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Construct of an unequal society

The possibility of Guyana emerging as an equal society under the current regime is more far-fetched an idea today, than any rational person would have contemplated sixteen years ago. Indeed, our country is fast becoming dramatically unequal, hastened since the PPP/Civic surprising if not controversial election victory back in 1992.


Today, there are faint echoes of the much-touted egalitarian society propagated by several PNC administrations. Whether it was realistic or not the general public appears indifferent to that vision, which has elapsed as a matter of political exigency.


What has caused this profound shift or societal transformation in Guyana? Would it be presumptuous if I were to offer a candid but rather simplistic response to such a rhetorical question? May be it is fair to conclude and without conjecture that following the PNC defeat, our country has undergone a stark transmutation.


As the main opposition party in Parliament the PNC/R has been marginalized and forced to become a reactionary group of ineffective politicians. The party that led Guyana to political Independence from Great Britain in 1966 has now been relegated to a political entity without a vision and clear path to regain power in the near future. How can the PNC/R become a viable alternative if it continues to be plagued by internal squabbles, extremely low morale among its declining members and experiencing financial difficulties that preclude rebuilding? 


The inability of opposition parties to effectuate substantive change combined with anti-democratic rule by the PPP/Civic regime have manifested in socio-political regression, a disregard for basic freedoms including free speech, unchecked corruption because of little or no accountability and increasing fear among the citizenry due to death squads and drug related crimes.   


While these political problems might have contributed to imbalance governance that enabled ethnic enclaves to exist and thrive, it seems an even more destructive problem confronts the nation. Many Indo-Guyanese have come to accept the false values of personal and collective power-political and economic as necessary for maintaining dominance over other ethnic groups. The rise of Indian nationalism has engendered racial polarization, which adversely impacts minority group relations.


Conversely, African descendants having been defeated at the polls now find themselves with no power. For the most part PNCR adherents are fast becoming apathetic, disconsolate and extremely pessimistic, realizing that 28 years at the helm of government were ineptly utilized. Their failure to implement appropriate mechanisms or build a proper foundation for such an eventuality means, supporters must make the necessary adjustments or decipher ways in which to adapt to the assertive and dominating role being exhibited by East Indians.


In order to reverse these pitiable conditions, a cerebral metamorphosis must take place within both African and East Indian communities but from an absolutely different prospective. The power elite should recognize the importance of accommodating the needs of minority groups by working together to alleviate problems in society. Concomitantly, determine ways to reform institutions that permit regulations wherein undue suffering is reduced and any perception of injustice or feeling of alienation eliminated. This will require reprimanding individuals who perpetuate misconduct or knowingly defy laws, which impinge the civil rights of disadvantaged individuals or minority groups.


Meanwhile Afro-Guyanese must be cognizant of their ongoing plight and acknowledge the tenuous situation in which they find themselves: no political or economic power, broken families, decaying communities, a lack of self sustaining institutions and very few if any meaningful symbols to buttress Black pride and empowerment. It is imperative that this de facto disadvantaged group desists from becoming consumed in self-pity and instead be architects of its own destiny by accumulating wealth through hard work.


As descendants of slaves, we must be ever mindful of the sacrifices made for this nation to experience freedom- However, are we truly free today? Or has mental suffocation replaced the physical shackles? It is imperative that we redouble our efforts and obstinately refuse to be second-class citizens in a country, which tenacious Africans fought and died, to establish.


Moreover, irrespective of where we are domiciled every citizen owes these fore-bearers a profound debt of gratitude. We could honour and respect their memories by being equal to the task of improving or in many cases rebuilding personal and family lives, shattered communities, renovating dilapidated institutions and uniting to accomplish common goals.


Since solidifying political power to complement the already held economic dominance, the Indo-Guyanese worldview has resulted in a remarkable attitudinal change. The Indians regardless of their social status in society have demonstrated publicly by their swagger, a confidence and arrogance never before seen in Guyana. They continue to display as stewards of every aspect of life a total disregard for Afro-Guyanese whether in the disciplined forces, business, education, health, the judiciary or in politics as witnessed by their contempt for opposition parties during parliamentary debates.


Guyanese everywhere should decipher or express through democratic processes whether we establish an equal society or a plural society. Unfortunately, increasing ethnic polarization now threatens the attainment of either concept in the near future.


It is indubitably clear that the prevailing malaise, disillusionment and racial insecurity have made equality appear more constrained. Our racial divisions have given rise to a growing tendency to accentuate difference, which inevitably exacerbates inequalities. The long held feelings of mistrust and trepidation as a consequence of past political enmity continue to influence present relations between the two major ethnic groups. In fact, the myriad of social problems that thwart progressive advancement in Guyana have emanated from the unequal power relations that still exist in our multi-racial society.


Horton and Leslie define social problems as, “A condition affecting a significant number of people in ways considered undesirable, about which it is felt something can be done through collective social action.” Citizens aptly reflected the present situation with vociferous demonstrations after Channel 6 (CN Sharma) license to operate was suspended for four months, probably an attempt by President Jagdeo to curtail if not muzzle political dissent.


