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Birthplace
United States of America
Residence
Identities
Guyana
DOB
Not provided
Gender
Female

Janet Jagan

Janet Jagan (nee Rosenberg) was born in 1923 in Chicago into a radical Jewish family. She met Cheddi Jagan, then studying as a dentist in the USA, in 1943 and they were married in the same year. She followed him back to British Guiana (he had gone home earlier to win his family over to the marriage) and from that time onwards played an absolutely central role in the development of radical politics in Guyana. First in the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) and then the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), becoming its general secretary in 1950. Despite attempts by political opponents to play on her ‘foreigness’ and Jewishness, Janet Jagan soon won a place in the hearts of the grass-roots Indo-Guyanese sugar workers who provided one element of the core support for the PPP. From the time of the Enmore estate shootings of 1948, when she was one of the leaders of the funeral march, she was known, for instance, as the ‘blue-eyed bowji’ (sister). In 1953, she was elected to the Legislature as part of the PPP victory and appointed deputy speaker. In 1955, she was imprisoned for six months for political activities during the repression which followed the suspension of the constitution in October 1953.

After the split in the PPP into sections led by Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham, she continued as general secretary of the Jaganite PPP and won a parliamentary seat again in the 1957 elections and became Minister of Labour, Health and Housing, combining the roles of mother (with three children), Minister and Party Secretary. After the return of the PPP to government in 1961, she was Minister for Home Affairs in one of the most violent periods of Guyana’s history, when CIA-supported strikes, a bombing campaign by the opposition and widespread racial violence made British Guiana virtually ungovernable. In 1964 she resigned when she could not exert control over the Afro-Guyanese dominated police force that stood by as opposition thugs beat, raped and murdered Indian Guyanese. In 1966, she, with the PPP, was thrust into opposition, a position maintained for the next twenty-five years through the PNC seizure of the state apparatus and ballot-rigging. In this period she was one of those who kept the PPP alive, particularly through her editorship of the Mirror newspaper.

In 1992, when in the first fair elections for decades the PPP returned to power, she continued her party position and served as a roving Ambassador. Following the death of Cheddi Jagan in 1997, she became President of Guyana until her resignation in 1999.
Janet Jagan has long been involved with the literary and cultural life of Guyana. She published early Martin Carter poems in Thunder (which she edited) and supported the publication of early Carter collections such as The Hill of Fire Glows Red. She had long been a teller of stories to her children and grandchildren and was strongly concerned that Guyanese children should have books that reflected themselves. In 1993 Peepal Tree published her When Grandpa Cheddi was a Boy and Other Stories, followed by Patricia, the Baby Manatee (1995), Anastasia the Ant-Eater (1997) and The Dog Who Loved Flowers.

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