Professor Clem Seecharan (above) has written some ten books on the colonial history of Guyana including the recent Hand-in-Hand: History of Cricket in Guyana, 1865-1897.
As part of this year’s Being Human humanities festival, academics from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) and the University of Bristol, have joined forces to form the ‘Archive to blockbuster four’ (A2BFour). During an evening event at Senate House on 21 November, the team will pitch four ideas for films in an attempt to show their audience how the stories they’ve unearthed during their research could form the basis of four powerful blockbuster movies and help create a more diverse film industry. Below, Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen introduces a preview event, which will form the basis of a live internet broadcast from Senate House library on 17 November (2.30pm). During the broadcast, Maria will speak to Professor Clem Seecharan about his research on a remarkable figure from Guyanese history.
The formation of the Archive to Blockbuster Four was largely inspired by our conviction that beyond the historical events and people we will highlight in our pitches on 21 November, the archives we research contain a wealth of extraordinary stories with cinematic potential.
On 17 November I will be broadcasting a live interview with the Guyanese-born historian Professor Clem Seecharan. A prolific, committed and respected scholar, his works on the system of indenture and its legacies in Guyana have been widely read and published.
The topic of our discussion will be a man whose powerful challenge to British colonial authorities in Guyana formed the basis of Professor Seecharan’s book Bechu: ‘Bound Coolie’ Radical in British Guiana, 1894-1901.
This event will be shared with an international audience via the live video streaming app ‘Periscope’ (@Maria1838), and can be joined on Twitter @MariaKaladeen.
Originally from Calcutta, Bechu arrived in Guyana through the indenture system in 1894. What differentiated Bechu from the majority of indentured labourers in Guyana at this time was his literacy in English. Moved to protest against the injustices of the system of indenture, he wrote letters to the press that attacked the sugar estates’ exploitation of the colony’s Indian community, and the colonial government’s collusion with the plantocracy.
A memorandum that Bechu wrote to a colonial commission of enquiry into the sugar industry resulted in him testifying in front of the commissioners. This was a landmark moment. Bechu was the first Indian to speak on behalf of the indentured community in such a formal setting.
The cinematic potential in Bechu’s story comes from the explosive way he both arrived on the public scene and then seemingly disappeared altogether. Join Professor Seecharan and I to learn more about the remarkable story of Bechu’s time in Guyana and hear exciting new research that indicates where Bechu went after his dramatic departure from the colony in 1901.
Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen is an associate fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS). She is currently working on the publication of her PhD thesis: With eyes of wonder: colonial writing on indentured East Indians in British Guiana, 1838-1917.