Dear Editor,Like most Americans, the only thing I knew about Guyana was that a very tragic event transpired some 40 years ago in the jungle that featured a megalomaniac preacher. There is a saying that we in the US can’t locate a country on a map until our military bombs it.Among all the things I learned over the past few years is that Guyana has a sizable Hindu population. Thankfully, attending the annual Hindu Mandir Executive Conference in Trinidad some four years ago resulted in a serious offer to visit. The trip would be sponsored by a few Guyanese along with my advocacy organisation, The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), where I sit on its National Leadership Council (HAFSITE.ORG). Though the A in HAF specifically indicates “America,” as in “the United States of…” the Board and staff agreed that we must not dismiss such sizable populations in close proximity.The scenery in Guyana is awesome but it is the people that really make the lasting impressions. I was immediately overwhelmed with great kindness and hospitality.The 1st few of my 9 days were spent at The Social Services Centre of Excellence in Woodley Park, WCB. This was founded by Pandit and educator, Ram Rattan, who currently spends most of his time in Florida but continues to maintain a presence in Guyana. This is truly a jewel of a place, offering classes for social and individual improvement. Sri Ramji was kind enough to provide me with a room and all meals when he learnt the purpose of my trip. He even joined me for several of the lectures I gave in that general area.Since so many Indians who became indentured in Guyana were from Utter Pradesh, my experience allowed me to sample new tastes—seven curry on lotus leaves.One breath-taking trip was the ferry from Parika to Essequibo. Everything about it—the water, passing the beautiful islands, and the wonderful breeze, all contributed to a feeling of great content.Guyana has absolutely stunning homes. What impresses most is the originality of the designs and architecture. All the houses are unique, unlike our dull subdivisions. I know that Guyana is not a “rich” country, but everyone in the US with whom I shared my photos would like to visit. I saw many inspiring temples outstanding among which was the one at Gay Park, overseen by female Pandita, Srimati Maraj. Our guide for the day, generous and always willing to help, Rudy (back shop) Rampersaud, made sure that we visited the site where indentured servants first landed in 1838.I would encourage Hindus from the US and India alike to take a lesson from the way pujas and yagnas are conducted in Guyana. We spend too much time in rituals that few can understand but in the land of endless summer, the rituals are briefer. There is always an accomplished harmoniumist and percussionist. The power of bhajans create an atmosphere of true bhakti. The kathas delivered by the pundits are the centre of attention. Drawing from the stories of the Ramayana (mostly) they engage the devotees in a way that I don’t often see in standard American Hindu temples. There are exceptions here, but they are rare.At US temples people overindulge in socialising. No matter if it is a church, synagogue or mosque, members have to be constantly told to stop talking. However, at a yagna with over 500 in attendance at Hampton Court on the Essequibo Coast, all eyes and ears were on presiding Pandit Lalaram from the Bath Settlement, Berbice. They were also very kind to me when I was asked to speak.Visiting and staying with Swami Aksharananda allowed me to speak for an entire day to the students at Saraswati Vidya Niketan, a private Hindu School at Cornelia Ida. The behaviour of the children, their rigorous schedule and the quality of the teachers, all contributed to its status as one of the best in the country. If we could import that level of academic professionalism to the US we would have a greater nation. Fixed in memory is a trip to the Stabroek Market, where I was able to purchase a beautiful gold necklace from the most venerable jewellery merchants in Guyana. I was warned that this was not the safest place for a white foreigner, but I was fortunate to have Swami with me.The purpose of my trip was to investigate the challenge that the Hindu community is dealing with what we call predatory conversion. While acknowledging the sanctity of a person’s decision to move from one religion to another, we know that some religious groups use methods on individuals and communities to persuade them to adopt a religion they wouldn’t normally join if not for pressure. This coercion can come in the form of bribery, medical aid, professional gains, etc. It was thought that a white American who did, in fact, leave his birth religion of his own accord to embrace Dharma might have a positive impact on the devotees who have to deal with ideas of superiority that the European explorers took with them to their colonies. In my conversations with retired lawyer and Guyanese-Canadian writer, Ram Sahadeo, we discussed a lecture tour I completed back in 2005 when I crisscrossed much of India’s northeast states, speaking at local temples, schools and public venues in an attempt to resist the rampant predatory conversion practices there. There seemed to be much interest in our mission in Guyana. Several good connections were made and many ideas were discussed but much more coordination is needed to combat this problem using the Gandhian principle of Ahimsa.Anyone interested in a more detailed report can contact me at [email protected],Fred StellaMember,NationalLeadership CouncilHinduAmerican Foundation
– Advertisement – Lofa County Senator Stephen J. H. Zargo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Defense, Intelligence and Security, has issued a strong-worded statement to political actors in the upcoming October elections, that much is expected of them.Sen. Zargo warned politicians to be mindful of their actions and utterances; “as anything they say or do has the propensity to influence lots of their followers, which may subsequently have an adverse effect on our much cherished, hard earned peace and security.”Addressing Legislative reporters at the Capitol Building yesterday, Senator Zargo asserted that though the Legislature is taking a two-week break and will not be having regular sessions, Legislators who head the various security committees will be active with national security actors to ensure that peace remains intact.He emphasized that the country has risen out of war and destruction and has its feet firmly on the ground, “and we are determined to continue the giant steps towards peace, stability and growth which we all are obliged to support.“In view of this cherished national security interest and concern, let me use this opportunity to admonish national security actors (conspicuous and inconspicuous) to remain proactive and at the same time warn any individual or group of individuals who are bent on reversing the gains we, along with our international partners have made, there is a need to give second thought to their actions.”The statement by the veteran security personnel who was not specific about political actors he may have had in mind, comes in the wake of continuing expressions of dissatisfaction from some presidential candidates who are against certain provisions in the National Code of Conduct, which appear to threaten their ambition for elective office come October.Zargo refused to be drawn into opinion about the Code of Conduct, but however clarified that if a citizen has had problem with a clause in that document, the remedy was to take the issue up with the Legislature for clarification or, if necessary, amendment. “The Supreme Court has ruled the Code of Conduct Constitutional and that is it,” he said.While there is a right to freedom of speech and expression, the former police officer warned that, “there are equally responsibilities attached to those rights; these responsibilities encompass the taking into serious consideration our national security interest.”Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday announced a two-week Easter break to reconvene when the Senate Pro Tempore informs them to do so.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Sen Zargo: “Let me use this opportunity to admonish national security actors to remain proactive.