Eye on Guyana with Lincoln Lewis

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Imran Khan’s condemnation of racial bigotry and Government’s response

HAVING read Imran Khan’s article in this newspaper “Is it OK to be black in Guyana?” (14th March 2017), this young man is applauded for publicly dealing with a thorny issue that the politicians continue to circle the wagon on. His article, which represents an aspect of his life, was prompted by a story where two black men were allegedly profiled and physically attacked by Indians in Canal No. 1 Polder, West Bank Demerara.

Race as an identity in our society is not only a problem in that it creates a situation of us versus them, but also conditions acceptance to deny or downplay one’s identity, and allows some to use it as a front to justify acts of oppression and marginalisation. Racism is like an elephant in the room, imposing and with the power to trample and destroy.  It is a birth defect of our society which will not be fixed unless we are prepared to have frank, honest, and open discussions as equals, and establish the institutional framework to address it.

This issue attracts international attention and is fought at the highest institutional level. The United Nations (UN) not only condemns it, but has declarations in place to eliminate it, which member-states are expected to enshrine in their laws. Guyana is a member of the UN. The lack of will and commitment by the political leaders in taking the opportunities available to confront this elephant gives the impression that they are comfortable with the state of race relations.

Guyanese must not settle for government’s expression of condemnation when any of us is targeted by another because of our identity. Dameion Gordon and Vernon Beckles, who were allegedly attacked, not only must the law take it course in investigating and bringing the culprits to justice, but the institutional strengthening to minimise and eliminate such acts must be put in place. And this must go for all who experience a similar fate.

The Constitution of Guyana allows for the establishment of an Ethnic Relations Commission and Human Rights Commission. Successive governments have refused to discharge their constitutional responsibility to establish these bodies. How can they then condemn bigotry when they have refused to put the mechanisms in place to take it on? Every day these commissions are not established gives impetus to those who think they are vested the authority or right to determine how the other is treated.

The reluctance of political leaders across the political divide to act, makes you wonder if their non-action is either weakness or if they are comfortable retaining the status quo, where individuals and groups are pitted against each other, for them to come out after the fact to merely condemn. Why a society like ours, where treatment of each other based on race remains a problem and find political fodder, often to the detriment of the masses, must we be accepting mere condemnation without hearing when systems will be put in place to establish what are constitutionally required?

We not only have the politicians using Babu Jaan to stoke racial fears and hatred, but the continued disrespect and disregard for the appointment of constitutional bodies is another way of  doing the same thing. In the absence of the institutions to address these matters and have the people offer their inputs from which laws, policies and programmes will flow, any expressed concern about intolerance when you have the power to fix it makes a mockery of the people.

For too long all we keep getting is condemnation which is not followed through by meaningful action. The police is left to deal with such cases in a fractured society where sections can take sides not based on the rule of law, but that of identity. This also gives justification to engage in retaliatory action and vigilante justice.

It is time the politicians stop circling the wagons, issuing inconsequential condemnation, feeding off the fear, and put the mechanisms in place to address the problem and safeguard the people. No longer must the blame be placed at the feet of the people. The blame must be squarely placed at the feet of those whom the people have elected to protect them and are failing to do so.

Our intolerance must not only be with those who have abused, but also with those who are failing to safeguard us, irrespective of who we are. It is time the government, opposition, and every member of the National Assembly take the time to see to it that the commissions are established.  It is time to stop the talk and walk the walk.