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Guyana: Indo-guyanese and their legacy

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Where is Guyana?

Guyana, officially the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, is a sovereign state on the northern mainland of South America. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Suriname to the east and Venezuela to the west. With 215,000 square kilometres, Guyana is the third-smallest country on mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname.

How many people of Indian origin live there?

Its current population of the country is close to 7.5 Lakh (700 thousand) and about 44 percent of Guyanese population consists of people of Indian origin. The descendants of indentured East Indian immigrants and settlers who came to British Guyana between 1838 and 1928 constitute the largest group in the population, Today, they play essential roles in the economic, political and cultural life of the country. The current Prime Minister of Guyana is of Tamil origin, Mr Moses Nagamootoo.

How did East Indians arrive in Guyana?

Three years after the start of Potuguese immigration and four months before African emanicipation in August 1838, East Indians started to arrive. Over the next nine decades, 239,909 Indian immigrants would arrive until the termination of the system in 1917, a few hundred others came up to 1928. Of these, 75,547 returned to India under the terms of their contract. The remainder who survived chose to make this country their home.

What were the first few Indian languages of Guyana?

First  immigrants from India to Guyana were a form of Bhojpuri people. During that period 1842-1871, more than 73 percent of the immigrants came from areas where the languages spoken were Maithali, Magahi, Bhojpuri, Avadhi and several western dialects.

Over time in the new environment, a process of homongenization took place leading to leveled form of Bhojpuri that subsumed the other dialects. This amalgamated language was termed as “Guyanese Bhojpuri”.

Why Tamil language was not subsumed by “Guyanese Bhojpuris”?

Tamil language was not subsumed by the “Guyanese Bhojpuri” as Tamil belongs to the Dravidian family of languages whereas the north Indian languages are members of the Indo Aryan family of languages. In Guyana, it is well known that in the Albion area of the country, there is a large Tamil community where the Dravidian culture still flourishes. So, South Indian immigrants learned the Guyanese Bhojpuri for communication with their north Indian counterpart but maintained communication in Tamil within their group.

How did Urdu emerge?

Around three quarters of all the Indian indentured immigrants to Guyana were Hindus and around one quarter were Muslims. This division is important as religion has played a large pole in the Indian culture that evolved in Guyana. Towards the end of indentureship period, more and more formal Hindi and Urdu were being introduced through the school system, the translators examinations and the influx of more educated immigrants to take on the role of Hindu and Muslim priests.(image: operationworld.org)(Inputs from stabroeknews.com and Ekta Mal)

  • Rakesh Manchanda

    Impressive mapping by NewsGram on Indo-guyanese rich legacy.Reminds me of a French colonised Republic de Mali with less then 1000 Indians.Here the old bollywood stars Mithin Charavaty and his old classics like `disco dancer` and `Nuree` dubbed in local language or in French are a big hit. Mithin the Indian disco dancer is a household name in Mali.

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All you Need to Know About the Protests in India Over Citizenship Law

India's Citizenship Law Leading to Rise in Hate Crimes, Experts Warn

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A demonstrator attends a protest against riots following clashes between people demonstrating for and against a new citizenship law in New Delhi. VOA

By Niala Mohammad

Protests in India over the Citizenship Amendment Act, a law Muslims claim discriminates against them, led to violent sectarian clashes in Delhi last week, killing dozens of Muslims and Hindus. This is a breaking news.

Experts warn the controversial law, passed by India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in December 2019, is taking India to a point of no return, marked by a major shift away from the country’s secular and religiously tolerant system. The bill could further widen the gap between Hindus and minority Muslims in the country, leading to a dangerous escalation in communal violence, they said.

“The CAA has fostered both pro and anti-CAA protests, with the state and the ruling party offering a measure of support in favor of the former. The atmosphere in Delhi, which has seen sustained protests for weeks, has become exceptionally polarized on religious grounds,” Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told VOA.

