PRESIDENT Irfaan Ali on Friday remembered the late former President, Ms. Janet Jagan for her ability to be a unifying force, her selflessness, humility and her love for the arts and culture when he delivered the feature address at an event held at Freedom House in celebration of her 100th Birth Anniversary.
Described as a legend and a visionary, former President Janet Jagan was hailed for her contributions to fighting for women’s rights, worker rights and democracy.
“She came at a time when it must not have been easy for women, and had to impose herself in a society different from the one she came from. She was a dynamic visionary, in that although she was not from the same cultural makeup, Guyanese put their trust in her. She was a unifying force,” President Ali related as he spoke to the small gathering of mostly women assembled for the event.
Born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago, Illinois on October 20, 1920, her life’s journey would bring her to the Land of Many Waters after she met and subsequently married former President, Dr Cheddi Jagan.
The pair would move to Guyana in December 1942, and she would become most well known for her dedication to her adopted nation, where she would live out the remainder of her life. She died on March 28, 2009, and her body was cremated on March 31 here in Guyana.
Immediately upon coming to Guyana, Mrs. Jagan entered a life of activism, with emphasis on worker rights and women’s rights, and would subsequently renounce her US citizenship in the 1960s. President Ali said Mrs. Jagan’s decision to leave her homeland was an act of selflessness.
“She had a choice to go back, but she saw something that inspired her, and in a selfless manner, she left everything behind and committed herself. She gave everything up, and put all her efforts into the struggle for independence; the struggle for democracy, struggle against dictatorship,” the president said.
Mrs. Jagan served as President from December 1997 to August 1999, becoming the country’s first female Head-of-State. She was also the country’s first female Prime Minister, having served in that capacity from March 1997 to December 1999.
With 55 years of representing the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in Parliament, Mrs. Jagan has the distinction of being the longest-serving Member of the National Assembly.
In 1993, she was awarded the country’s highest national award, the Order of Excellence, while in 1998, she was awarded the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for her work with Women’s Rights.
MUST NOT BE ALLOWED
Noting that there are some political elements who often try to damage and disparage Mrs. Jagan’s selfless service to Guyana, President Ali passionately affirmed that this must not be allowed.
“You cannot get too busy, to the extent that you leave lies unanswered. Comrade Janet’s selflessness led her to sacrificing everything for this new country; that level of selflessness is undoubtedly the characteristics we can all take and adopt as we confront our own challenges,” the president underscored.
Mrs. Jagan’s commitment and selflessness, President Ali said, came from her principle of believing in a cause, and being willing to stand up for what is right, a trait he said that was exemplified by many earlier this year as the country went to the polls.
“What was the cause or various issues that she believed in? Democracy, freedom, and independence. Today, we see how believing in a cause is important. We saw many young people who believed in a cause ensuring that the democracy that we won in 1992 would not be taken from us. Comrade Janet would have been proud of them,” Dr. Ali said.
Among those also making remarks at the event was Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Vindyha Persaud; General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), Mr. Seepaul Narine; and Chairperson of the Women and Gender Equality Commission, Ms. Indra Chanderpal.
They all spoke of personal encounters they would have had with the late President, each sharing how she would have touched them in a lasting way.
Dr. Persaud, during her address, focused on what a pleasant person Mrs. Jagan was.
“When people can sit 100 years after your birth and reflect on you, it must mean you touched many lives, and made a tangible impact in their lives. Not only many lives were touched, but history was fashioned by Janet Jagan’s contributions to Guyana,” Dr. Persaud highlighted as she opened her address.
MUST NEVER FALL TO THE WAYSIDE
Emphasising the many contributions Janet made as trailblazer for women rights, Dr. Persaud charged that Janet’s dream of seeing women continuously elevating themselves must never fall to the wayside
“She believed way back then that women should have a voice. She empowered women to step out from behind the shadow and be heard. As we celebrate 100 years of the life of a remarkable women honour her further by teaching your daughters to never limit themselves. We need to change the story of the women of this country. I would like to see more Janet Jagans,” Dr. Persaud said.
Also focusing on Janet’s work on women rights, Chanderpaul described the former President as courageous, bold and determined, and also spoke of her love for the arts.
Narine fittingly spoke of Jagan’s dedication to the labour movement and the rights of the working class.
“Many of us are aware of Janet Jagan as a politician but I must reflect on some of her support to the trade union movement. She displayed a bias to the working class throughout her life. Her life was enmeshed with that of the working class, she was active in trade union and took part in many battles,” Narine shared.
He reminded of the pivotal role Jagan played in bringing to the fore many legislation that spoke to the improvement of the life of the working class.