From London to Sirdargarh, a Guyanese Indian’s journey

New Delhi, April 11: Just about a hundred years after her father left India for Guyana, Enid Whitehouse made an emotional journey to a small village in Rajasthan’s Ganganagar district to learn more about her father’s life.

A London-based lawyer, Enid had known that her father had come to Guyana from India as an indentured worker in December 1911. But her interest in his life was sparked off by her young nephew when he discovered fascinating vignettes of his maternal grandfather’s life while writing a research paper on his family history.

Enid came to know that her father had played a prominent role in the Lusignan riots which were a significant event in Guyanese Indian history. There were documents about the agitation and the court case in the India Records section of the British Library and also in the Library of Congress as well as newspaper clippings of the trial.

Guyana-born Enid went to London in 1960 to study law and returned home to practise for some time. But when her father, Krishna, died in 1970 she moved back to London.

“I became interested in my father’s life. He never spoke about his past, but I wanted to know more about his earlier life. When I learnt about his deeds in Guyana, I became curious about his background in India and decided to visit India to see the small village from where he began his life’s journey,” Enid explained.

Enid’s journey took her to Sirdargarh village in Ganganagar.

According to family history, the family had owned land and camels in Sirdargarh village. Enid remembers being told that her father used to relate that he had come to Delhi to see the king when he met a man who persuaded him to go to ‘Demra’ (Demerara in British Guiana).

Enid believes that her father may have been referring to the grand Delhi Durbar. He arrived in Guyana alone and later married a widow with a daughter. His wife died early and when the girl was 18 years old, he married again and had 10 children. He went into business and prospered.

Enid contacted a travel agent in London and gave her destination, according to Krishna’s emigration pass (travel document), as Sirdargarh, Thana Anoopgarh, in Bikaner district. The travel agent made inquires in Bikaner district and finally located Sirdargarh village in the district of Ganganagar. Enid travelled down to the small village of 200 houses.

Enid could not locate any relatives in Sirdargarh but the villagers were happy to welcome Enid to their homes. “I was disappointed not to meet anyone who knew my father’s family, but was deeply moved by the warmth of the welcome I received from the villagers.”

“I remember that my father always wore a turban. When I showed my father’s picture to the villagers, they told me that he was probably a Rajput because of the style of his turban. I was very surprised because his emigration pass showed his caste as Jat. But I read that Rajputs were not preferred as indentured recruits as they were not used to doing agricultural work.”

Relating the story of her father’s journey, Enid said: “My father was an adventurous man; he arrived alone in Demerara (Guyana) in 1911 and was assigned to the Lusignan Estate. Conditions were very difficult on the estate, the workers were overworked and the rising prices made it difficult to make ends meet.”

Enid’s father was one of the leaders when the workers rose in protest.

According to Enid, in September 1912, the sugarcane workers stopped work at the Lusignan Estate and went to manager Brassington’s house to protest. Alarmed at the sight of the group of agitated workers, Brassington shot and killed one of the workers. Enid’s father organised the workers in a united front and later led a group of 300 workers armed with shovels to Georgetown to place their grievances before the colonial authorities.

The workers’ agitation rattled the British authorities, especially in the meticulous planning that went into the agitation. Enid’s father advised the workers to cut off the telegraph lines. Later, he argued his own case in court and even refused the magistrate’s direction to remove his turban, according to the newspaper clippings.

For Enid, visiting Sirdargarh was a moving experience, “I could imagine my father in those surroundings” when she saw the villagers in their colourful turbans.

(Shubha Singh can be contacted at shubhasingh101@gmail.com)

IANS