January 14, 2020
Divali began as an ancient festival in India during the autumn season when the last harvest before winter was brought in. At that stage of human civilisation, the harvest of grains was a critical event defining the difference between happiness and misery for ordinary people. From this perspective, grains – especially rice – represented wealth and explains the worship of God as Mother Lakshimi, the giver of wealth, during Divali.When Indians were brought as indentured labourers, they inevitably brought their culture with them. Part of that culture was not only the Festival of Divali, but the concrete societal activity that produced the festival: the cultivation of rice. Forced to work on the sugar plantations for wages even the freed African enslaved people refused, the Indian immigrants supplemented their wages through the cultivation of rice on small, marginal plots of land for which they exchanged their contracted passage back to India.This activity was encouraged for two reasons. Firstly, it provided a safety valve for the frustrations induced by the abysmal indentured wages boiling over and exploding with disastrous effect on the planters. Secondly, it also saved the state from paying the costs of repatriation to India that far exceeded the costs of the exchanged land. From its humble beginnings, rice cultivation grew into an industry that now far surpassed the sugar industry for which the Indians were brought.Even in absolute terms, Guyana is now a cited player in the international trade in rice since its minuscule population allows the exportation of more than 500,000 tonnes from the 600,000 plus tonnes produced. It is rather ironic therefore, that even as Hindus yesterday and today celebrate Divali and offer their prayers to the goddess of wealth, while the harvest has been bountiful, the depressed prices of rice has plunged many farming families into the darkness of depression.Along with the abysmal state of the entire economy, which at long last is being acknowledged by some elements of the government, this has made the prayers of Hindus during this Divali even more fervent than usual. Even in modern India, after the harvest businessmen calculate their profit and loss at Divali, which then marks the end of their business year and the beginning of a new one. Based on the comments of the local business sector, if they were to reconcile their accounts at this time, it would present a very sorry picture indeed.But through its long and variegated history, Divali became associated with some other events – all making the point, that notwithstanding the offering of prayers, sometimes man has to take action to remove the darkness of oppression and suffering. In North India, one incarnation of God in his role of “preservation”, Sri Ram, is remembered during Divali as an example of how to deal with those who would transgress the boundaries of propriety and the law. The analogous example of his later incarnation Sri Krishna, is also remembered in South India.The point about Divali, then, is the light that must be lit is not only in the “Diyas” or earthen lamps: it must be lit in the hearts of man whenever darkness of whatever shape or form spreads its wings and must inspire him into action to remove that darkness.In the Hindu world view, poverty is seen as one of the worse maladies or darkness that can afflict people. Not only does poverty prevent man from supporting those causes that strengthen society, but actually influence him into dysfunctional behaviour because of the primal urge to survive by any means necessary.At this Divali, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that Guyana has already headed into a period of darkness as far as that which Divali acknowledges is essential for a harmonious society – the generation of wealth.We call on all, especially the government, to play their role in lighting the light of wealth for our people and country.Happy Divali, Guyana.