Guyanese both at home and abroad are also following the ongoing efforts by this regime to interfere in court proceedings involving former GDF officer Oliver Hinckson. It now appears the trumped up charges against yet another citizen of African descent are baseless even as the prosecution valiantly tries to present a case that resembles a judicial circus with discombobulated clowns.


Generally, the failure of equality usually empowers one group to predominate. This supremacy invariably leads to animosity and exclusion, which makes racial integration certainly problematic. Ethnic polarization remains a festering problem that the PPP/Civic has allowed to negatively impact every facet of Guyanese life. The evidence of poor sanitation, public lawlessness, increased poverty, extraordinarily high rate of unemployment among African Guyanese, deteriorating infrastructure and the lack of public works projects in communities inhabited by a specific ethnic group is emblematic of this regime. The PPP/Civic approach to governance is quite transparent: fomenting racial insecurity necessitates, pitting race against race and when appropriate use that very problem as the boogieman for a lack of progress.


This is certainly not facetious if the latest in a series of rants by PPP/Civic officials were to be carefully examined. During an address to his core supporters at Babu-John, Berbice- President Jagdeo, allegedly chided the audience for being too passive since the Lusignan massacre. The President urged Corentyne residents not to cower in their homes but respond to the gangs of psychopaths (Africans-PNC supporters). “…they must be hunted down and killed- there should be no equivocation about this,” he said.


These are serious claims and no evidence was presented to substantiate such egregious rhetoric. Further, it is ludicrous that the PPP/Civic would engage in tactics of fear mongering and clandestine activities for coalescing Indo-Guyanese, even as they observe Dr. Jagan’s death anniversary. Moreover, rational thinking people can agree that it was preposterous that a Head of State makes outrageous statements in a non-chalant way and not be criticized by responsible leaders everywhere. 


In many respects the strategy of this regime to malign Afro-Guyanese, preventing them from being active contributors of society appears to be succeeding. The residents of Buxton/Friendship can certainly attest to the deprivation and constant mistreatment at the hands of security forces. As Guyanese we cannot sit by idly without recognizing that something has gone array in many areas populated by African descendants: Buxton, Bartica and Linden, once thriving communities have significantly retrogressed simply due to benign neglect. The current government like any other has the obligation to improve not bastardize an entire community either because of the race of its residents or their political affiliation.  


By demonizing these citizens simply because of their ethnicity serves only to reinforce the view that this regime has detached itself from communities, which are inhabited by Afro-Guyanese as a calculated tactical plan aimed at curtailing their impact on society as a whole. The PPP/Civic by its performance in government has deliberately or un-intentionally created the conditions for ethnic polarization, where the pursuit of difference has solidified inequalities.    


A society that celebrates its difference and respects pluralism is for the most part accepting of a variety of cultural groups and generally can be characterized as democratic and non-racist. Guyanese should be striving to build a tolerant society that provides opportunities for improving and enhancing the quality of life of all citizens. Regrettably, the stark reality is our country has degenerated to the continued exclusion or subjugation of one specific group-Afro-Guyanese.


The notion or concept of pluralism in its application to Guyana is premised on the idea that our nation is composed of different cultural groups and peoples. According to Mertens de Wilmars, pluralism is not only a concept that aims at a description of the actual situation of a democratic society and its consequences for individual liberty, but pluralism is a value to be protected as well. It is not predominated by values but with things valued, and the way persons are disposed to behave toward beliefs, practices and institutions…The philosophical concept of pluralism goes beyond diversity rather it emphasizes a systematic if not thorough point of reference of such diversity.


As Guyana transition to becoming an unequal society there is a likelihood, of the imposition of measures aimed at restricting our basic civil rights. The case of Mark Benschop epitomizes the level to which this PPP/Civic regime is willing to stoop by allowing an innocent citizen to languish in prison on bogus charges of treason for his alleged involvement of storming the Office of the President on July 3, 2003. 


Every Guyanese without exception must resist all attempts by this government to rollback those rights and freedoms deservedly earned over the years. Guyanese at home and abroad should stand up for justice and begin advocating and agitating against the erosion of civil liberties. If we allow this regime to continue impinging on our rights and freedoms, Guyanese run the risk of losing the legal protection to freely express those inalienable rights inherent in our unique political, cultural and religious identities. 


It is imperative that our politicians grasp the concept of equality, which Western liberals believe in that is akin to democracy, a free market system and most importantly The Rule of Law. Disregarding equality is tantamount to denying the rights and freedoms of citizens. 


Finally, in an equal society difference can be chosen, encouraged and protected. Equality signifies an acceptance of the inequalities of society. At this juncture of Guyana’s history, I humbly subscribe to the concept of a plural society in which citizens enjoy rights and full freedom to pursue their different values or practices in private, while in the public sphere all citizens are treated as political equals whatever their private beliefs.

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