His Excellency Brigadier David Granger: Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr Norton; His Excellency, The High Commissioner of India Mr. V. Mahalingam; Honourable Mr. Irfaan Ali, Member of the National Assembly; Head of the HSS, Mr. Ravi Dev; Members of the GIIA- The Guyana Indian Indentureship Abolition Association; Members of the Religious Community; Special Invitees; Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Media.
I’m very happy to be here this evening and I would like to thank those persons who have paid tribute to the support given by the Guyana Defence Force, again this is a national celebration and I am very happy to give national support to a national celebration.
So, the Guard of Honour, the artillery that you will see in a few minutes, the Special Forces who jumped from the planes, the exhibition you saw here- are all in recognition of the importance of this important event.
Next week we will be celebrating another important event as Mr. Ravi Dev said- the massacre at Rose Hall and I have declared that day, the 13th of March as a Day of National Observance for the Rose Hall Martyr’s and I would like to assure you here at Leonora that I will declare the day on which Indian immigration was abolished, also as a national day of observance.
At the beginning of this year I declared the 12th of January as the National Day of Observance for Chinese Immigration at a little distance from here at Windsor Forest; there is a monument- a simple monument marking the day in 1853 that the Chinese landed here at Windsor Forest on the West Demerara and on the 3rd of May we will declare also Portuguese Immigration Day because that was the day in 1835 when the Portuguese first arrived in Guyana.
These national days are not meant to divide our country, our community, our society, but they are meant to recognize each and every thread in the tapestry of our society. They are meant to show respect to each and every person; each and every citizen, each and every ethnic group. So we will continue giving recognition to the people who are responsible for creating this nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I said a minute ago- this is a national celebration; all Guyanese, not just West-Demerara, not just Region Three, but all Guyanese should commemorate the centenary of the closure of a dark chapter in our history.
This event, this time, this place and the location here- I believe was a former sugar plantation, reminds us of the value that we all place on human dignity; the values we place on human equality and the values we place on human liberty.
Indentured Indian immigration transformed the culture, the demography and the political economy of what use to be British Guiana. It transformed also the people who came; it transformed the Africans, the Chinese, the Indians and the Portuguese. It transformed the lives of the people who were living here from time immemorial- the Amerindians.
Indian indentured immigration was big business for the British Empire. In the 19th century, they exported over three and a half million Indians to the tropical colonies of three European empires. The recipients of those immigrants were colonies of Britain, colonies of the Netherlands and colonies of France.
They were trafficking in persons because that is what it was, trafficking in persons; if they did that today they’d be charged with trafficking in persons of Indian origin. It was a cruel phase in our history, in the history of the world. Indians resisted the abuse, Indians resist the brutality, Indians resist the confinement on the plantation; they resisted the oppression and the violence of the sugar plantations.
As Ravi Dev has said a little while ago, our coastland is littered with memorials to the martyrs of Indian indentureship- at Devonshire Castle, at Enmore, at Rose Hall, and in other scenes of riots where people died- at Ruimveldt and Nooten Zuil where there are more memorials. It is not a question of martyrdom; it’s a question of historical fact and we should not forget how we got here. We got here by the blood and the sweat and the struggle of our foreparents.
Indians were able to turn tragedy, the tragedy of separation from their motherland in the triumph of settlement in their adopted homeland. They responded to the challenge of indentureship by recreating familiar conditions, relevant to sustaining their existence here.
They cultivated also respectful relations with other peoples who they found here. Their resilience, the relevance of their customs and their respectful relations with others remain cornerstones of the Indian quest for integration after the abolition of indentured immigration in 1917. These are some of the legacies of those who came.
Indians came to British Guiana to provide a labour force on the sugar plantations following the abolition of enslavement of the Africans in 1838. The eight decades also from 1838 to 1917 saw almost 240,000 Indians arrive here.
The majority, about 70% of them remained after their indentured had expired. The abolition of Indian indentured immigration brought to an end a cruel system. The mortality rate of immigrants during the long journey on the ship, from the East-Indies to the West-Indies was high.
Working conditions on the plantations were appalling. Indentured labourers were victims of low wages and high rates of mortality but Indians were able to overcome the brutalities of the plantations by virtue of their resilience. They resisted and they persevered.
They established villages, they explored avenues of economic freedom off the plantations as soon as their indentures ended and so did the Africans, so did the Chinese, so did the Portuguese. As soon as they could leave the plantations they sought freedom and dignified labour.
They expanded their own net income, earning activities in agriculture, in business, in politics and in the urban professions. The end of Indian immigration saw Indians expanding their presence in all aspects of our country’s culture, economy, politics and social life.
The decision of the immigrants to make British Guiana their home allowed the immigrant mentality to give way gradually to the citizenship identity.
Indian culture retention with Guyanese features are clearly visible today in their beliefs, in their customs, in their dress, in their festivals, in their food, in their music, in their religious beliefs and traditions.
Religious customs initially practiced within the home were replaced by the construction of mandirs and masjids and churches and we saw tonight the demonstration of the complexity of the religious beliefs of Indians; Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
The cultural values, the displays of industry, of thrift, of family-hood also contributed to their success and social cohesion. The educational achievement of our local born children soared once abolition was achieved.
There was an increase in attendance in schools; schools run by the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Anglicans and Catholics and now of course today here in the West Demerara schools run by the Hindus themselves and Muslims in other parts of the country.
Economic opportunities became available with the access of land for housing and for farming leading to the cultivation of rice, of coconuts and the rearing of livestock. The abolition of indentured immigration intensified the efforts of the Indians to integrate more fully into our multi-ethnic society.
The Indians realized that they shared a common space with other ethnic groups. They recognized the necessity for coexistence and today we have a beautiful nation made up of five different peoples; the Africans, Europeans, Indians, Chinese and the Amerindian peoples.
Indians immigrants sought respectful relations with these groups and today I can say that we enjoy peaceful and friendly relations and when you see what happened in other regions of the world where on religious or ethnic grounds communities are torn apart, you can see that we are living in a virtual oasis of peace.
The cultural practice of tolerance among ethnic groups in our country laid the basis for a more cohesive society. Ladies and gentlemen, the abolition of Indian indentured immigration bequeathed to us and to our children a rich legacy, a legacy of resilience, a legacy of the retention of the cultural values and a legacy of the recognition of the need to live together in a shared common space on the basis of mutual respect.
We celebrate the contributions of persons of Indian ancestry to the development of our country and I hope and pray that HSS in partnership with the government will continue to observe this important event every year.
We congratulate the organizers of their centenary celebration, the centenary of the observance of an important milestone in our country’s history. This celebration is timely, as I said; it comes as a busy time for Indians. We will soon be celebrating Holi. Next week we’ll be observing the commemoration of the Rose Hall massacre.
All these events remind us of the complexity and the beauty of our society.
So I congratulate you because this ceremony is a timely tribute to the strength and the resilience of our foreparents and it’s a fitting foundation on which to build a more cohesive nation.
I thank you for inviting me here this evening and I congratulate you on an excellent celebration of the closure of Indian immigration in British Guiana in 1917.
Thank you and may God bless you all.

Leave a Comment