Racism and Status of Sugar Industry: Two Burning Issues Avoided at London Conference


By Dr Tara Singh

The two-day London Conference on Indenture Abolition Centenary (IACC) held from October 6th to 7th, 2017 did not play out as has been reported in the Guyana Mirror newspaper.

The IACC was sponsored by the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and the University of Warwick, with support from the Gafoor’s family.

It was not clear to the observer what were the conference objectives, other than to reflect on the immigration experience on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of recruitment of labor under the Indentureship system. Apart from from indicating that a volume will be publicized in a book format based on the presentations, no mention was made on how the cause of the descendants of Indian immigrants could be protected and promoted further.

It is ironic that a conference that was conceptualized mainly by Indo-Caribbean scholars, never focused on the contemporary issues that face the descendants of Indian immigrants, and what approach could be taken to ease and improve their condition of existence.

While there were a few good academic presentations, the presenters appeared in general to lack passion in the dissemination of their ideas and findings. The connection with the audience was missing. This was amply reflected in most of the presenters reading verbatim from their prepared texts. Such an approach was not stimulating. For example, one person who was apparently perplexed by that type of presentation, asked me: “ what is the presenters really saying?” I smiled and remarked: “I guess they are impressing their colleagues with their knowledge!”

Participants at Conference.

I believe that at least one good thing emerged out of the conference. It was the Gafoor family’s announcement that they will fund for the next 15 years, an annual lecture on the Indian immigration system at the University of Warwick.

The first Gafoor lecture was introduced by Ameena Gafoor and was well delivered at the conference by Brinsley Samaroo. His subject was based on philosophy and the rise of Islam in the Caribbean. Another good presentation was made by Clem Seecharran who focused on the history and contribution of plantation Port Mourant to Guyana’s politics and sports.

There were 33 presentations. Most of the topics ( 24) were skewed towards Guyana, except Gitanjali Pyndiah’s focus on “violence on women in Mauritius;” Rajrani Gobin’s “The legacies of Indentureship in Mauritius…”; Christopher Ballenges “Tassa drumming…;” Jonathan Prasad’s “The sonic construction of an imagined home land;” Sarojni Lewis’ “Traces of Bhojpuri female migrants in Surinam….;” Sonodo Setsuko’s voices from the Chinese Indentured laborers…;” Eddie Bruce’s “Kala pani and the archive…;” Brinsley Samaroo’s “Connections in flora, fauna and patterns of Indian inheritances ;” and “ Priya Swamy’s “Tetary rising, constructing an aesthetics of freedom fighting ….”

With Trinidad and Tobago having the highest number of descendants of Indian immigrants in the Caribbean, as well as, much more than Guyana, I expected that presentations on the Trinbago immigration experience, would have been significant. That was not the case. Also, I wonder why the conference was unable to attract more than a couple of University students!

In addition, I am curious to know why Nagamootoo was invited to the conference. He was to appear on Saturday October 7, 2017, at Woburn Hall, Senate Building of the University of London, but we were told that he had to act as President of Guyana, and that’s something that he, Nagamootoo, would not give up for anything else in the world. Instead, the program was altered to accommodate a message from him through Skype or some other medium, but I am not sure whether that happened. We left the conference before that event.

Why did David Dabydeen invite Nagamootoo as a special guest to the conference? I don’t care whom one chooses as his friends, but I do care about fairness and morality in academia. Nagamootoo cannot speak for Indians in Guyana, much less for Caribbean Indians. The two legitimate leaders of Indians and others in the Caribbean are Kamla Persaud Bissessar, the Trinbago Opposition Leader, and Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana Opposition Leader. Why weren’t these two stalwarts invited to the London conference?

Nagamootoo is part of a system that fired hundreds of Indian and thousands of Amerindian workers in 2015 and they are now closing down the sugar industry. Nagamootoo and his political colleagues have done much more damage to the descendants of Indian immigrants than the plantocracy did to their (Indian immigrants) fore-parents!

Someone asked me to compare the London conference with the Global Convention in Trinidad and Tobago in March, 2017, and having reflected upon it for a while, I give the Trinbago Convention a score of 9 out of 10, while the London conference, I give it 5.5.

I was disappointed that no discussion was encouraged on one of the most blistering problems of Guyana and Trinbago, that is, racism which is eating away at the social and economic fabric of society. Presenters and organizers avoided that subject. Why? They apparently wanted to be politically correct! They didn’t want to lose the goodwill of the relevant authorities, even though that meant the compromising of academic excellence or standards.

Equally frustrating as well as disappointing, was the lack of discussion on the status of the sugar industry. It seems that the industry that had caused our fore-parents to be brought to the Caribbean and elsewhere in the diaspora, was not important enough to be placed on the agenda or to be a subject of a serious debate. Did the organizers deliberately left out the subject of racism and the crisis of the sugar industry, because of Nagamootoo’s expected presence? I know that those topics would have been awkward if Nagamootoo was there!

The Blacks have argued that they built the infrastructure of the sugar industry; it is also recognized that the Indians saved the sugar industry from collapse; but now the proud position of the Blacks is being dismantled because the Blacks are destroying the very industry that they claimed they had built!

The sugar industry was already killed in Trinbago by the Black-led PNM (People’s National Movement) government. In Guyana, Nagamootoo has joined with the PNC-dominated coalition to close down a number of sugar estates and eventually the entire industry.
Thousands of sugar workers accounting for the livelihood of over 50,000 individuals would be struggling for survival. The decision to close the sugar estates is a political and not an economic one. Nagamootoo and his cohorts should know that the prospects of oil revenues could never compensate for the demise of the sugar industry. Just imagine a huge matter like this was avoided at the London Conference! Academic politics?


The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.