Migratory class dynamics among rural Indians
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LAST week, in this space, I addressed class dynamics among rural Indians. I will now address the transformation of class relations in rural Guyana in Berbice brought about by the socio-economic impact of Forbes Burnham’s cooperative socialist style of governance and migration.

Until the early 1990s, class relations revolved around occupation, meaning that well-to-do Indians hired working class Indians to work for them, mainly in rice cultivation, on a private basis. This socio-economic relationship was rather unique in that the working class Indians were paid weekly by the well-to-do Indians but the latter received their income semi-annually based on a two-crop rice cultivation practice per year.

Moreover, both classes co-mingled frequently beyond their working relationship. It is not surprising to see Indians from all backgrounds coming together to help with chores regarding religious functions and weddings. Class positions were flattened during these events. Interestingly, too, both classes shared a commonality of consuming rice, a staple like all Guyanese.

Then, when the rural Indian communities were about to take off like those in Trinidad and Suriname in the 1970s, terror struck. The culprit was Forbes Burnham’s policy of making the “little man a real man”, which altered the class relations among Indians. Burnham introduced policies that controlled the production of rice cultivation, essentially unleashing various policies ranging from paddy pricing to private access to international markets.

Indian rice-farmers had to sell their paddy to the government controlled Rice Marketing Board at a fixed price which was not determined by market forces. Additionally, the revenues from the rice industry were not re-invested in the rice industry. They were siphoned off to sustain the public sector, namely, the Police and Defence Force.

On page 326 in his book, the Great Downswing, Ramesh Gampat declares: “In effect, the rice industry, which was and still is, dominated by Indians, was being taxed to finance the spending spree of the Burnham government, including spending on the over-staffed civil service that benefited mostly Africans.” The question is: how did Indians who relied on rice cultivation cope with the stifling effects of cooperative socialism?

There were three approaches. First, there were those Indians who continued to go along with cooperative socialism including some rice planting elites hoping to get the best of an unfavourable situation. They were not active members in terms of promoting PNC doctrine wherever and whenever they went. They merely voted for the PNC, although they did influence some Indians to support the PNC. Second, there were those Indians who resisted cooperative socialism by withdrawing their participation in the rice industry or offering critical support to the PNC.  Third, there were those Indians who were simply fed up with cooperative socialism and out-migrated.

Despite these myriad approaches, cooperative socialism remained unhinged, culminating in the fragmentation of the Indian community. Some rice-planting extended Indian families broke up under the weight of cooperative socialism, leading to bitter conflicts of separation and unequal divisions of property among siblings. Some have not spoken to each other for decades.

I pause here to say that I have been following the class dynamic discussions in urban Guyana, revolving around how the middle class – light skin and mixed – have come to dominate Georgetown. Although the arguments are impressive, they have missed out on class dynamics in rural areas, and have inadvertently projected the image that rural Indians only became class-oriented when they migrated to urban areas. That might be the case.

However, the impact of cooperative socialism caused many Indians to out-migrate to urban areas, and, in so doing, have extended their class status from the countryside to urban areas with little or no social adjustment.

Nevertheless, out-migration and integration into the urban class system have not always been fluid. Some Indians bring to urban areas what some sociologists call status inconsistency and occupy contradictory class locations insofar as not fitting into a racially oriented class system based on colour and privilege “schooling.” Some migratory rural Indians then in urban Georgetown do have wealth and power but they are marginalised for lacking the “prestige” that comes with being educated at a higher institute of learning such as the University of Guyana.  The outcome has been that migratory Indians from the rural to urban areas have exchanged social mobility regarding geography and status but are not always accepted in the insular urban Creole class system. The mockery of how Indians speak in urban areas has not faded (lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu).

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