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KOWSILLA, ACTIVISM & HARASSMENT
Guyanese Activists Subject to Violence & Harassment
In the 1960's protest and activism was worldwide and a consciousness of change questioning the status quo was firmly expressed in society. Guyana became a hotbed of activism especially in the area of labor rights.
Leonora had a history of labor activism which started in 1939. Sumintra, a weeder, who was an East Indian, and two other workers were killed by British colonial police at the Leonora Sugar Estate. The press reported there was a "disturbance" going on at the time. Out of this incident, the Manpower Citizens Association (MPCA) was recognized by the government as the sugar workers first representative.
On March 6, 1964 Kowsilla, a/k/a Alice, from Leonora, was killed in a very gruesome way by estate scab, Felix Ross, who drove a tractor through her body and severed her in half. He was acquitted by a jury. She was a labor activist and single mother of four children. She was an executive of the Leonora WPO (Women's Progressive Organization). She advocated a fair wage for the workers. She was on the high bridge with about a dozen women to protest the wages. Jadai, Daisy Sookram and Kisson Dai sustained serious injuries that day, including broken backs, hip injuries and a lost kidney. Kowsilla lost her life in a very brutal way and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the rights of the workers.
All these women were East Indians. Many immigrants from India came to Guyana to work in the sugar cane fields and plantations. The colonial government finally was ended and Guyana became an independent nation after a bloody civil war occurred among various factions.
Pandit Anand Sukul, when he was at a yagna, talked about the dark days at Anna Catherina Hindu Temple in Guyana when he was physically threatened and told to leave the premises. There became a pattern of violence and harassment which continues even to this day. The PPP (People's Progressive Party) and PNC (People National Coalition) have been vying for power over the years. When the British colonial government lost power, there was a vacuum. So these two parties have been in contention since this time. The Black Africans were often scabs on the sugar estates and worked when the East Indians were on strike. So there is a history of contention among certain individuals in these groups.
Recently Guyana had a close election recently which was questioned by many people in the PPP and others in Guyana. The numbers did not add up correctly at some voting stations and questionable ballots showed up in numerous places. Supposedly the votes in question were thrown out, but some people wonder if they really were thrown out. David Garner of PNC became the President, but the PPP holds 32 seats in the Parliament vs. 33 for the PNC.
There was violence going on in the election week where Hindu priests and devotees had to stay away from the mandirs and temples because of the violence. Services and schools conducted by Hindus had to be suspended for awhile.
Swami Aksharnanda, a famous peace advocate and Hindu scholar, was verbally harassed by a group of Black Africans in Vreed-en-Hoop. According to the swami, "I was about to enter the boat, I was followed by a black guy and he began asking me some uncomfortable questions about myself and I refused to answer...he was very disrespectful and very loud and he was demanding I answer the questions." He said that several other Black Africans joined him in this harassment. The swami is often involved with national blood drives which help all Guyanese. He often works with Hindu priests, including Pandit Rajin Balgobin of Berbice. Unfortunately, this is not the only incident of this type going on recently in Guyana. Several other Guyanese have reported similar types of incidents.
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo could not travel until recently without permission. There was an allegation that he was violating the Representation of the People Act. Christopher Ram, a political activist and social commentator, filed the charge. The former President stated, "The Opposition consistently shouts about racism of the PPP, but they practice racism. The Opposition beats the drum at six in the morning and says let us throw the coolie people out." Christopher Ram says this statement incited racial or ethnic hatred.
In the United the States you might lose your job for making racial remarks, but I have never heard of anyone being place on a travel restriction for those kind of remarks. Several radio talk show hosts make racial statements all the time in the United States. No one says their travel should be restricted because of those remarks. Former President Jagdeo often has to travel to various countries as part of his role of being named "Champion of the Earth."
Education is important in solving this problem. The two groups often have contention with each other because of these types of events. A study should be conducted on these incidents to get a more detailed description of the events and parties involved. To progress in the world as human beings, we must be educated about human rights and the effects of these incidents have on the people involved. Dialog is very important in solving these problems. Human rights abuses should not be tolerated because it only encourages the negative actors in these events. They often do it because we tolerate it as a society. This is very true of air pollution problems worldwide. Polluters go to countries with lax laws, so they can do their deeds. Education and enforcement is key to the progress of human rights.
JAI SHRI HUMAN RIGHTS! JAI SHRI MA! JAI SHRI KOWSILLA!