Indian Arrivals Day would honour the fortitude of the immigrants
Stabroek News
March 15, 2004

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Dear Editor,

The Stabroek News carried an article on 3/12/04 headlined, "National Front Alliance urges rational criteria for national holidays," the content of which was very disturbing and the opinion expressed, short-sighted. NFA leader Keith Scott, in his appearance before the Special Select Committee, expressed the view regarding Indian Arrivals Day that, "it would be an act of masochism for their descendants to celebrate the suffering and degradation of those captive people as indeed, it would be for any people subjected to similar circumstances."

Well, Mr. Scott, the idea of having an "Indian Arrivals Day" is not to celebrate the "suffering and degradation" but to mark an important beginning in our history, that is, the entry into this country, of the first batch of Indians. It is a time for remembering and rejoicing, and honouring the bravery and stamina of our forefathers who survived the horror of the journey from Kolkata and other ports, across the Indian Ocean, around the tip of Africa and then up the Atlantic to then British Guiana. Indian Arrivals Day should be a celebration of hope and human perseverance and the fraternity forged during the trip, a time when fear had seized many, death was not uncommon, some lost their minds, others overcome with despondency, had thrown themselves overboard. The Indian community in Guyana today is peopled by the descendants of those who overcame these horrors and who must have, on first seeing shore, felt a sense of relief and thankfulness and hope.

Without discounting the fact that the reality of the indentureship exercise was one of "coercion, duplicity, brutality and dehumanization", it is this moment of arrival that the holiday would serve to celebrate.

For the sake of argument, if we were to apply Mr. Scott's reasoning, Afro-Guyanese should not celebrate Emancipation Day since it would be an "act of masochism" for them to "celebrate the suffering and degradation of those captive people." Defenders, I imagine, might rightly argue, that recognizing the day is a celebration of the final defeat of their own "dehumanisation".

I also disagree with the NFA's contention that this embracing of our various and common history would "only exacerbate existing tensions in the society".

In fact it would do the exact opposite: help to instil into the Guyanese consciousness the need for tolerance of our racial and cultural diversity. Recognition of only select groups is indeed what would "exacerbate existing tension in the society."

Yours faithfully,

Rohan Sooklall