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Remembering R.B. Gajraj who died last year

Dear Editor,

Rahman Bacchus Gajraj passed away quietly in Toronto, Canada in January 2004. The State, the City Council and the people of Guyana took little notice.

R. B. Gajraj is a name we should pause a moment to remember at this time when we are celebrating the arrival of East Indians to these shores.

R. B. Gajraj was born in the year 1912. His father, H.B. Gajraj, was President of the British Guiana East Indian Association (originally formed in 1917, but faltered) when the Centenary of Indian Arrival was celebrated on Thursday, May 5, 1938.

R.B. Gajraj himself was Honorary Secretary to the B.G.E.I.A. (resuscitated in 1936). Their home, Ajmir House, on High Street, Kingston, Georgetown, was a place where Muslim Indians met and discussed matters of general interest to the Indian community.

B.G.E.I.A - British Guiana East Indian Association

In Volume 1 Number 1 of The Indian Opinion (the official organ of the B.G.E.I.A.), H.B. Gajraj writes: "The B.G.E.I.A. was founded in 1917 by a few far-sighted Indians who saw in the distant years ahead of them the great need for an organization of their own which would be able to weld our people together socially, economically, as well as politically, which would serve to foster education among our people, carefully guard and protect their rights and gradually improve and elevate them that with the passing years they would be able, more and more, to take on full civic and colonial responsibilities and occupy positions in the colony's progressive march forward which from our ancestry, our heritage and our numbers, we fully justify and are entitled to. I want everyone to realize that Indians are striving hard to elevate themselves as partners in this British colonial possession."

H.B. Gajraj, no doubt, saw that Indians, by elevating themselves socially would also contribute towards the elevation of the colony as a whole.

H.B. Gajraj's son, R. B. Gajraj, rose to his father's expectations of the transplanted Indian in every way.

Here are some of the achievements of this Guyanese East Indian who served his country with distinction:

Rahman B. Gajraj:

President of the United Sad'r Anjuman and generally recognized as the Wazir of the Muslim community in British Guiana.

The first East Indian ever to sit on a Board of any Insurance Company in the country.

A City Councillor (having won his seat in Kingston, a predominantly Portuguese ward of the city and the Portuguese dominated the Council both as members and as staff).

Under his tenure as Mayor of Georgetown, potable water was introduced in the city.

The First Lord Mayor of the city of Georgetown (a position created by the Queen of England)

Speaker of Parliament from 1961-1964 (during the PPP tenure) and, again, from 1969-1970 (during the PNC tenure).

The second Ambassador of an independent Guyana to the United States of America.

He was also accredited to Canada and was extraordinarily respected in the countries where he was posted.

Later, he served as Guyana High Commissioner to India (from 1970). He did not return to his homeland after his duty as High Commissioner to India was completed.

R.B. Gajraj was a Parliamentarian, a live wire in organisations like the Anjuman and other charitable organisations and a keen businessman.

He possessed a fertile mind. He was a flambouyant man who loved public speaking and was the moving figure in the founding of certain social institutions especially where Indians were debarred from existing ones.

R. B. Gajraj was married into the Ruhomon family, early Indians who came into the city and became westernized.

Parliament ought to have paid tribute to this son of the soil.

Yours faithfully,

Ameena Gafoor