At IAC ‘Night of Remembrance’, speakers urge…
QUOTING from the Holy Koran, Moulana Abu Bakar Hanniff-Imaam of the Lusignan Masjid said: “Whosoever takes the life of another, it is as if he is taking the life of all humanity…when you kill someone…when you take a life, the tragedy that affects the person and the next of kin is only the beginning of the plight that you have wrought on humanity.
“The vindictive aftershocks of murder anywhere in the world threaten to arrest peace itself. It is the loss of innocence that takes hold and threatens the progress and the impetus of good at every level of society; so we must be wary of these situations that threaten to crop up, without warning, so very frequently around the world, and especially here (in Guyana).
“We are gathered here, not just to remember, but to reflect and understand that what has happened is a challenge to the very sense of progress in our country.” This was at the IAC-sponsored annual “Night of Remembrance”, held for the third year running to honour the memory of the 11 victims of the Lusignan massacre in the street where eleven members of five families were brutally slain by gunmen on the night of 26th January 2008.
On that night, the quiet street in Track “A”, Lusignan Pasture was plunged into grief and horror at the brutal and absolutely unwarranted slaying of Shazam Mohamed; Clarence Thomas; his son, Ron, 11; daughter, Vanessa 12; Mohandai Gourdat, 32; her two children: Seegobind, four years old, and Seegopaul Harilall, 10; Shalem Baksh, 52; Rooplall Seecharan, 56; his daughter, Raywattie Ramsingh, 11; and his wife, Dhanrajie, called Sister, 52. Many of the victims were gunned down while they were asleep in their beds.
Injured during that attack were Howard Thomas, 19, Nadir Mohamed, 48, and Roberto Thomas, five.
The survival of the critically injured five-year-old Roberto seemed to herald a promise and a hope of great good emerging out of such horrifying acts of evil. The entire nation prayed for his recovery all the while he lay unconscious in the hospital; and there was a collective national prayer of thanks to God when he recovered.
The graphic pictures in the media showing bloody bodies lying in various postures of disarray and babies lying eternally asleep in their own blood and entrails brought tears to the eyes of the strongest throughout the land; especially when this night of horror was repeated in Bartica mere weeks later – on 17th February, and subsequently on miners working in Lindo Creek.
PPP General-Secretary urges peace and unity
Speaking also at that event was Member of Parliament and General-Secretary of the PPP, Mr. Donald Ramotar who, recalling that “painful and difficult time in our country”, said “I don’t know, completely, what was the motive of those who carried out this act. It could have been for many, many reasons, but I know it was a very dangerous act taking place in our multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural multi-religious country.
“I am proud that, although people were terribly hurt, and terribly upset at what had taken place, they did not allow themselves to be lured into doing anything that could have made the situation even worse.
“What this tells me is that in our multi-cultural society we must be our brother’s keeper. We must look after each other. We must build, step-by-step, brick-by-brick, from that tragedy three years ago….” And here the PPP General-Secretary also made reference to the murderous incidents at Bartica and Lindo Creek, all within weeks of each during one of the worse crime sprees in the country. He continued “…brick-by-brick we must build our unity stronger, firmer, and make it so strong that no-one would even risk to try to disrupt the unity in our society, because that is the only way we can progress and move forward.”
Mr. Ramotar stressed that perpetuating unity in the land is the best way that Guyana can commemorate the lives of the eleven victims who died in the Lusignan massacre of three years ago; as well as those who died in Bartica and other places at the hands of criminal and murderous elements.
He urged that the best way the lives lost can be commemorated is by everyone focusing ahead to build the society, while trying to realize the dreams that they could not live to see concretized; also by working together toward eliminating poverty in the country and having peace and unity among the people in the Guyanese nation.
Reflecting on the pluralism in the Guyanese society, Mr. Ramotar said that a tapestry of many colours is much more beautiful than a one-colour design.
He encouraged “Once we can succeed in building unity (in the nation), I am sure that we will be one of the strongest communities, and one of the strongest countries in the world….let the memory of those who passed here on that day live on forever.”
