Remember…We’re all Guyanese

Less than 24 hours ago His Excellency President Donald Ramotar named the big day: May 11, 2015. Campaign material flooded social media almost immediately and, of course, the inter-party battles begun.

Guyanese will be attacking each other in the safety of cyber world with the worst possible weapon: words. But must it really be this way?

Not so long ago, my elderly neighbour collapsed in her home and had to spend a few days in hospital. As soon as she came home again, I rushed over and I made sure I held her close and told her how much she meant to me. I did not want the words to be left unsaid.

Every morning she sits on her veranda watching as the soft sunlight slowly awakens our world. For years, my eyes have always turned upwards looking for her when I walk out my front gate. I cannot imagine our village without her. I cannot imagine becoming this me that I am without her.

Her family and mine will most likely not be voting for the same party in May but this does not lessen my love for this woman. She has a right to freedom of choice; to choose as she pleases.

So today, if any of you are so moved with those passionate emotions that cause us to wield words that inflict deep and lasting wounds, please don’t. I beg you.

Stop and think of someone like her, think of someone different from you, someone who does not share all of your beliefs but still holds a place in your heart. Think of how you still care for them despite this difference.

I am certain that all the people in my house will be voting PPP. I am not sure where my vote will go but I know where it will most certainly not go.

My family is aware of my choice and yet they love me no less. We are a family and we share a bond that cannot be broken by a difference in political preference. And is this not what a nation should be? A family?

So please, please, whether you’re supporting PPP, APNU, AFC or one of the others, I beg you to respect each other’s choice. In the end, isn’t this what we all believe we’re fighting for? For continued freedom? And doesn’t this include the right to freely choose without being hurt for that choice?

Remember, when this is all over we will still live together under the roof of this nation. And when the politicians have settled into the powers that we have given them at the price of our bond with each other, we will be the ones who will struggle to put the pieces back together again. We will be the ones, watching each other try to scrape a living.

It is sad that more often it is only in such times of great misery that we manage to see ourselves in each other and only then realise that beating a man over the head with one truth does not cause him to forget his own truth.

Without Wax,

Bharrat

Will the PPP win in 2015?

In the land of the blind, one-eye man is king…

From now until May 11, some of us will contemplate the answer to this question with much fear, hope or a combination of both.

Will the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)win? Or will they lose?

Before I answer this, I believe it is worth clarifying where I stand: I am the Bharrat who stands in the middle. It is true that I am not pro-Government. Unfortunately, this statement seems to be synonymous with “I am anti-Government” or “I am pro-Opposition”. I am none of these things. I, Bharrat, am pro-Guyanese.

Those on my left believe that – given the degree of exposure suffered by the PPP – the ruling party will fall. However, a condition which seems necessary for this is a coalition between the two main opposing parties. These people are not necessarily fearful of another PPP win but they intensely hope and, in some cases, believe that the ruling party will lose.

On my right, there are those who trust that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) have sufficiently ruined their own images. If they could not capitalize on a hung Parliament then how will they make a coalition work? This is the question I hear the people on my right asking no one in particular with some hope in their voices. These people hope intensely for a PPP win and are very fearful of any other outcome. Fear makes people unstable; it makes them suffer.

During my months of bad health and worse silence, I listened intently to those around me. Many older Guyanese are still choking on rice flour bake and roti and the choking syndrome has been inherited, unwillingly for the most part, by their descendants.

Only tonight I was told that the “National Mood” is indicative of a PPP loss. However, I believe that what shows itself as a National Mood are things that we are able to see or feel in some way; things that have been let or leaked into the open. But what about those things which are carefully guarded? And never voiced?

It is all too easy to see the ocean’s surface but we must dive beneath the waves and become intimately acquainted with those powerful undercurrents that carry truth.

As it is now, I believe there is a higher chance of a PPP win than of a PPP fall.

In this worry of win and lose, all I can think of is whether the outcome, whatever it may be, will be best for our people; our Guyanese brothers and sisters. There are few men and women among politicians whom I perhaps can bring myself to trust but they are certainly not enough for a Cabinet and do not all come from the same camp.

While I do understand the fear that weighs on the hearts of men and women who could be my mother and father or my Nani and Nana, I sincerely hope that they can bring themselves to fight the fear.

We must recognize that politicians rise to power with our blessing and upon our shoulders. We, the people, give them power and we most certainly can strip them of it. This year can perhaps be the year Guyanese win if we learn to use our own powers; if we learn to put politicians in their place.

Without Wax,

Bharrat.