Vaishnav said the Muslim population in India has felt increasingly marginalized over the years as the country’s political landscape was overrun by Hindutva, a hard-line Hindu ideology fostered by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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Supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party shout slogans during a rally in support of a new citizenship law, in Kolkata, India. VOA

“Hindutva is, quite literally, ‘Hindu-ness.’ It is shorthand for the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda in that the party is premised on the notion that India is culturally a Hindu nation,” Vaishnav said.

There are an estimated 200 million Muslims in India. Considered a minority community, Muslims say the December citizenship law targets them by granting citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring countries.

The CAA law gives fast-tracked citizenship to undocumented migrants from the “Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from neighboring Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014,” the law states. Indian officials say Muslim immigrants are excluded from the law because they constitute a majority in all the countries listed in the CAA.

Clashes between Hindu mobs chanting “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram) and mostly Muslim anti-CAA protesters left at least 46 people dead. Hundreds more were injured during the fighting as schools, businesses, properties and places of worship were torched.

Deadly riots

Babbu, a Muslim auto driver, was one of the 46 victims of the riots. His brother Pappu told VOA that Babbu was out working when a Hindu mob surrounded his rickshaw.

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All India Youth League activists burn an effigy of Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah during a protest against India’s new citizenship law and Shah’s presence at a political rally in Kolkata. VOA

“I got a call from someone telling me that they saw my brother being beaten by a mob. When I reached to where he was, I found him lying on a cart severely injured. I rushed him to the hospital. He died this morning,” Pappu told VOA.

Videos and images of mosques being vandalized and Muslims being beaten by Hindu mobs have circulated on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, causing international concerns about the safety of Muslims in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week called for calm, urging both sides to end days of violent clashes.

“Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times. It is important that there calm and normalcy is restored at the earliest,” Modi said in a tweet responding to riots in the capital city of more than 18 million people.

However, the opposition party, Indian National Congress, is holding the BJP responsible for the violence, and has called on Home Minister Amit Shah to resign for instigating sectarian divide in India.

“There is a conspiracy behind the violence; [the] country also saw this during Delhi elections. Many BJP leaders made inciting comments creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred,” opposition leader Sonia Gandhi said, speaking of February local legislative election in Delhi in which the BJP suffered a major loss to Aam Aadmi Party.

Muqtedar Khan, a professor of Islamic political philosophy at the University of Delaware and India expert at the Center for Global Policy, told VOA that policies endorsed by the current government are seen by many Indians as divisive and destructive to centuries-old communal bonds in the country.

“This has been an extremely egregious and atrocious display of communal politics from police and leaders. And it has put the fear of God in the Muslim minority. … They are living in terror,” Khan said. He added the Hindutva movement was comparable to radical Islamic movements that want to establish their own state with Sharia laws.

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Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India. VOA

Hindutva

The term Hindutva, or the essence of Hinduism, was coined in the 1920s by Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and adopted by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). RSS is a hard-line Hindu organization closely affiliated with Modi and the BJP.

“RSS is not like ISIS and the BJP is certainly not like al-Qaida. They may be like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Freedom and Justice Party [in Egypt].” Khan told VOA, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

He warned that further isolation of the Muslim minority could be exploited by jihadist groups like IS to recruit members of the community.

Last week, pro-IS outlet al-Qitaal Media Center reportedly launched a publication titled “Voice of Hind,” calling on Indian Muslims to join the group. The publication said there was no place for nationalism in Islam and that Indian Muslims had to join “the caliphate” in response to the violence again them.

Abhijit Iyer Mitra, a senior analyst at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, the outbreak of the Hindu-Muslim violence cannot be exclusively blamed on the CAA law. He stated the Indian government over the years has introduced several social reforms seen by Muslims as targeting their religious practices.

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“In addition to the salience of Hindutva, the BJP’s agenda has also been to sharpen substance through progressive social legislation,” Mitra said.

Indian Muslims have protested several decisions by the BJP government, including the cattle purchase and sale ban, Muslim instant divorce or “triple talaq” ban, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the revoking of article 370 in Kashmir coupled with an internet shutdown in the region. (VOA)