Gibson book misinterprets caste system - Misir
By Edlyn Benfield
Stabroek News
April 21, 2004

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Dr Kean Gibson's book, The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana, falsely interprets the caste system in Hinduism as a mandatory requirement of that religion, Dr Prem Misir told the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) yesterday.

Misir, in his personal capacity, presented this view to the ERC when its inquiry continued into the allegation by the Indian Arrival Commit-tee (IAC) that Gibson's book is "peddling and spreading racial hatred between Guyana's principal ethnic groups."

Gibson, according to Misir, has used the argument that East Indians in Guyana are seeking to oppress Africans in their quest "to secure and sustain power". And she has purported that the East Indians' justification for this oppression lies, "in the dualism of good and evil where Hindus see themselves as good, and perceive Africans as evil because of their black skin colour."

Misir continued that Gibson's thesis stems from her misguided and Westernis-ed perception that 'varna' - meaning different shades of texture or colour - as referred to in Chapter 4, verse 13 of the Gita, sets people apart by their skin colour.

According to Misir, while the four colours of varna distinguish one group of persons from another, the distinction is completely unrelated to skin colour. Rather, it refers to "the mental temperaments" of these persons.

Misir, who quoted his source as one Swami Chin-mayananda, said varna is used in the Gita in the 'Yogic-sense'. "In the Yoga Sastra, they attribute some definite colours to the triple gunas, which mean... 'the mental temperaments'. Thus, Sattwa is considered as white, Rajas as red and Tamas as black," Misir stated, adding that man is essentially the thoughts he entertains.

Misir told the commission that varna is independent of sex, birth or breeding and pointed out that a class determined by temperament and vocation is not a caste determined by birth and heredity. In other words, the class to which one is relegated in the Hindu religion, is dependent on the character that person portrays.

The Indian government, Misir insisted, outlawed the caste system because it eventually took on a western definition that can be viewed as concurrent with the Portuguese term 'casta'. "The caste system in this degenerative form has little or no relevance or application to Guyana today, even among the Hindus themselves…"

Addressing the issue of socio-economic status as related in Dr. Gibson's book, Misir said that the major ethnic groups are well represented at the country's Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations with 40 of the top 140 candidates being Africans.

The commission requested that he supply evidence in relation to his claim of large- scale African representation on existing state boards. Misir told the commission that he has only been able to study 27 of the country's 51-odd state boards.

Asked by ERC Chairman, Bishop Juan Edghill whether he agreed with the IAC complaint, Misir responded: "I would not have come [to the hearing] if I did not feel that Dr Gibson's book has done a disservice to the promotion of racial unity... I agree with the IAC's complaint."

The Pan African Organisa-tion, through its representative Lennox King, told the ERC that Dr Gibson's book has come at a time when the Guyanese society has reached the stage of implosion.

According to King, the Indian perspective of life can be deemed "selfish and avaricious" and seen to exclude the tenet "live and let others live."

King asserted that the book has served to answer several questions that have haunted the African Guyanese for years including why late PNCR leaders and former presidents, Forbes Burnham and Hugh Desmond Hoyte, were so hated by Indian Guyanese despite their best efforts to bring about change in the best interest of all Guyanese. "… It is not the book that is causing or has caused [racial conflict], the book is begging us to turn away from our wicked ways or we will all be consumed."

The book, according to King, is neither a call to arms nor an instrument of incitement of racial hatred. "Those who are peddling the notion that this book is fanning the flames of racial conflict ought to look in the mirror; for...there is a saying thus 'life is but a looking glass/mirror, he who sees mock is mock."

The banking system and tender procedures, King purported, have been used to effectively marginalise Afri-can Guyanese contractors and this coupled with the placement of contract workers of a particular ethnic group in lucrative positions in the Public Service and the method of land distribution by the current government are all designed to disenfranchise African Guyanese. "Not only does the book give us insight as to why things are happening the way they are, but it also allows us to understand what happened in the past and allows us to determine what can happen in the future."

However, King said, he did not agree with everything in Gibson's book and dismissed her reference to Hamilton Green's attainment of the post of Mayor as being associated with his linkages to the PPP and his being used as a tool for the PPP to remove mostly Afro-Guyanese vendors from the sidewalks as "emotional" and a "falsehood."

Asked by the Commission whether he agreed that just as he had found Gibson's references to Green to be erroneous, other persons were entitled to find sections of her book similarly erroneous, King said for the most part Gibson's book "is the unadulterated truth."

King has lodged a formal complaint on behalf of his organisation against the Guyana Indian Heritage Association (GIHA) publication 'Indians Betrayed'.

The hearing continues today.