An Independence Conversation with Nani

Earlier, the sky was a clear kind of blue that floods the soul with happy, happy feelings. Now, the rain clouds have descended upon Craig Old Road. It isn’t a storm but it isn’t quite the sort of early evening calm that usually greets us at this time of day. Nani sits in her usual spot on the couch, the neighbours are quarreling about the stray cats and some BBC reporter is walking confidently among Thai protesters on the television screen. Life isn’t like it used to be, Nani says. She was born in 1939 and has seen many blue skies and many little showers of rain. She has lived through storms. I ask if she would answer some questions. She smiles and nods. I believe the state of our people’s minds is the true reflection of what we have achieved since May 26, 1966.

Do you remember when Guyana gained Independence? How old were you?

In 1950…no wait Rohan bin born, he was a couple month old baby. So we gained Independence in 1966.

Who was the leader at the time?

 I think Jagan.

 

How did you feel when Guyana became Independent?

 Me di feel okay…but after that he [Jagan] and Burnham split.

Why did they split?

They split because when they went to India and come back they were at loggerheads.

Why were they at loggerheads?

Jagan kept certain meetings and he used a certain term. That would have no doubt upset Burnham.

What term did he use?

Well it was one term. Aapanjaht. It means nation for nation.

Why do you think he used that term?

I guess according to what was going on he felt the need to do something like that. Advantage was being taken on Indians.

Did Burnham ever say anything like that?

He na use it in a language like Jagan but he spoke about it in sentences and people understood what he was saying. At Bourda Green Burnham spook about the goal mines. He said to look at who was mining the gold and who was wearing the gold. He said that the gold must be taken back.

What were things like before Independence?

Under the white people, that was the British, well to me the wages were small and so but you used to get everything. There was no kick down door. Robbery and murder was not rampant. And even though groups of blacks were in the kick down door campaigns there were one one Indians among them. The Indian presence in those things was not as prevalent as it is today. You could walk the streets in the British time. You could buy one big basket goods and still have lef’ back after the month was done.

And what happened after Independence?

We suffered a lot to get things because they kept saying that Jagan was a communist.

Did things change when Burnham took office?

For his first term or so we had access to things but then he banned the imports like flour and said that we must use local. Wasn’t a bad thing but we na had other things. We couldn’t produce our own. The decision was too rash. Maybe if it was done gradually it would have been more successful.

Where was Jagan during this time?

I remember sometime in the 60s Jagan called for all farmers to stay away from the market for a week. If Burnham was going to punish us by banning flour then we should punish him by not taking provisions to the market. But we still went to the market. We couldn’t stay home. We needed sales, we needed money, we had to survive.

And then Hoyte took up office?

Yes. Hoyte did a lot of good but the price and so were high. When he came in there wasn’t much crime because he passed a law for hanging. Is da wa bring hatred between us so much.

What brought the hatred?

The disturbances of the 60s. Me can remember a time when Black people and Indian people used to live as one family. Now even though we still live good we don’t really trust each other you know.

Do you think Jagan and Burnham could have avoided this?

If they had preached the right things on their platforms then we wouldn’t be here. Where was the need to further split us because of politics? I can remember in 1964 when the Black were burning down Georgetown. Is Black people house we used to go and hide.

Which Black people were burning down Georgetown?

They used to say Burnham had he thugs. But is not the Black people who were our neighbours and friends. No, not them at all.

And what about Rodney?

I never met Walter Rodey but I remember that Rupert Roopnaraine came to our village once and he wanted to hold a meeting in front the shop so he could get light. But we didn’t give them light because we were afraid that people would pelt our house and attack us.

Do you regret not giving them light?

Yes. I sorry in one way but you try to protect yourself and your family. In these fights you always have to choose between the good they promise and yourself and your family.

How do you feel about Guyana now after almost 5 decades of Independence?

Everybody want fast life.

Everybody?

The new politicians and the old ones that still around. They just won’t sit and get things done. Look at parliament. They row whole day. They won’t learn to sit and agree so that the country can go forward. Their attitudes na good at all.

Who do you vote for?

Me does always vote for the PPP.

Why do you vote for them?

Because I seh more seat they get they would have more power to look after the people.

Do you feel that they are looking after the people?

I really can’t say with what going on. They got too much going on. You can’t deh in parliament whole day forming law and brukin law and not coming out to see what is happening to the people. Where is the money? Imagine, dead man getting pay in office.

Is this PPP the same PPP you voted for when Jagan was alive?

