Across the Divide
RAVI DEV COLUMN
(Excerpts from Ravi Dev’s Speech at PMJ’s Rally 5-22-04, 1763 Monument)
June 6, 2004
Tonight I would like to speak about three matters: firstly, the one immediately in front of us, the Gajraj Affair. Secondly, where we are as a nation and where we would like to be and thirdly, how we can get from here to there.
So first we talk about the Gajraj Affair. Well, one of the reasons ROAR has not focused on Gajraj - not even called for his resignation - but to say he must simply recuse himself; that he should have the decency to say if these very serious charges are being made against him; that he should take the moral position to say: “I shall step aside; I shall build fire walls between me and my job to see that justice being done.”
We did not call him a murderer - as I heard in the litany that was repeated when this meeting began - for this simple reason: that if we talk about justice; if we talk about the Rule of Law, then the cardinal principle of the rule of law is that we presume your innocence until you are proven guilty. We may have the facts; we may have the knowledge, but there is a procedure that has to be followed.
So I say to you this evening, that it is for this reason that the proper procedure be followed - that we must have a Commission of Inquiry that is fair, independent and impartial, to pass judgment on Gajraj.
The PPP cannot have it both ways. It cannot say on one hand, in the voice of President Jagdeo, that Gajraj is innocent, and on the other hand not set up a proper inquiry. But we also cannot, on one hand, say that he’s guilty and then in the same breath say that we need a Commission of Inquiry.
So the Opposition said that it is not only Gajraj. Gajraj’s activity, as Tacuma Ogunseye said earlier, is embedded in a larger web and if we want to get anywhere, we have to inquire into that large context. The PNC accepted - as a member of the combined opposition - that there must be an Inquiry into the 2002 Mash-day jail-break; that there must be an inquiry into the violence on the East Coast and yea, an Inquiry into Buxton.
And if the PNC were asking for that wider Inquiry - for which the PPP itself had said that the PNC had the role to play; for which it makes that clear in all the bottom houses of the Indian homes of this country - then why doesn’t today the PPP not want to have the wider Inquiry?
My fellow citizens, I said I would also like to speak also about where we are as a country and where we want to go. The second part is easier to answer: where we want to go? All of us - it does not matter of what race or of what religion we belong - each of us wants two things, at a minimum. We want to live in dignity and we want to live in respect with those who are around us. To be able to live in dignity, we must be able to create a life as we see it. We cannot have the lives of our sisters and brothers snuffled out with impunity.
And I would like to say that when I listened to the litany of deaths when this meeting began, I was saddened because – and again I speak my truth to you - not only those who were gunned by the arms of the state we should mourned, but we should also mourn every individual, every innocent individual, who was killed by others. So it means that that litany should include the Indians also who were killed by bandits, the Africans who were killed by bandits, the Chinese or whoever were killed by bandits. They also suffered the ultimate denial of their human rights - the right to life.
When I speak to you as to where we are today and I look at this crowd in front of me, we have to accept where we are today - almost forty years after we have been granted Independence - that we are still a people divided politically on ethnic lines. That’s the truth and we cannot shy away from that. You know there are many of us who have a great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth when we talk about the fact that we see each other different ethnically.
But we are not one culturally. We are one in many ways but culturally - let us speak our truth - no one knows what it is to be a descendant of a slave but a descendant of a slave. None. I am a descendant of indentured labourers. I have a history. I have my own denials. I am not saying that one suffering is more than the other. As we sat by the rivers of Guyana, all of us cried for our Zions. Suffering is subjective but subjugation, the subjugation of slavery and what it led to - is objective and led to objective conditions that must be addressed.
So I start from that truth, my fellow citizens, that yes, we are all Guyanese. We are all citizens of this country and we have a right to all that Guyana offers equally - benefits and burdens. But as individuals, we have come into and experienced different histories. We also consequently have particular concerns that must be addressed and that is partly why political parties have to be unapologetic about representing those interests.
When I spoke out against Indians being beaten in the streets of Georgetown on January 12th ,1998, I said this country has to deal with why Africans Guyanese could beat those Indians. It was because, my friends, we have to inquire (I called for a Commission of Inquiry then) that there must be reasons why these things happened. And we cannot keep sweeping them - as this Commission again is going to sweep things - under the rug.
My friends, I said that we want to go where there can be dignity and respect. But how can we get there? How can we get from here, where we are divided, to where we can be living with dignity and with respect? First and foremost, my friends, we have to acknowledge the violations of bodies and the destructions of souls. We cannot go forward, my dear brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of Guyana, we cannot go forward, unless there’s some process in Guyana that says, “You know what? I’m sorry for what happened.”
ROAR had called for, and still feels there’s a need - as happened in South Africa, where matters had proceeded far beyond what we have in Guyana - for a Commission for Peace and Reconciliation. Where we called for “restorative” justice not for “retributive” justice. Let us restore those who have been hurt by acknowledging their hurts.
I support Tacuma Ogunseye in saying that each one of us has a right to defend one’s self by any means necessary. All of us. This is an inalienable right - no one can take that away from us. But I want to say to you that in the context of Guyana, I have to tell you that if we want to move forward, we have to reject violence as a political instrument for effectuating change.
I am not saying that I reject violence at all times and at all places. Even Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, said that he would prefer violence to cowardice. I, too, would hold that line. But as a political instrument, for us to move forward to some kind of place where we can have that dignity and live with respect, there cannot be a place for violence as a political tool in Guyana. We are too small, we are too fractured, and it will lead to hurts that will never be healed.
It does not mean that we each do not have a duty to struggle. We have a duty to struggle against injustice. And if this government, or any government, is unjust, then we have a duty in a democracy to struggle against it. But there is the struggle in the example of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, of Civil Disobedience - and it is in paths along these lines that we have to move. And we have to bring all Guyana to this vision so we can all struggle together. In this house that we’ve all built, there can be mansions for all of us but we have to work together.
In the near term, ROAR sees that there can be nothing else but a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction. No other way - there is no other way. We’ve tried one way during the PNC regime between 1964-92 and the other way around from ‘92 to today. A house cast asunder cannot survive. We are going downhill at such a rate that there will be no house if we don’t look out very soon.
ROAR, as you know, believes in some things called “Federalism” - a principle where you must give power as far down to the ordinary man as you can. We feel such concepts will take time to sink in. Right now, people think that “Federalism” is ROAR’s “cock-man” story - trying to get most for Indians. So we will let that slide for now.