. We have higher than average levels of mental ill-health and family dysfunction.

Mr. Kissoon goes on to write “the caste system of Hinduism in India was never transported whole scale to British Guiana”. This is in part true; we know that it was principally the lower caste that arrived as indentured workers. They did not arrive with all the caste structures in place because they were unrepresentative of India as a whole. It is a fact however that caste structures are governed by notions of purity and impurity. This allowed even the lowest caste of indentured Indians in Guyana, through the race hierarchy of the colonialists, to possibly find Africans lower and more impure than themselves. The manager of Plantation Highbury actually wrote “I think the safety of the Whites depends very much on the want of union in the different races of Labourers and I shall be glad to see more Madeiranese (Portuguese) and if possible Chinese coming in; the Coolies too would always hold by the Whites”.

Mr. Kissoon refers to an “obsessive quest for light complexion….The practice of the caste system in Guyana begins and ends with this”. This is most definitely incorrect, the practice of untouchability and karma go to the root of civil rights abuses of the lower castes in India. He knows that this ‘obsession’ goes way beyond the merely superficial. It is stretching credibility to believe an entire people could be so confused and preoccupied with nothing other than their own skin shade. What he declined to say is that it goes to the heart of the Rig Veda and other scriptures that praised the invading light-skinned Aryans who conquered the dark- skinned infidels (Dasyus or Dasas). Not only did the Aryans shamelessly pray for the booty in war, but they based their militarily won supremacy on the lightness of their skin colour as compared to the dark skin colour of the Dasyus. I refer Mr. Kissoon to the following Hindu texts:-

Rig Veda III: 34:9, “Indra killed the dasyus (dark skinned natives) and gave protection to the Aryan colour”.

Rig Veda I: I00:I8, “The mighty thunderer with his fair complexion friends won the land, the sunlight and the waters”.

Rig Veda I: I30:8, “Indra protected in battle the Aryan worshipper, he subdued the lawless for Manu, he conquered the black skin”.

Mr. Kissoon further states “Muslim Indians placed equal emphasis on light skin”. What he is trying to say is that Muslim Indians also have tendencies towards colour and caste. This demonstrates how all pervasive and thoroughly ingrained the institution of caste (colour) was in India to a considerable extent it penetrated Islam and Christianity and this has lasted even to this day in India.

I recall in Birmingham, England a case of race discrimination brought against an Indian dominated mosque which was refusing entry to Black Muslims because of their colour.

Mr. Kissoon goes on to challenge Dr. Gibson on “the rigid caste system in India”. Interestingly enough he does not actually claim she’s wrong. Come on Mr. Kissoon, put your cards on the table. Perhaps I can help your understanding of this matter. Let me quote Dr. K Y Ratnam of the University of Hyderabad (India).

“Despite the fact that untouchability was abolished and bonded labour was declared as unlawful, most of the Dalits (Untouchables) are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions and relegated to the most menial tasks. Dalit women face triple burden of caste, class and gender oppression.

Mr. Kissoon asserts “Colour discrimination among Hindus does not cross into the territory of friendship and employment”. What does this mean? At best this is simplistic and without merit. At worst it is misleading. Mr. Kissoon, everybody discriminates in their choice of friends be it on the basis of race, religion, class, etc.

This is perfectly natural and entirely legal. Discrimination in the area of employment is another matter; race discrimination is illegal but commonplace in Guyana. I don’t need Dr. Gibson to tell me this. There are many good Indo-Guyanese employers who engage African-Guyanese in the positions of other than a cleaner or a security guard. But there are others who employ a 100% Indian workforce despite the fact that a significant majority of their custom comes from African-Guyanese. That is a fact.

Amazingly in relation to caste, Mr. Kissoon further asserts “In 19th century India, British colonialism, the influence of the Indian Diaspora and the anti-colonial struggle in India made monumental dents into the ancient culture of India”. With all due respect to Mr. Kissoon he is just plainly wrong. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Indian anti-colonial movement experienced the dawn of an extreme form of nationalism. I suggest he reads up on the following individuals; Aurobindo Ghose (1872), Har Bilas Sarda (1867) Lala Lajpat Rai (1890), Dayananda Saraswati (1870), BS Moonje (expressed admiration for Hitler) and Keshav Baliram Hedgawar (founded the RSS).

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this phrase from Mr. Kissoon “In comparison, no Hindu country has practiced genocide”. Has he already forgotten the massacre of over 2000 Muslims in Gujarat in March 2002? Perhaps 2000 Indian Muslims dead is not sufficient to be classified as genocide?

Mr. Kissoon then states “…and with the exception of Suriname, Fiji and Guyana, all other Hindu countries….”

Clearly and incontrovertibly Mr. Kissoon is declaring Guyana to be a Hindu country! This is a racist remark; it is offensive and clearly at odds with all the principles of a multi-racial Guyana. I call on Mr. Kissoon to publicly apologise and make a full and unequivocal retraction.

Yours faithfully,

Colin Bascom