No they aren’t the same. They aren’t the same at all. They are vastly different. Everybody wants a fast life. Everybody wants to full their pockets.

What about APNU? Do you think they would do better?

APNU? But APNU was in it too. Granger and Greenidge were in it back in the PNC days.

Do you think it’s fair to blame young people like James Bond for what happened back then?

No that is not fair at all. And that is the problem. The old people need to learn that their experience is good for guidance. They need to step back and let young people take up their rightful places. When the old continue to make a mess of things is the young people will have to clean it up.

If all of those men and women in parliament were your children would you be proud of them?

No. I would be very upset with them. All of them, not just any one side.

What would you tell them?

I tell you like it is. I would tell them ‘You are not doing the right thing’.

 

For Tribe or Country

“My name is… Bharrat. I am an East Indian Guyanese…” (The beginning of a Primary School composition in the early 90s).

The relative of a high ranking public official engaged me in conversation on January 15, 2014. We spoke briefly about the connotations of a certain word. They believe the word is an insult to Guyana and Indians. “…the beloved country you are fighting for is being insulted by it [the word] including yourself, whom I suspect has some trace of Indian heritage,” they said.

This was not my first experience of being othered. Sadly, many have decided that I simply cannot be only of Indian heritage because the views I have expressed in earlier articles seem to be anti-Indian. Some more creative minds have dubbed me “the anti-coolie coolie woman”. I can explain this reaction in one word: tribalism.

“I am a descendant of Indians. I come from a traditional Hindu, Indian, PPP [People’s Progressive Party] family,” I explained. They said nothing.

On December 19, 1950 the Waddington Commission reported:

“Race is a patent difference and is a powerful slogan ready to the hand of unscrupulous men who can use it as a stepping stone to political power. Race too, is easily identifiable with nationalism which in recent years has been emergent among all colonial peoples…. The Indians, too, derive from an ancient culture of their own, and some among them may be inclined to pay homage to their heritage merely as a cover under which to condone racial attitudes.” (quoted in History of the People’s National Congress, p. 6)

Even a brief examination of Guyana’s political history will reveal that racism has been used to engulf our nation in flames that burn to this very day. In The Ashes of Cheddi and Burnham, I note that these two leaders have become respective icons for Guyanese of Indian and African heritage. As a result, the PPP and the People’s National Congress (PNC) are associated with Indian and African power, respectively. Our political machinery has effectively divided us. We are tribes, armed with the vote, in a power struggle.

Being of Indian heritage and having lived the Indian experience, I can only speak of my own encounters with tribalism. I am not anti-Indian. I am anti-tribalism. I value my heritage. I recognize that it is part of the whole that is Bharrat. But I also know that it does not define me. My ethnicity is not my identity. I am not Indian. I am Guyanese.

The PPP and PNC cannot be blamed for the genesis of this tribal based political system. However, each (whether consciously or unconsciously) has surely played its part in maintaining the tribal mentality. The continued survival of tribal mentality means political power for a selected few. It means that we (the people) do not realize our own power. It means that we give our votes too cheaply.

Language is the most powerful weapon which the politician wields. With language, the politician manipulates our rational and emotional spheres. With language, he plants fear in our minds. He uses fear to maintain the tribal mentality, the tribal system. He teaches us to fear anything that is not of the tribe. He teaches us that he is necessary for the tribe’s survival.

In a recent study (The Undercurrents of Guyanese Political Rhetoric: Linguistic Manipulation and Power), I examined two speeches (one by former president Bharrat Jagdeo and the other by current Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman) from the 2011 General Elections rallies held at Albion, Berbice. The primary aim was to determine if and how the speakers used language to manipulate listeners in order to gain or maintain political power. Here is an excerpt of the analysis:

“Allusion

I know that many of you are just discovering how wonderful this country is and particularly those who left Guyana when times were hard, they come back and it’s a rediscovery process. (NCNNewsGuyana, “PPPC Rally – Albion”)

Allusion serves as a powerful tool in Jagdeo’s speech to transmit and reinforce political ideology by creating fear of past conditions. This ideology or perceived truth which is accepted as common sense knowledge “legitimize(s) the existing power relation” (Fairclough 1989, 33) between the party and the audience (a section of the electorate).

By alluding to “when times were hard”, Jagdeo is referring to the era under PNC rule when many Guyanese migrated. Further, the fact that he is East Indian and was alive during these “hard times” gives him more authority as a speaker and as a result the listener, whether or not they experienced the “hard times” that is being alluded to, is inclined to accept Jagdeo’s statement as true.

