Sunday, April 14, 2013

OBIT: Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud - Religious Leader and Former Guyanese Agriculture Minister

Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud - Click here to see story and more images
I write to pay tribute to internationally renowned Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud. He was well known for his expertise in Hinduism and for his religious discourses reading yagyas in several parts of the globe.

Pandit Reep was an icon held in high esteem wherever he traveled. In India, Trinidad and North America, people who met and or know him have been speaking fondly of him. Tributes poured in on radio stations in Trinidad, Guyana and New York, and Hindu leaders worldwide have showered praises on his contributions to Hinduism and for his commitment and dedication to the freedom of Guyanese from colonial rule and oppressive PNC misrule. 

The former Maharaja of Kashmir, Dr. Karran Singh, once described Pandit Reep as unique in his intellect and knowledge of Hinduism. Dr. Singh was saddened to learn of Panditi-ji’s passing and asked that his sympathy be conveyed to the family.

Pandit Reep, as he was fondly called, was the most respected pandit in the Caribbean and among the Guyanese and Indo Caribbean Caribbean diasporas. He traveled frequently to North America, the Caribbean and England for religious discourses often with his daughters and God children with him.
Mourners at the funeral of Pandit "Reep"
One of his first sojourns in the U.S was in July 1987 at the Trinidad Shiva Temple in Queens (which his daughters would remember well) which was jam packed with Trinis and Guyanese nightly for a week.

His yagnas at other temples in Queens and Brooklyn and in Trinidad also
attracted huge followings. He knew the scriptures well so much so he did not even need to read from them – he could chant verses without looking
at the pages.

Pt. Reep was the quintessential Hindu leader who for non-Hindus as well. He stood up against injustice during the colonial era and against authoritarian rule during the Burnham era. He was a front line soldier in the struggle for the restoration of democracy during the 28 year period of authoritarian rule. Few fought against the oppressive PNC dictatorship in Guyana like Reep.

Reep’s spirituality touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, Hindus as well as non-Hindus. He held no animosity for anyone not even political enemies who ill-treated him and other Hindus. When basic items (samagri, gog-gul, agarbati, etc.) necessary for the propagation of Hindu and Islamic religious services
and essential cultural foods of Indians (like dhal, alou, channa, flour, ghee, etc.) were banned and consumption (of roti, phulourie, etc.) criminalized, Pt. Reepu was in the front line fighting the ban.

And after the restoration of democracy in 1992, when he served as Leader of the National Assembly and Minister of Agriculture, he removed the ban on food imports. He did not seek vengeance and retribution against those who oppressed him and Indians for practicing their faith. 

Pandit Reepu and I came into close contact in New York in late 1987 when I
served as the organizing Secretary (Minister Dr. Brinsely Samaroo of
Trinidad was the Convener, Dr. Prem Misir was President and Trinidad
Prof. Dr. Mahin Gosine was the Chair of the Academic Conference
sub-committee) for the Fourth Conference of Indians in the Diaspora at
Columbia University to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Indian
Arrival to the Caribbean. 

We met several times after that chance encounter in late 1987 at a real estate office in Queens where Dr. Ravi Dev and Dr. Tara Singh were also present when I waded against the oppression of the Guyanese nation by the dictatorship. It was Dr. Dev who remarked to me after the meeting “it looked like Pandit Reepu took a liking to you for speaking out against the atrocities in Guyana and those Indians who sold out their brethren for crumbs”. 

Dev also commented to friends at subsequent meetings and rallies against the PNC dictatorship how I lambasted a group of arkatey Indians in the presence of Pt. Reep for colluding and collaborating with the PNC dictatorship for self gains
and remained silent during the period of oppressive rule. In subsequent encounters, Pt. Reep and I talked a lot about our experiences in Fiji, Mauritius, India, Trinidad, etc. and the struggle to liberate Guyana from the dictatorship.

I took several Hindu scholars to meet Pandit Reep. Everyone who met Pt. Reep was held in awe at his level of intellect and his mastery of Sanskrit and Hindi as well as the lingua franca of indentured Indians, Bhojpuri. He was also very articulate and knowledgeable of other subjects with politics being his favorite.
Those who met Pt. Reep are saddened to learn of his passing. They recall him as a simple, pious and kind person with an abiding compassion for others and who especially liked to help the poor. Pt. Reep was a dynamic personality who left lasting impressions wherever he visited and whomever he met. 

The former Maharaja of Kashmir, Dr. Karran Singh, whom I met in Delhi in 1985 when I was an exchange scholar, spoke fondly of Pt. Reep. In August 1985 after a lecture on Hinduism at the Siddharta Continental Hotel, not far from JNU where I conducted library research, I had an exchange with Dr. Singh who served as India’s Ambassador to Washington and also as a Minister of Government (Dr. Singh studied at Columbia University and he narrated to me how he used to light a hand lamp to celebrate Diwali as deyas were not around). 

In Delhi, Dr. Singh and I talked about Guyana’s politics as Dr. Singh had visited Guyana and knew Dr. Jagan and Pandit really well. He lamented the sufferings of Guyanese during the PNC dictatorship describing Burnham as “evil” and showering praises on both Jagan and Reep for standing up for the basic rights of the population. 

Dr. Karran Singh lauded the knowledge and intellect of Pt. Reep saying Reep knew varied subjects and was very articulate in parliamentary matters, the
law, and Hinduism. Dr. Singh, a scholar himself in Hinduism described Reep as unique in the Caribbean region for his brilliant knowledge of Hinduism. 

I met Dr. Karran Singh again during the 1990s at a Diwali celebration in Manhattan where he was the Chief Guest and he queried about Pandit Reepu and we met again in 2004 in Delhi at the Pravasi Divas when he once again brought up Pandit Reepu’s name. I mentioned to Pt. Reep that Karran Singh had inquired about him. 

Reep remembered Karran Singh well in their encounters in Guyana and in Delhi. During my visits to Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Singapore in recent years,
politicians and religious figures also queried about him. When I was last visited Mauritius for a lecture two years ago, some of the Pandits and Ministers of Government asked me to convey their regards to Reep.

And it was only a few months ago that political activist Harry Maharaj of Tunapuna asked how Pandit Reep was doing. It was about a month ago that I spoke with Dr. Vindhya on long distance about my impending visit to Guyana and a request to see Panditji and Maharajin Indrani-jee.

Pt. Reep will be missed. He was an extraordinary character and whatever his flaws (and all of us have made mistakes) he will never be forgotten. Hinduism in the Caribbean won’t be the same again without him.

Vishnu Bisram

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai