The missing link between George Lamming and UG
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THE late Caribbean novelist George Lamming wrote eloquently, “For those Indians hands, whether in British Guiana or Trinidad, have fed us all. They are, perhaps, our only jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only people with a high sense of communal responsibility can.”
The portrayal of Indians in such a positive manner is monumental to even, I suspect, the uncaring. From any analytical angle, Lamming’s declaration can be described as a curious conscience nourished by truth.
Indeed, and notwithstanding the fault lines within itself, the Indian community is known for hard work and thrift, backed by empiricist literature. What Indians have in abundance as a trait, is their capacity and capability for the sacrifice and preference of family goals over individual ambitions.
The average Indian in the Caribbean, therefore, is not auto-piloted in his or her daily existence. Indians are culturally and economically, and to some extent, politically communal. Lamming was not, therefore, shooting in the dark when he shared the above dynamics of Indians in the Caribbean.
That said, Lamming’s observations of Indians have brought up a good deal of reservation I have had with some individuals about the academic status of Indians at the University of Guyana, an institution I dubbed elsewhere as the Community College of Guyana (CCG). No insult is meant with this labelling; I am referring to the missing link between what Lamming said and UG.
Upfront, there is not an academic Indo-Caribbean programme at this institution. How strange! Why? Well, Guyana has the largest population of Indians in the Western Hemisphere, outside of North America, and concomitantly, one would have expected that a recognisable academic programme, as opposed to a course here and there, be dedicated to them. Worse, the élan for an academic programme has been sluggish; practically absent, until recently.
The inaction and subsequent absence of an Indo-Caribbean programme at UG are tantamount to normalising an abnormal situation spewing contradictions. Where else in the academic world does one find a majority population receiving minimal academic attention? Just take a cursory look at the University of the West Indies, and you will find a situation quite contrary to what I am belabouring here. I find that the administrators there are acting in ways to assure legitimacy, insofar as the well-being of the majority is studied in no lackluster manner. None of this exists at UG.
From experience, I have had a difficult time at UG, first at the Tain Campus, and last year at Turkeyen. In the latter case, Dr. Farzana Gounder and I sent a journal proposal via email to the “heads” of UG. The following is what I wrote to them on August 25, 2021. “I am reaching out to you (name withheld) to see if you and the University of Guyana (perhaps the Berbice campus) would be interested in our journal proposal (see below) tentatively titled, Bonded Labour Migration.
The journal will fulfill a major gap between historical slavery and modern-day slavery through bonded labour. Given the proliferation of books, book chapters, conferences, and articles on the subject on an international scale, we feel it is time to devote an academic journal to this area of research.”
I received an acknowledgment, and that was that. I do not believe in approaching academic and administrative doors with a bouquet of flowers in my hands, with both knees on the floor.
Ironic, too, is that in academic intuitions in the US, for example, the marginalised perspectives of minorities are promoted in ethnic studies, while at UG, the majority appears to be marginalised. This is quite bizarre. It seems like the cart before horse syndrome is at work there.
Several positive outcomes can be accomplished, despite how limited, from the Indo-Caribbean programme, or ethnic study programme at UG that includes historical, sociological, political, and economic perspectives. There are thousands of “foreigners” coming to Guyana because of the oil-and-gas industry, and these individuals would most likely understand Guyana, not only from practical experience but also from an academic standpoint.
UG is not in a position to help them. More importantly, however, the students; the future leaders of Guyana, will benefit from an ethnic study programme. An ethnic study programme, if managed efficiently, encourages students to think critically, improves personal empowerment, builds self-efficacy, invokes social change, and builds cultural competency leading, ultimately, to the understanding of one’s own culture while appreciating others. The time has arrived to start at least an ethnic study programme at UG. Am I asking for too much? (lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu).

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