Among some of the many prominent members of society, I was honoured to be invited as part of a cultural event at the Promenade Gardens to commemorate the 152nd birth anniversary of one of the world’s greatest leaders, Mahatma Gandhi.
First and foremost, I wish to express my gratitude to the Indian High Commission in Guyana and the Indian government for always being intrinsically connected to Guyana’s history, legacy and culture. It is truly laudable that, although still under British control at the time, India ensured that its citizens who arrived in Guyana were sent missionaries and prominent individuals to keep us informed about India and to ensure its citizens remained true to the essence and value of the Indian culture. This can be said about Dr. K.J. Srinivasa, India’s current High Commissioner to Guyana and his efficient team, H.E. Mr. V. Mahalingam, Dr. P.V. Joshi, and all those before them who have ensured that the cultures, customs, faiths, and values of our forefathers remained unscathed. Today, the impact of Indian culture is evident throughout Guyana and the Caribbean, even in Fuji, Mauritius, South Africa, and many other countries.
As the Indian High Commission is well known for hosting informative and entertaining programmes, the event was truly memorable. I thoroughly enjoyed watching our youths in action; in poetry, songs, and dances. Among the most distinguishing qualities of the Indian Culture Centre in Guyana is its openness to all Guyanese, which represents the spirit and legacy of Bharat/India. Through the tapestry of the mosaic of Indian civilisation, India has protected, guided, and raised our children, and has repeatedly provided grants, low-interest loans, roads, medical relief, scholarships, and friendship to Guyana — regardless of which government is in power — so that all people, irrespective of race or religion, may prosper despite being a country beset by its own problems.
Further, more should be said about the thousands of scholarships the Indian government has offered. It is wonderful that, rather than requesting that these scholarships be awarded exclusively to Indian descendants in Guyana, the scholarships are accessible to all Guyanese, and even individuals throughout the Caribbean, the Pacific, Africa, South Korea and other countries who qualify, including thousands for the ITEC programme.
In light of the foregoing, I am truly disappointed to note the complaints and criticisms expressed by some individuals opposing the proposed renaming of Middle Street to honour Mahatma Gandhi despite the significant contributions the Indian government and people have made to Guyana. One may also ask: how is it that none of us, whose ancestors came from India and made such significant contributions to the formation of our beloved country, Guyana, has ever complained about Nelson Mandela Avenue? This writer firmly believes that in the same way Gandhi had a profound influence on Nelson Mandela, there should not be much objection if a street or location is named after him or any other icon, past or present.
It must also be noted that it was Gandhi who broke the yolk of colonialism through his nonviolent campaign to bring liberation to the ancient historic land of India/Bharata. It was refreshing to listen to His Excellency President Dr. Irfaan Ali as he eloquently spoke about Gandhi’s place among the change-makers of history. In his remarks, President Ali presented himself as a stalwart of international peace and goodwill, which impressed the Universal Peace Federation and yours truly, as the National Chairman of the Universal Peace Federation. In a nutshell, President Ali is certainly an emerging giant of peace walking in the path of Gandhi.
In his remarks, His Excellency expressed his view that India is a real cradle of cultures and a true bastion of human freedom and liberty. Gandhi’s sacrifice sparked a nonviolent revolution, and India became the first country in the British Empire to gain freedom, followed by hundreds of other nations across the world, including Guyana, seeking independence. Gandhi’s legacy lives on in the minds of our own leaders: late Presidents Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham who fought for the cause of our own independence, as well as in the minds and hearts of other leaders in Trinidad and Tobago, the Pacific Islands, Africa, just to name a few. We know from history that even the great Nelson Mandela was also inspired by Gandhi’s Satyagraha (nonviolent) struggles and revolutions and kept a portrait of India’s infamous half-naked fakir (beggar) in his house. He was also an inspiration and mentor to the late great American nonviolent freedom fighter, Dr. Martin Luther King, who stated that Gandhi had influenced him in his nonviolent revolution, which eventually delivered tremendous rights to African Americans who had suffered for hundreds of years.
Mahatma Gandhi, in my opinion, is/was the modern-day saint who lived the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is a Holy Scripture for all peoples, not only Hindus/Sanatanists. My life has been a reflection of Gandhi’s principles and philosophy, and consequently, I will never object to any location or street being named in honour of this extraordinary individual, or other heroes like him, past or present. Former Yugoslav Leader, Josip Broz Tito; Former President of Ghana, Mr. Kwame Nkrumah; the founding President of Tanzania, Mr. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere; Former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Patrice Lumumba, and other heroes, trade unionists, late politicians, and even one of our own stalwart politicians, Mr. Ptolemy Reid, are all notable examples.
Hajji Dr. Roshan Khan Snr.