Respecting each other is not difficult or outlandish
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EVERY now and then, something controversial comes up on the Guyanese side of Facebook, and it stirs much conversation and, sometimes, introspection. That was the case for me a few days ago, at Phagwah, when concerns were raised about the use of Phagwah to promote non-religious holidays. Having thought about it, I can only conclude that respecting each other is neither a difficult nor an outlandish thing for us to do.

In the interest of being crystal clear and frankly fair to all sides, there are several components to consider.

First, though many of our holidays are rooted in religious or cultural observances, I can appreciate that holidays- fundamentally- are days off from our usual activities- be it work or school. And I understand that holidays, generally, are a time to relax and unwind.

Whether it’s staying home and binging Netflix or going to a ‘wet fete,’ I would not fault anyone for wanting to do whatever brings them joy on this one day that you have to engage in some leisurely activity.

What I do have concerns about, however, is the seemingly unintentional disrespect we sometimes have for religious and cultural observances. Phagwah, for example, is a Hindu observance – a sacred time to observe the triumph of good over evil. Though the usual celebrations of the event- you know, the water-throwing, powder-smearing parts of it- might make it seem as though it is simply a day of frolicking and having fun, Phagwah remains a religious observance, sacred to the Hindu community.

For me, it is fine if you want to host or attend a ‘wet fete’ on Phagwah day. After all, Guyana is a secular country, and Phagwah is a national holiday. So by all means, enjoy the holiday.

My concerns, however, lie in scant regard for the religious underpinnings of the holiday. For example, when ‘wet fete’ is marketed as a ‘Phagwah wet fete.’ As a Hindu myself, I know that vulgar activities, replete with alcohol and even non-vegetarian cuisine, are not in keeping with the practices of Hinduism. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with these activities (save for the consumption of alcohol- but that’s a conversation for another column), but at some point, I believe that we have to draw the line and distinguish between simply enjoying a holiday and perhaps, unintentionally disrespecting some people’s religion and/or culture.

I wouldn’t be opposed to social activities, for example, being held on the day of Phagwah, but I would be concerned if a social activity, particularly one that may be contrary to the religious underpinnings of Phagwah, is marketed as a Phagwah event.

For emphasis: enjoy the holiday (however you please) but just be wary of how that enjoyment is promoted, for example, so that it does not infringe upon the sanctity of an observance.

I don’t think this is an unreasonable position, especially since Guyana has been a tolerant, multiethnic society, with respect for one another enshrined in our constitution.

Obviously, my sentiments are not confined to Phagwah alone. As a young girl growing up, I was always told of the sanctity of Good Friday, for example. Even in my professional life, this day remains sacred- in fact, it is one of the three days of the year (alongside Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) that a daily newspaper is not produced. And I would express the same concerns I am highlighting now on that day if there were events contrary to respecting the sanctity of Good Friday.

Just as I can respect that people don’t subscribe to the religious underpinning of Phagwah or Hinduism, generally, but would much rather a ‘free day,’ I think others can respect that Hindus don’t want their religious festival to be named with non-religious activities – especially those that might conflict with the religious or cultural underpinnings.

If you would like to connect with me to discuss this column or any of my previous works, feel free to email me at vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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