Keep the education in our schools secular
Stabroek News
October 15, 2001

Dear Editor,

Numerous letters have appeared in the newspapers recently concerning the Book of Hope fiasco. I found it amazing that the kind of holier than thou mentality still underlies many of these letters. Take Alfred Bhulai's letter published on 10/12/01 for instance. In it he criticized the Stabroek News editorial calling for a recall of the Book of Hope. He went on to say that Guyana is in "all these problems" because of the call for secularity.

Mr. Bhulai needs to honestly examine why Guyana is where it is. And he also needs to examine what role Chris-tian conversion of people played in bringing Guyana to where it is - the forceful conversion of African slaves, the conversion by Hindus and Muslims because they could not get teaching jobs and other jobs in the public sector unless they converted to Christianity, the continued pronouncements by Christian ministers of "idolators" and "Mohammed can't save you", and "Jesus is the only way".

To claim that conversion to Christianity is a voluntary thing, a claim that Emile Mervin makes in the Stabroek News on 10/13/01, is disingenuous and dishonest. Mr. Bhulai asks the question in his letter whether it occurred to the editor of the Stabroek News that "many parents and guardians might like to have this literature." This only justifies the distribution of this book in our schools. Maybe the question should be, were these parents first asked before the authorities went ahead and handed the book out? To assume that they wanted it without first consulting them, is assuming the role of Christians knowing what was good for the people - reminiscent of the colonial rulers making decisions on what the colonized needed to become "civilized".

In Mr. Emile Mervin's letter, there is what appears to be religious tolerance. But this quickly deteriorates when he starts relating stories about "the unknown God" and people who "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts and creeping things". These references are clearly meant to be derogatory and alludes to Hindu religious inferiority in religious practice. And Mr. Mervin wraps this up in a cloud of apparent religious tolerance.

What is even more alarming are the statements made by the education officer when the outcry about the book's distribution hit the media. He exclaimed, "they don't have to take it ..." What he fails to see, or more correctly, refused to see, is that the book was being distributed in schools to children as young as five years old. What inner strength would a five year old have to refuse a book being handed out in a school?

And what did the Assemblies of God have to say about this? Mr. Richards speaking on behalf of the Assemblies of God claimed that this distribution was not intended to convert anyone. There are two issues underlying this statement. Firstly, Mr Richards apparently sees the ills of trying to convert others to Christianity. But more importantly, included with the book distribution was an invitation to attend a crusade at the National Park. Now, come on, many of us have been to such crusades and we know that the aim is to "spread the word" and to convert people to Christianity. Mr. Richards, Mr. Bhulai, Emile Mervin and others have, by their statements, totally exposed the underlying deceptions of this practice. Mr. Bhulai by claiming that all religions can distribute their religious literature in our schools totally misses the point Hindus have been making for decades - that our children must not be forced into Christianity in order to get an education. Mr. Richards by being unhelpful about the real intent of the book distribution makes me question what type of "morality" they're trying to teach our children. Mr. Mervin by descending into anti-Hindu statements in his letter erodes any attempt to appear neutral and tolerant.

To Mr. Bhulai I say our schools are not to be made into pulpits. To the education officer I say keep the education in our schools secular. Let parents decide what level and kind of religious education their children should have.

The Guyanese public must tenuously hold on to our freedoms gained by the return to democracy in Guyana. We must demand respect for all our people irrespective of what race they belong to, what religion and mode of religious practice they adhere to, what sexual orientation they identify with.

We must remain vigilant lest those possessing "powers in high places" pull the wool over our eyes.

Yours faithfully,

Rohan Sooklall