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Indian Indentureship: Education

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by Ravi Dev

In 1913, James McNeil and Chimman Lal were sent by the Government of India to investigate the conditions under which Indentured Indians were living in several colonies – including British Guiana. They were in Br Guiana when thirteen workers were slaughtered at Rose Hall Canje for protesting working conditions.)
This is excerpted from their report with comments in parenthesis to note official bias:
Education: In British Guiana almost all the primary schools are aided schools under denominational (Christian Church) control, but are open to all comers under the protection of a conscience clause. Near all estates and actually on the majority of estates, schools (Primary A and B) were established. The total number of Indian children enrolled on school registers was 6570, and judging from the estimated attendance of children living on estates only about one-third of the Indian children of a school-going age attend regularly.

Schools on plantations were in logie-like structures where all children were in one room

Probably the principal cause of abstention is that children of 7 years and upwards can earn money by cutting grass, herding cattle, or doing light field work. But other recognised reasons are the dislike of parents to sending children to a denominational school under any conditions (for fear of enforced conversion), and the greater dislike to sending girl children to schools under a male Creole teacher. Though a local ordinance compels parents to send children to school, the existence of these two reasons causes educational authorities to apply compulsion discreetly. (The investigators neglected to mention that in 1902 the Governor Swettenham had issued the “Swettenham Circular” which informed education officials to not enforce attendance for Indian children. The prime reason for this was to avoid building new schools in rural areas.)
Nevertheless, in addition to a liberal issue of cautions, hundreds of complaints, ending in the imposition of fines aggregating to a few hundred rupees, are filed annually (with no action). Well-to-do Indians in towns send their children to school regularly. Day labourers like their children to work. In other classes, individuals vary in their attitude, apathy being more usual than zealous appreciation of the value of education. Indifference is possibly strengthened by the fact that English is the medium of instruction. Parents contemplating a return to India do not want their children to learn English. But for the children who remain in the colony, that is the majority, it is undoubtedly best that they should be taught English. In a few schools established by the Canadian Presbyterian Mission, Hindustani is taught.

Queen’s College 1900. Quamina and Carmichael Sts

Children of well-to-do Indians attend the Queen’s College in Georgetown. The community enjoys the same facilities for obtaining secondary or higher education as any other section of the community. (The Committee does not note that these schools are only in Georgetown and New Amsterdam, while the Indians were primarily rural).

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