Some Thoughts of the Academic Diaspora from the
Indo-Caribbean Community

By Gokarran Sukhdeo

The Office of the Indian Ambassador-at-Large must be congratulated for organizing the workshop (on Saturday, March 27, 2004) on the Diasporic Perspective of the Indo-Caribbean Academician.

Noting: that there are over 24 million NRIs/PIOs worldwide which is arguably the largest on-going migration of any people in the recorded history of this world, which migration started almost two centuries ago; that NRIs/PIOs are contributing more than proportionately to the GDPs of their respective diasporic places of residence (typically illustrated by the fact that NRIs/PIOs amount to only 0.5% of the US population, but over 5% of the country’s scientists, engineers and professionals and have a per capita income higher than any other group; and that their contribution will in all probability increase geometrically in the future, given the impact of globalization and technological advancement; and further noting that there are current dissatisfactions with this rapid advancement of Indians both at home and abroad (as noted by the recent outcries that India is stealing US jobs); and finally that the full potentials of NRIs/PIOs are not fully utilized in terms of meeting the political, social and economic needs of our people both in the homeland and in our diasporic residences, I can only say that this conference was not only timely but also crucially important.

In my brief, and from the perspective of an Indo-Guyanese I would like to enumerate some areas in which I would like to see a greater involvement of Indo-Guyanese Academic and Indo-Guyanese Community as well as Indo-non-Guyanese to the political, economic and social upliftment of Indian people both in Guyana and in New York.

First of all, and this point would be argumentative – I feel the Indo-Guyanese diaspora in the US lacks maturity and cannot organize itself as a unified and forceful group in order to make tangible contributions in the areas I have mentioned. The fact that this forum is being organized by non-Guyanese to mobilize Guyanese, so to speak, attests to this. Another example of this lack of maturity and organization is the overwhelmingly negative (and a few very nasty) responses I received two weeks ago when I emailed some sixty academics, relaying to them a simple request from the University of Guyana, Berbice Campus, for help to stock their library.

True, in New York there is a myriad of established and well-organized religious, real estate and newspaper-publishing organizations. But these, are more or less mercenary in primary motive and hardly address the issues I am speaking about. As far as I know there is no organized academic group that is dedicated to seriously address political, social and economic issues of Guyana and Guyanese abroad. To this end I may suggest the nurturing guidance of the Office of the Ambassador-at-Large in organizing such a body. One particular problem I have observed whenever any attempt is made to organize an altruistic group, is the perception of strong (Hindu) religious or (PPP) partisan bias, and this tends to turn off or turn away other potential participants. At last Saturday workshop, I did not feel completely at home, and I suspect, neither did Reverend Seopaul Singh. If this situation persists, I may have to withdraw from future participation.

The most important contribution I as an academic (or one who professes to be) would like to see is one of socio-historic importance, and relates to the general perspective of NRIs/PIOs by other races in all the countries in which they have or had established themselves – South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, Burma, Fiji, Trinidad, Suriname, Guyana, and elsewhere. There is no denying it. Indians are seen as a people who attained prosperity by illicit or exploitative means at the expense of other races, marginalizing other races or local populations (which in a way might be construed as self-marginalization), lacking nationalism, very clannish and ethnic in culture. In short, a people no different than the (hated) Jew, who like the Jew, is someone not to be trusted, who does not belong, and must be expelled – which explains the victimization, disenfranchisement and violent expulsion of Indian people in countries, for example, in Uganda and Kenya, and the current violence specifically targeting Indians in many other countries.

It must be noted that in this second diaspora Indian people have been particularly subjected to brutality more from Blacks than other races. And this is ironic, because NRIs/PIOs have made great economic contributions to these so called Black countries, not to mention, great political contributions for the liberation of South Africa from apartheid.

Historically, the situation of Indians overseas has always been precarious, and will continue to be unless radical changes are made to alter this perspective of Blacks towards Indians.
I would like to propose that the dynamics of the political, social, economic and demographic situation in Guyana, more than any other country with an NRI/PIO population, offer a unique opportunity for Indo-Guyanese academics and community to derive and implement some radical and innovative measures that would alter this perspective, and as such, improve race relations between Blacks and people of Indian origin. I believe Guyana can set an example to all the other countries (particularly Fiji) where people of Indian origin reside.

Of course, we first need to have an organized caucus of Indo-Guyanese and perhaps other NRIs/PIOs that would derive these measures and the means of implementing them.

The first and urgent task of this caucus, I feel, would be to respond to the Black high-powered group comprising representatives from a dozen African and Caribbean countries that met on March 7 in London to discuss, according to them, the recent slaughter of over 400 Black people in Guyana. The group, enlightened by Ras Tom Dalgetty, passed a subsequent resolution of “solidarity with Guyanese Africans,” with “promise [of] material and financial assistance to resist the murderous onslaught being carried by the Indians ruling in Guyana.” It is difficult not to interpret what “material assistance” means, since it is not without significance to note that in their resolution, consisting of 209 words, the word slaughter is mentioned 4 times.

I would like to see this organized caucus of Academics be recognized by the Guyana Government and be called upon to provide expertise to Guyana in certain areas, thus helping in some way to recompense for the brain drain to which we have all contributed. We can even explore the setting up and funding of an organization similar to the US Peace Corps. Sending $100 million (US) annually in cash and goods only gives our families back home a fish to eat and makes them lazy. We need to help them to learn to fish. We need to explore banking and investment opportunities, and perhaps the sale Guyana Development Bonds in the US.

I would like to see TV programs in New York exposing artistic, educational and literary talents of our people and less of the belly-dancing and related talents. I would like to see panel discussions on civic, social and political affairs in our community and in Guyana, more like what we see on ITV.

I would like to see a stronger NRI/PIO lobby for political power New York City and in the US, a power that is commensurate with Indian economic, professional and academic contributions to this country.

I would like to see more Indo-Guyanese involvement in genealogical research so that we can trace our roots and reconnect ourselves to the spirits of our fore-parents.

I would like to see a bookstore (perhaps subsidized at first) in the Richmond Hill area, that provides an outlet for the wealth of Indo-Guyanese literature, both fiction and non-fiction, that is currently floating around.

I would like to see a stronger lobby for the inclusion of an Indo-Caribbean segment in the Caribbean Studies curriculum of all secondary schools and colleges in New York.

These are only some of my expectations – or dreams, if you please, in reference to the second diaspora of Indo-Guyanese and all other people of Indian origin residing in North America.

Gokarran Sukhdeo