Calls made for fallen Rosehall sugar workers’ sacrifices to never be forgotten -as memorial is unveiled

Georgetown, GINA, March 14, 2014

    

It has been 101 years since 15 sugar workers were slain during industrial unrest on Thursday, March 13, 1913, and as the anniversary was observed on Thursday, their struggles for fair working conditions for indentured labourers were recalled, and calls made by officials for their sacrifices to never be forgotten.

This was the call made at a well attended ceremony, which began with a march from the Rosehall estate to the Rose Hall Martyrs’ Memorial at the site of the mass grave containing the remains of the sugar workers.  Also in attendance was the only living witness of the Rosehall massacre, 107-year old, Sookdai Mohabir also fondly called Mama Muncie.

Rose Hall Martyrs’ Memorial, Canje, Berbice, formally unveiled on the 101st anniversary of the Rose Hall Estate shooting which occurred on March 13, 1913 and resulted in the deaths of 15 sugar workers.

The incident was described by Faculty of Technology Lecturer Evan Persaud as “A day that will live in infamy in Guyana, the Caribbean and the rest of the world”.

Giving the historical perspective of what is described as just one of the many struggles for justice and fair working conditions by indentured labourers, Persaud listed the names of the fallen, how they died according to historical research, and highlighted the fact that it was during the massacre that the first female indentured worker, Gobindei, was slain. The University of Guyana, he added is conducting research to ascertain the facts surrounding the period of unrest and several texts and records, whose accounts are refuted by sworn statements from witnesses.

President Donald Ramotar with Sookdai Mohabir, the only surviving witness of the Rose Hall Estate shooting which occurred on March 13, 1913, and PS Office of the President Omar Shariff, in front of the Rose Hall Martyrs Memorial

In the brief remarks, the Chairman of the Canje Development Committee, Mohammed Akeel said that the intention is not only to correct the perceptions of the past about those slain, but also to host an annual ceremony on the site as a reminder to those from the community and Guyana about an incident that must never be forgotten.

Echoing similar sentiments, Region Six Chairman, Permaul Armogan said that it is important to record, and to know one’s history. He noted that it was only after a ceremony was held at the site in 2013, that many residents became aware of the significance and location of what occurred on that fateful day 101  years ago. The Regional Chairman also called for the site to be preserved under the auspices of the National Trust and be designated a historical site.

President Donald Ramotar with Sookdai Mohabir, the only surviving witness of the Rose Hall Estate shooting which occurred on March 13, 1913, in front of the Rose Hall Martyrs’ Memorial

According to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Chairman, Komal Chand, those killed in similar struggles on plantations such as Non Pariel, Ruimveldt, Leonora and Enmore, have left a mark on the contemporary sugar industry, locally. He called on workers and those in attendance to face the challenges needed to make the industry viable once again.

Highlighting the fact that many sugar workers, years past, faced many injustices, Culture, Youth and Sport Minister Dr. Frank Anthony cited a pivotal case for the recognition of workers’ rights. He noted that it was at Cove and John that workers who were sick and admitted to hospital for treatment were ordered back to work by the estate manager and subsequently died in the fields, days later. The minister said, “We must understand that history so we can defend what our ancestors worked and fought for”.

President Donald Ramotar lays the first wreath at the Rose Hall Martyrs’ Memorial, Canje, Berbice.

He further pointed out that it was the Rose Hall incident which resulted in the eventual end of indentureship and signalled the intention to make the site a memorial park. He also urged stakeholders to resist those who may want to shut down the industry.

Formally unveiled by President Donald Ramotar, the nine foot tall memorial, rests on a reinforced concrete base, is inset with a two by two foot porcelain plaque, inscribed with the names of those killed and rests on the mass grave containing their bodies.

The massacre resulted after workers decided to protest the retraction of a four-day holiday given to them for good production. The workers took strike action on the days scheduled as break, in protest. It was decided that in order for charges of failing to report for work to be dropped, the workers would pay legal costs. They refused and the matter was taken to court, after being found guilty of “instigating resistance to work”, the workers protested and management threatened to transfer protesting families to other plantations. More protests occurred and warrants were issued for the protest leaders. Workers resisted this move and colonial police ranks opened fire, killing 15 and injuring 56 others, on that fateful day.

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Dr. Frank Anthony and Region 6 Chairman Mr. Permaul Armogan

 

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