When Garvey stood up for Gandhi

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, October 15, 2018

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So why were the words of our first National Hero Marcus Garvey such an important part of last Friday's 'Satya Vaarta' or 'talk from the heart', hosted by Indian High Commissioner M. Sevala Naik? The event was held in celebration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, and I had the honour of being invited as a Jamaican of Indian ancestry to share how his life had inspired me.

In preparation for my talk I asked family members for their comments and received an astonishing lead from my brother Sydney “Tony” Lowrie who wrote: “This is a very significant moment for Jamaicans of Indian descent. See if you can find Marcus Garvey's address to the UNIA [Universal Negro Improvement Association]on the day of Mahatma Gandhi's arrest by the British colonial Government.”

What a wonderful surprise! Here I was priding myself on knowing so much about Garvey, and I did not know this! Much respect to Tony!

I was able to retrieve the speech from the Duke University collection prepared by Jamaica's own Professor Robert Hill, and shared excerpts of this address made by Marcus Garvey to the UNIA in New York on March 12, 1922.

Garvey began his powerful speech with this: “News has come to us that India's great leader, Mahatma Gandhi, has been arrested for advocating the cause of 380 million Indians — the cause of freedom of his country. He has been arrested by an alien Government that seeks to disrupt [and] to destroy the freedom of 380 million of people.

“You are well acquainted with the work of Gandhi... He organised a movement that has swept the entire country of India... The British people are now feeling the pressure of Gandhi's propaganda. It is customary for them to suppress the cause of liberty.”

Garvey explained the sacrifice that leadership required: “Therefore, Gandhi's arrest is nothing unexpected to those of us who understand what leadership means. Leadership means sacrifice; leadership means martyrdom.”

Garvey then gave his followers news of the defiant stance of the West India Regiment in response to the call of the British to join them in fighting the Indians: “And I am pleased at a bit of news that had come to me just within the last 12 hours. It came from the island of Jamaica — where, as is the custom of the people I have mentioned, they called upon the West Indian regiments to go out to India — the black soldiers who have always fought for them in their wars of conquest to fight the Indians, and they refused to go.”

To thunderous applause, he ascribed this action to the UNIA's Bill of Rights, announced at their first convention held in 1920 ...That no Negro shall take up arms against other men and especially against men of his race and those with whom he is in sympathy, without first knowing what he is about to fight for... The Negroes of the world have no cause against India. The Negroes of the world, on the contrary, are in sympathy with India...”

Jamaica's first national hero was not only an eloquent speaker, but also a man of action. He disclosed that he had sent a cable of protest to both the premier and the king of England. It read in part, “Four hundred million Negroes are in sympathy with Mahatma Gandhi, whom you have arrested. We are for the freedom of India and the complete liberation of the African colonies... Let us have peace by being just, is the prayer of four hundred million Negroes.”

On this National Heroes' Day, we Jamaicans of Indian ancestry stand proud in our memory of the triumph of Mahatma Gandhi, and the solidarity of our own Marcus Garvey in his historic campaign. We salute Garvey and our other national heroes: Queen Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Sir Alexander Bustamante, and Norman Washington Manley.

Spain Day celebrations

In his address at last week's Spain Day celebrations Ambassador Josep Maria Bosch Bessa signalled a deepening of the relationship between our two countries with increased investment by several Spanish hotel chains and further expansion of other business interests.

Ambassador Bosch applauded Prime Minister Andrew Holness's commitment to make Spanish the second language of Jamaica, and the “decisive support” of Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith.

The ambassador noted that his embassy has been supporting the training of teachers and hotel workers. “Spanish language really matters,” he noted. “It means more opportunities and better jobs for Jamaicans.”

As we mention language, let us not denigrate our own rich Jamaican language. In Curacao, most people speak four languages — their native Papiamento, Dutch, English, and Spanish. It is worth the work to show respect for the linguistic comfort level of Jamaican pupils, even as they are encouraged to write and use standard English as well.

The ambassador referred to the “political momentum” resulting from visits to Jamaica by Spain's Secretary of State for Latin America and the Caribbean Garcia Casas, and to Spain by Johnson Smith.

“We are close friends and partners,” he noted. “We share views regarding the main international issues such as promoting multilateralism, human health risk resources, and fighting climate change. We share interests and values in democracy and development.”

The ambassador presented awards from the king of Spain to two members of the embassy staff who have served with distinction for 41 years: Julia Mendoza and Melbourne Mascoe. Congratulations to these individuals.

Farewell, dear friends

I used to enjoy jogging daily around the Mona Dam and rich conversations with the lion-hearted Sister Minnie Phillips. Her Minnie's Natural Foods Restaurant presented what has become the most fashionable of cuisines — vegan, organic creations. Bob Marley was one of her biggest fans.

We reconnected a few years ago and were looking forward to more time together, despite her failing health. Minnie was the best of mothers and a caring friend. Blessings on your crossing over, dear Sister Minnie.

Then came the news that the vibrant Elva Ruddock had passed away. Her friend Christopher “Johnny” Daley posted a touching remembrance of her: “It's hard to watch the most energetic, witty, outspoken, intelligent, radiant, larger-than-life personality you know lose to this God forsaken thing called lupus,” he grieved. “She always said, 'Don't bother with the crying for me, Johnny... don't be afraid of dying be afraid of not living.' ” Wise words from a young woman. Hubie and I miss you, dear Elva.

A special Heroes' Day

This National Heroes' Day is a special one for me. I will join the many dedicated Jamaicans who have served our beloved country to be conferred with a national honour. For my readers in the Diaspora who see so much negative news on Jamaica the continued contribution of these stalwarts sends a message that we believe that our country remains a land of hope and opportunity.

I thank the good people who took the time to nominate me, the parents who nurtured me, my husband Hubie, and other family members, friends and colleagues who have supported me. With true respect for all, let's forge ahead for Jamaica, land we love.

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