The utterance functions in two ways. First, it appeals to the listener’s logic and sense of reason. It is reasonable to contend that people are only now discovering how wonderful Guyana is because before now times were hard. This sort of linguistic strategy is rational manipulation and seeks to influence the listener’s behaviour (in this case cause them to vote PPP) by affecting the rational sphere. (Asya n.pag.)

Second, the manipulation also takes an emotional form. Guyanese, particularly those of East Indian descent, are fearful of the era to which Jagdeo alludes. The fear stems either from their own experiences during the Burnham period or ideas of these events that would have been transmitted to them by parents or grandparents. As a result, the allusion to the era plays upon this existing fear and creates fear of its repetition.

Hence, by using his ethnicity and experience as points of power, Jagdeo is able transmit his party’s ideology of the Burnham era to the audience. The transmission of this ideology is capable of influencing the listener both rationally and emotionally. If the manipulation is realized then the listener accepts the ideology as truth and concedes their vote.” (Bharrat 2014)

It is sad that the politician so successfully makes a case of our dependence upon him when the opposite is true. The politician is dependent upon us for power. It is time we realized this, time we recognized the power of a single vote. It is because the politician understands the people’s power that he works so hard to manipulate our beliefs, our thinking.

By allowing ourselves to be so manipulated we live in fear and we allow our actions to be controlled. We allow our vote to be talked out of us without ever truly thinking critically and independently for ourselves. We give our power to the politician too cheaply, too easily. This is how we have been handicapped. We have allowed them to convince us that we have chosen them when in truth our right to choose has been deviously taken from us.

The truth is that the politician lives in fear. He lives in fear of the day we learn to think and to separate ourselves from the tribe. He lives in fear of the day we fight for country and not for tribe. He lives in fear of the day we begin to freely choose again and in so doing force him to earn our votes by performing in our best interests. He lives in fear of the day our children will write:

“My name is Bharrat. I am a Guyanese.”
© Sara Bharrat 2014

Be a brother to your brother, for you, not him

In memory of Blackie

Tonight I want to shed tears for my villager, my friend, my brother. But the tears will not come. There is that familiar heaviness in my chest. But the pain is not the same. Because I have acknowledged my country man as my own, as my family, as my blood, the pain spreads. And still, I cannot cry for my brother because death is not the worst thing he has met.

Within the last month, I have written of the race based political machinery which plagues Guyana. I have acknowledged its existence, acknowledged that we are not as free as we may like to think. However, sometimes in examining problems some of us may think that this is all there is in our country, that it is a place of no hope. This is not true.

If there was no hope then I would not think in the manner that I do. If there was no hope then I would not write for you, for us, for those to come. If there was no hope then I would not fight the silence and rebel against the silencing. There is hope. There is always hope. But it comes with a price.

The ribbons of hope we have now can only be expanded when we are willing to acknowledge the truth and embrace the pain that comes with it. So for every one of you who is able to look at Guyana, to see it objectively, to understand the ills that plague your country, please, please help someone else to see. In this sight, there is hope.

This morning my brother died a miserable death. He died hungry and alone in an empty house across the street. How will he be remembered? The village will remember him only as Blackie; the bony man with wild locks and no home; the man who roamed Craig Old Road muttering about the lack of goodness in men. How many of us were good to him? I cannot say.

 Maybe he was mad but if he was mad then I will admit right now that the words of a mad man have held more truth and wisdom than the shallow ideals preached by our politicians; preached but never practiced.

How will he be remembered by me? I will remember the man my family taught me was a friend, the man they taught me to care for and respect. I will remember the man who spoke to me as a child when he was unwilling to speak to most adults. I will remember the man from whom I learnt to “hail” a brother with respect.

I will remember a man, a brother, the good things he did for me. In knowing him, in learning to respect him, in remembering him I will never think of him as being different. I learnt this in this same country of ours, the same country that is plagued by the fear generated by racial politics. And if I can learn, if some of us can learn, then there is hope for every man and woman among us.

But what I really wonder, is how many of us will die hungry and alone in some abandoned house; hungry for more than just food and lonely because there are few who know the truth that we do? How many of us will be good to a brother, regardless of his colour or status? How many of us will realize that in being good to our brother we really do service to ourselves? We build a better village, a better town, a better city, a better country by being good to each other.

So in the year to come, when I and those like me are busy acknowledging the problems that plague our country remember that we are only showing you truth. Remember that because you see your country for what it is, you will be better equipped to help in whatever way you can. But most of all, remember to be a brother to your brother, for you, not him.