Pastor Balgobin Ragnauth of the Lifespring Ministries said that freedom is relative and that, although there has been assurance given that ours is a free and united country, there is the realization that an indication that this country is not really free is when one awakens to gunshots that take innocent lives; especially so because criminals are allowed freedom to kill and act in whatever way they choose at will.
He said that only faith in God can provide genuine freedom, because faith is not specific to race or families but crosses all artificial barriers.
A harmonious society and country
Pandit Haresh Tewari, Priest-in-charge of the Lusignan Gopal Mandir sought, through prayer, “God’s grace, His love, His compassion, His blessing” on the gathering which he described as one family of humanity, which he prayed would be “bound with love and respect for one another and would, through God’s inspiration, serve as a vigilant army, ever-disciplined and ever-ready to fight against all lower tendencies, all false values within and without us…We believe that the service that we give to our communities and our country is service we render to the Lord”
Pandit Haresh said that the devotion one has in serving his fellow man is devotion to the Supreme Being. He prayed for inspiration for honest and noble lives of sacrifice and service, for happiness and peace in the land, for the grace of forgiveness for wrongs done, for the ability to see nobility and auspiciousness permeating every facet of life. Reciting from the Holy Scriptures, he prayed “May we never hate, may we never quarrel, may we never fight with one another.
“May we all enjoy all the bounties of goodness, may we aspire to the highest forms of knowledge and wisdom, and may whatever be gained by such great knowledge, may it be reflected in a brilliant and beautiful personality within and without us… May peace surround us with our neighbours and neighbouring villages, and to all with whom we come in contact in our daily lives, and may peace be within our hearts.”
He recalled the tragic events of three years ago, when the community of Lusignan was tortured by atrocious sounds and actions of gunshots taking the lives of innocents, and expressed gratitude that the babies who died were sleeping and did not experience the terror of the night. He expressed appreciation to the IAC for remembering the community’s anguished experience and said that there are those who do not believe in prayers, but with pain very often the exclamation of “Oh God!” spontaneously comes into the heart and mind, because inherently the divine presence of God exists in every human being, and every facet of that Supreme Being “survives in the very core of man’s heart.”
He prayed for solace, guidance, inspiration, healing and peace in the hearts of those who lost their loved ones, for the community of Lusignan which was devastated in the wake of the tragedy and spoke of the anger, pride, fortitude and resilience of the residents of that community. He expressed gratitude that many survived “that gruesome massacre”, and appreciation that the victims would be remembered and honoured with the erection of a monument.
“Harmony is what our country really needs,” urged Pandit Haresh, “we need to harmonise our communities, our societies and our country. The most beautiful of gardens is that which is enriched by different colours of flowers; so today we recognize our multi-religious, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic society; and that is a beauty that this land has.” Pandit Haresh expressed the hope that this tragedy should not be in vain, but that it instead becomes the impetus to ensure that stakeholders and policy-makers facilitate the propagation of a harmonious society and country, which can be achieved if Guyanese embrace each other’s diversity.
The strengths of Guyana
Alluding to “this gruesome act”, Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission, Bishop Juan Edgehill said that he wanted to use the occasion to speak about the strengths of Guyana. Referring to one of the nights during a “wake” preceding the funerals, the Bishop recalled visiting the Thomas’ home and, although the family were Christians, their relatives were Hindus and bhajans were being sung in the home. He said that the late Shri Prakash Gossai explained the meaning of the bhajan being sung: “Life is like a bird, it is beautiful in flight; and no-one knows the way it feels inside.”
Bishop Edgehill noted that this bhajan was a true reflection of the pain and the agony of relatives and friends of the deceased victims. This, according to him, is one of Guyana’s strengths, where bhajans can be sung in a Christian home by family members.
“The fact that we could respect each other’s faiths and beliefs is a strength for Guyana.
“I remember, as we were planning the funerals, a family member of one of the victims saying to me ‘we want the President and the Leader of the Opposition to come, and we want both of them to be present when we go to the tarmac this afternoon,
“Even while family members were in pain and grief because their loved ones had been slain, a strength of Guyana was being shown. The people of Guyana wan unity and togetherness.”
According to Bishop Edgehill, he has identified the strength of religious respect and tolerance, of the call of the Guyanese – even in the most difficult times, for unity and harmony.
