THE RUIMVELDT SHOOTING IN 1924
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As a result of the labour unrest and the subsequent riots in Georgetown in March 1924, a proclamation was issued on 1 April banning all assemblies in the city. This proclamation was extended to the entire country on the following day when it was believed that sugar workers on the East Bank would support the strikes in Georgetown. Many of those on strike in Georgetown were at the time urging the sugar workers of four estates of Peter's Hall, Farm, Providence and Diamond to strike in solidarity. These estates were under one management, and a number of African workers employed there were also members of the BG Labour Union which had called the strikes in Georgetown.
Indeed, it was on the morning of 2 April that strikes began on the four sugar estates. The workers made no demand for increased wages, and it was believed that the strikes were really a show of solidarity with those who were on strike in Georgetown. However, the cane cutters and punt loaders returned to work after they were spoken to by management personnel.
Later in the day a large number of East Indian and African labourers from Farm marched to Providence, and then later to Diamond armed with shovels and forks. They forced the workers there, in many cases through threats of violence, to cease working and to gather with them on the public road.
Armed police along with soldiers were dispatched to the scene. Not too long after, the magistrate, C. H. E. Legge arrived and urged the workers to return to work. Only the factory workers heeded him. The others, accompanied by women and children, decided to march to Georgetown to meet with Hubert Critchlow, the leader of the BG Labour Union.. They were accompanied by drummers and, as they marched, chanted that they wanted more money. When they were nearing Providence, the police stopped them and they dispersed and returned to their homes.
The situation deteriorated when more sugar workers were incited and cased threatened with violence of they did not stop working. Mobs of strikers — both Indian and African — moved from estate to estate to enforce a general strike.
Rowdy persons, many of them young unemployed African men and women, including criminal elements, some of whom were transported from Georgetown, gathered on the public road intimidating people. They even forcibly entered private homes owned by Europeans and helped themselves to food, as was being done in Georgetown by riotous crowds. These groups of rowdy unemployed Africans were referred to as "centipedes".
Meanwhile, the estates' management personnel made attempts to find out what were the workers' demands, but they were unable to obtain any clear information from those who were on strike.
At the same time, the police warned the striking workers to avoid gathering in large groups, but his warning was disregarded. On the 3 April. hundreds of workers, gathered at Providence, four miles south of Georgetown. They carried flags, sticks, shovels, hoes and forks and decided to march to the city to join up with the strikers there and to meet with the leaders of the BG Labour Union. They were joined by strikers and unemployed persons from Georgetown, and by the time they were within sight of the city, their numbers had swollen to over 5,000.
The police, led by Sergeant-Major Billyeald, stopped them at Ruimveldt, just a mile south of the city. The Black Watch Regiment of British soldiers, led by Captain Ramsay, also came out to stop the march. Ramsay and the Magistrate, C.H.E. Legge, along with some civic leaders, tried to urge the crowd to disband and return home, but they were unable to influence them in doing so.
There were reports that the police offered to allow representatives of workers from the various estates to enter Georgetown to meet with whomsoever they wanted to discuss their issues. The noisy, rowdy crowd, which was now apparently led by some Barbadian workers from Diamond, shouted down this offer.
The president of the East Indian Association, Francis Kawall, was then called in by the police to speak to the Indian workers in the crowd. Both he and a Hindu priest addressed them urging all to disperse and return home, but their pleas were ignored.
The policemen and soldiers attempted to disperse the crowd, but the sheer numbers of the large and noisy mob forced them to retreat.
About 40 mounted policemen were then deployed to push back the crowd. However, this action failed when the crowd became riotous threw bricks and bottles at them.
Magistrate Legge then read the proclamation which announced that the gathering was illegal. This proclamation was also translated in Hindi for the benefit of the Indian sugar workers in the crowd. Despite this, the crowd pressed forward and continued to attack the police.
The Riot Act was then read and the police was ordered to open fire. Forty-two rounds were fired in less than a minute, and 13 persons, including 12 Indians, were shot dead and 18 others wounded. The dead included two women who were not on the scene; one of them was in her house when a shot penetrated the wall and killed her. General pandemonium broke out, and in the stampede to escape from the scene, others were injured.
By the next day, the East Bank Demerara area was relatively quiet and most workers had returned to their jobs.