One of my daughters up north sent us photos of her garden, sprouting fresh blooms of flowers. Her vegetable plot has started to blossom leaves of green.
In places where people battle bitter winter and then chilling cold spells in Spring, the evolving scenery of green appears, in the lyrics of the old Irish ballad, like the “merry, merry month of May”.
In Guyana, we have late spring and summer all year around, although our sun-lit, beautiful greenery is often taken for granted. But when we have a string of holidays spawning a weekend, lasting five days, in the middle of a work from/stay at home regime, it does look like the merry month of May.
This month has started off being very eventful. Yesterday we marked Labour Day; today is World Press Freedom Day, and Tuesday is Arrival Day, styled Indian Arrival Day. Not far away is May 26, another national holiday, when Guyana will observe its 54th year of independence.
All these events individually and collectively celebrate the freedoms that Guyana has achieved over many years. Political independence, industrial democracy and press freedom are no longer “forbidden fare”. They are enjoyed by our people in the same way that we relish our fresh air, clean water, fertile soil and lush greenery.
“Forbidden fare” was used by Lord Byron in my favourite poem, “Prisoner of Chillon”, to describe the total absence of freedom. In one of the Gitanjali poems, Rabindranath Tagore described as the “heaven of freedom” a place “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…” In no where else is this “heaven” evident than in the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, and in a free press.
PRESS FREEDOM DAY
As we celebrate Press Freedom Day today, I extend warm and fraternal greetings to all journalists, broadcasters and other media workers in Guyana and in our Caribbean, who are daily broadening the frontiers of this fundamental right to free speech.
I am proud to be associated, over the past 50 years, in the strivings for press freedom which is both guaranteed and protected in Guyana. For some thirteen years now I have held ministerial responsibilities for public information in different governments, and under several Presidents. I can say this unequivocally: there has been no greater freedom of the media and respect for the rights of journalists than under the David Granger presidency.
The reason is self-evident: like me, he is a journalist, a publicist and author. Ink, as I would say, runs in his veins!
RESPECT FOR WORKERS
Except for isolated episodes of ugly totalitarian disrespect for workers by a named foreign private sector business, workers in Guyana enjoy industrial and trade union democracy.
Our State, under the APNU+AFC Coalition, rests of a tripod of partnership among the State, Private Sector and Labour. That was why in May Day Messages, the Government and all civic groupings collectively commended our working people. They reached out in solidarity with our dedicated medical and health care providers, members of the disciplined, sanitary, port health services, and all other frontline workers who are battling COVID-19.
Guyana remains a unique diverse country that celebrates the presence of all of its peoples. An entire month has been designated to Indigenous peoples heritage; Emancipation Day marks the day when slavery was abolished, and different days in the annual calendars have been set aside to observe Chinese, Portuguese and Indian Arrivals.
By whatever ways that our people have populated this land and founded our Guyanese civilization, we must use each and every one of these auspicious dates and events to reflect on an historical truism: the decimation of our Indigenous peoples by European imperialist conquistadores, their trade in human beings as cargoes, and the brutal exploitation of our people for free and cheap labour over centuries have, combined, taken more lives and inflicted more sufferings worldwide than all previous plagues and viruses, and including the current coronavirus pandemic.
Over the years, we have pulled together and we have made strides. True, as Dr. Basdeo Mangru reflected in his text, “The History of East Indian Resistance on the Guyana Sugar Estates”, many of the early Indians had dreamt of returning to India. He noted how they had “melt down silver coins to make jewelry with which they bedecked their wives and children”, and had looked towards their repatriation to India with “small fortunes”.
Many Indians chose to remain, and to make Guyana their home. Since 1838, Guyana has become the homeland of several generations of Guyanese of Indian heritage, who have made significant all-round contributions to the development and progress of their country.
Our Guyanese people of Indian ancestry have distinguished themselves in business, cricket, cuisine, medicine, law, journalism, literature, music, creative arts, and in politics.
After 182 years we acknowledge these contributions. The West Indian author, George Lamming symbolized them when, reflecting on the role of Indian women, he noted: “those Indian hands – whether in British Guiana or Trinidad – have fed all of us.”
My own great, great grand-parents on both my maternal and paternal side, were uprooted from Southern India as early as in 1847. When I was conferred with an honorary doctoral degree some years ago in Tamil Nadu, I dedicated the award to my ancestors and to all other Indians who had crossed the “kala pani” to work on the colonial sugar plantations.
The freedoms we have attained over these years cannot be surrendered to new conquistadores. We cannot and must not allow those who are forging new geo-political and strategic chains in our Caribbean region to intimidate us, to imprison us. They are around, again, as Martin Carter once wrote, “watching us sleep and aiming at our dreams”.
So, there is much during this month of May to celebrate, even though we do so in our heart, in our conviction, in our resolve to defend our freedom and our sovereignty!