Multiple constructions of India, as homeland, have been central to the shaping of Indo-Guyanese identity. An imagined India – part fact, part fantasy – has continually woven into the Indo-Guyanese consciousness a rich, elevating perception of self: an antidote to the deflating image of the ‘coolie’ that lingered when the last Indian indentures were cancelled in 1920.
In Mother India’s Shadow over El Dorado: Indo-Guyanese Politics and Identity, 1890s-1930s, Clem Seecharan reconstructs the circumstances surrounding the development of Indo-Guyanese nationalism. He assesses the impact of the Golden Age of the Ramayana; the glories of ancient India unearthed by British scholars/administrators (Indologists); and Gandhi’s virtual deification in his campaign for India’s freedom. An India seen to be in revolt against imperial rule inspired several Indo-Guyanese intellectuals, such as Joseph Ruhomon, Peter Ruhomon and J.I. Ramphal, to popularise an image of Mother India that bolstered Indo-Guyanese self-esteem.
Drawing on a range of primary sources, the book presents a comprehensive picture of the ‘many Indias’ Indo-Guyanese (Hindus, Muslims and Christians) embraced in countering the ‘coolie’ stain, while seeking to belong in creole society. On the flip side, the consuming El Dorado syndrome in Guyana bred a discernible triumphalism among Indo-Guyanese, manifested in the Colonisation Scheme of the 1920s and the associated ideas of creating an ‘Indian colony’ or a ‘Greater India’ in Guyana. This kindled a resilient fear, among African-Guyanese, of Indian economic and political domination which still haunts the country.
Seecharan handles these complex issues lucidly and authoritatively. Mother India’s Shadow is indispensable in comprehending the smouldering ethnic insecurities of contemporary Guyana.