By Dr. Kumar Mahabir
This article is part of a series that is intended to profile and celebrate hidden heroes of the Caribbean. Even in countries in the Caribbean, in which (East) Indians are the majority ethnic group, they are not given their fair share of recognition.
In books on national heroes, they are underrepresented. In the distribution of national awards, they are marginalized. This fact can also be easily seen in the proportionately small number of statues erected at roundabouts, and the names of highways, buildings, libraries, airports and sports stadia.
It must be noted that the new book on Jung Bahadur Singh, by Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, was published by Chakra Publishing, an affiliate company of the Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC). A ZOOM public meeting, on which this article is based, celebrated the launch of its release on Amazon.com.
The following are highlights of the ZOOM meeting, held recently (08/11/2020), on the topic “Unsung Heroes of the Caribbean — Dr Jung Bahadur Singh of Guyana (born 1886-1956): A politician, ship doctor, labour leader and protector of Indians”.
The pan-Caribbean public meeting was hosted by ICC, Chaired by Anuskha Sonai and moderated by Dr. Kirtie Algoe – both of Suriname.
The featured speakers were Dr. Baytoram Ramharack, J.B. Singh’s biographer, and an Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science at Nassau Community College in New York; and Varuna Singh, the grandson of J.B. Singh, son of Rajkumari Singh, and brother of Gora Singh (deceased), Karna, Pirtha, Chitra and Radha Singh. The discussant was Ravi Dev, an Indian civil rights activist and a former Member of Parliament in Guyana.
Dr. Ramharack said:
“As the official biographer of Jung Bahadur Singh (1886-1956), I took the audience on a tour of the legacy and achievements of this notable Indian leader. As a second-generation Indian in Guyana, born about 50 years after the commencement of the period of indentureship, and whose parents were of Indian and Nepalese origin, Jung Bahadur Singh understood the nature of the indentureship system that kept Indians bound to the plantations, as well as the experience of the Indians who came out of indenture.
“He was a Guyanese pioneer in many ways. J.B. Singh was a prominent leader of the Hindu community and a trusted self-appointed mediator who assisted sugar workers in their disputes with management. He was one of few early Indian medical doctors in Guyana, and, as a ship doctor, he made numerous trips accompanying Indian immigrants who were leaving India to be taken to the colonies, as well as Indians who were returning to India.
“J.B. Singh’s contributions towards nation-building in Guyana was unmatched by many of his contemporary peers. Elected seven times as the President of the British Guiana East Indian Association (BGEIA), J.B. Singh relentlessly advocated for universal adult suffrage. He was a patriot and a humble servant who spent his adult life providing public service to the Guyanese people for 23 years as an elected member of the British Guiana Legislative Council from 1930 until his electoral defeat in 1953. He was the first Indian to be officially cremated in Guyana. His legacy stands tall with other Indian pioneers like Bechu, Joseph Ruhomon, Cheddi Jagan, and others.”
Varuna Singh said:
“Jung Bahadur Singh was born on June 14, 1886 at Goed Fortuin, West Bank Demerara, in then British Guiana. His birth was registered as Dinanath, or Dinanauth, or Deenanauth. The recorder omitted the middle names Jung Bahadur, which he later changed legally in 1909 to Jung Bahadur Singh, dropping the first name Dinanath.
“His father, Dhan Bir Singh, was a Gurka Nepalese who came to British Guiana in the 1870s and was wed to his wife Subhagia, a match arranged by her uncle who was a ship compounder, whose family in Bengal plied haberdasheries to Indians who went into business in the colonies around the world.
“Dhan Bir Singh had 15 siblings, of which 7 sons and one daughter survived. He also had two half-brothers from his father’s side, after the death of his mother who died from childbirth of her last child and last son.
“As a teenager, J.B. Singh became father, provider and educator to his younger siblings. He became a teacher at the age of 14 years at Goed Fortuin and a compounder at the age of 16 years. As a young man, he became the advisor and guide to many locals on the West Bank Demerara and became very close friends with Pitamber Doobay of Vreed-en-Hoop, whose father became a very successful businessman.
“It is very clear that this very early experience as a caregiver, care provider, educator, healer and advisor shaped and moulded him into the man he became. His unbelievable patience, tolerance and understanding exuded great trust and confidence, and his serenity provided many with security and safety.”
Dr. Mahabir is a Trinidad and Tobago-based anthropologist and the Director of a ZOOM public meeting, held every Sunday.