A third strength, he said, is the fact that “we did not stay on the ground, we have picked ourselves up; and that which happened that ripped our hearts apart and brought us pain and grief – the fact that we could walk in here tonight and look at the faces, it simply says that Guyana is bouncing back. The community of Lusignan is bouncing back. We are not going to hold grudges and hatred forever; we are going to find a place for forgiveness, and we are going to work together to ensure this never happens again, and that our country is not divided. That is a strength for Guyana.”
Hope is also a strength he identified in the Guyanese people, quoting an incident in the Lutheran church in Success in the aftermath of the massacre, where a young man said that he cannot change the whole world, but he will work with his friends and urge others to work together to make Guyana a better place. Hope, said the Bishop, is very much alive in Guyana, because, listening to the voices of the young people, he recognizes that Guyana is on the right track, and people want to see it go forward.
We have to do it together
Former Minister of Health and PNC member, Dr. Richard Van-West Charles said that Guyanese have to come together as a people to say “enough is enough with this type of violence, and how do we move forward as a nation?”
He opined that this nation holds much for everyone and warned that Guyanese need to reflect on what violence is doing in other parts of the world and take stock.
Commending the IAC for hosting the event, Dr. Charles stressed the importance of focusing on what should be done. Lamenting that sometimes people say a lot of good words, he posited that the words need to be transformed into actions; with the need to draw from the strength of the families and the community, and suggested that the church becomes an integral part of “what we are going to do, for the restoration of morals is a critical aspect of constructing the road forward for all of us.
”Now that I am home I am prepared to work to ensure that peace, racial harmony and unity become very critical and a watchword for all of us, in cementing us as a people, as a nation with a destiny, and we have to do it together.”
Members of one human race
There are cameos of incidents in the memories of those who experienced the tragedy or its aftermath, and Prime Minister Sam Hinds reminisced on one of the saddest and most tragic incidents in Guyana’s history.
He said that, early that morning, walking in what he describes as “..a seething crowd, like a rough sea – maybe tormented by wanting to do something and not knowing what to do…maybe tormented by wanting to turn the clock back and reverse time.”
The Prime Minister said that, despite being severely tested, “we held together as a people, and as a nation.”
He recalled the agony of Mrs. Thomas, whom he said was looking very lost and agonized. PM Hinds recollected that the old lady had come down from Mahaicony with produce to sell in the market, only to be battered with the devastating news of the murder of her son-in-law and two of her grandchildren, and she was moving aimlessly, crying for the loss of her son-in-law and ‘grandpicnees”.
Reflecting on a unique Guyanese scenario where “..the girl from Mahaicony Creek met the boy from Wakapau” – a great distance, to build a life and start a family in Lusignan, and being told the story of romance, as related by Mrs. Thomas, the Prime Minister said that it hurt him twice as much to envisage such great loss in a family that “..had stretched hands across distances of space, and also distances of race, culture and region in our country..”, then to have Mr. Thomas and his children shot to death, which the Prime Minister said is a double loss to Guyana.
Having met with the other families, all of whom had lost precious family members, the Prime Minister, citing also the Bartica massacre, said that, although the country endured such a grievous time, Guyanese have survived as a nation.
Expressing his conviction that the perpetrators have already met their end, PM Hinds explained that, although the country is constrained in many ways, the Government has redoubled its efforts to strengthen and empower the security forces in efforts to offer greater protection to citizens in the land. He encouraged and challenged young people to join the security forces, especially the police force.
Also pleading for faith and hope in the nation, the Prime Minister urged that all Guyanese come to the realization that we are all members of one human race.
Master of ceremonies of the event was Neaz Subhan. A Quaranic recitation was done by IAC executive Raymond Azeez, followed by Imran Xavier; Ashley Persaud and Christina Jodhan sang hymns; Ashmeed Mohamed recited a quaseeda; with bhajans being rendered by Rosita Kerut of the Annandale Mandir and a member of the Lusignan Gopal Mandir.
Prayers were said by Pastor Ram, Pandit Aditya Persaud, and Imaam Azeez Bacchus.