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—-we too must recommit to struggle for fundamental human rights
The alleged racist utterances by Attorney-at-law Nirvan Singh to a female police officer, the invading of her personal space and depositing of saliva droplets on her, whilst she was on duty at the residence of his father, retired acting Chancellor Carl Singh, are condemned in the strongest possible terms. Further disturbing is that Singh is the son of a gentleman who once headed the nation’s judicial branch of government. Yours truly would like to believe the son’s unacceptable conduct was not countenanced or nurtured by the father and he would have received an admonishment befitting the behaviour.
The fact that an apology and financial settlement were agreed to constitutes acceptance of culpability. What was meted out to police woman Shawnette Bollers is tantamount to workplace harassment. In other societies the employer, in this instance the Government of Guyana, would have taken such allegations seriously and acted on them. Thus far, the Commissioner of Police, Minister of Home Affairs and other government officials have opted to remain silent rather than give this nation assurance they are not in support of the treatment meted out to an officer of the state executing her duties in protecting, with her life, a former officer of the state.
This nation must be called on to do better and recognise that our daily existence is intertwined. The disrespect and violation of others will ensure continuous disruption of the peace and harmony most of us seek. When taken into consideration, financial compensation and apology are not enough. Similar issues are taking place at other workplaces, with some being swept under the carpet, ignored, or the service of the victims terminated. Ms. Boilers is not only being commended for standing up to bigotry, but her outspokenness should serve as an exemplar of what is required to demand the right to be treated with respect and dignity, in the workplace and wider society. Yours truly trust she will not be victimised by her employer in defending her rights but would become a role model for standing up for what is just and fair.
The time has come for issues of this nature, that have underlying racial prejudices, to be ventilated in frank, open and honest conversations, and structures put in place not only to educate but sanction those who think such conduct is acceptable. This nation was founded on the motto “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” by earlier progressive thinkers and leaders who recognised that together we can build a united Guyana where all are treated equally. For all are one and there truly is no division that surmounts that which binds us as a people dependent on each other for individual and group survival.
Article 149 in the Constitution of Guyana expressly protected persons from being discriminated against on the ground of race. It is therefore not for the want of laws to protect human rights that Guyanese are being made to suffer indignities, brutality, and violations. It is the result of a lack of will to execute and abide by human rights, the rule of law and good governance. It is a self-centeredness that speaks to an ideology that embraces supremacist thinking and beliefs. It is a blatant disregard for others. It is what encourages, rather than diffuses ethnic tensions, and which causes us to celebrate what divides us, other than what unifies us as a people. It is about applying a winner taking all, in violation of the mandated “inclusionary democracy” of the political system as prescribed in Article 13 in the Constitution of Guyana. It is about thinking it is acceptable to treat the ‘other’ as less deserving. Outside of a small clique and their buddies in the political leadership all others are being subjected to disrespect with some prepared to compromise themselves, their morality, dignity and pride just to sup at the table or accept the crumbs falling from. The mismanagement, discrimination and hopelessness in society continue to swell. Guyana has dropped two points on the International Transparency Corruption Index. These are not signs of a growing democracy. These are signs of grave deterioration in the fabric of governance, nation building and pending civil upheaval.
The United Nations Declaration that “All human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms” provides a reference point for judging the level of progress and aspirations of developing nations. It is often the distinguishing deviation between plural societies with high levels of progressive indicators, peaceful and stable economies and those marred by low levels of social, economic and political indicators of progress such as internal strife and civil wars, economic stagnation, poverty and human misery, high levels of migration, unemployment, state corruption, lack of accountability, disregard for law and order, with wanton criminality and violence as growing cultural norms.
In Guyana, we must recommit to the struggle for fundamental human rights, not in a partisan way, but for every citizen of this country. It is only in protecting the rights and freedoms of others that our individual rights become enshrined. It is the only way we can promote national peace, stability and nation-building. Hope and dignity must be restored for our people and justice must underpin our society to protect our people and ensure that human rights no longer fall victim to supremacist ideologies, racism and dictatorial tendencies. Guyana requires the implementation of the new system of governance, prescribed in Article 13 of the Constitution, where all can have equal say in the decision-making processes of government and where the separation of the various arms of government is no longer a matter of lip service, but a fundamental tenet of nation building and accountability. It is time for every citizen to be a human rights advocate; to advance and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of fellow Guyanese and to hold ourselves and government accountable for doing same in keeping with our Constitution and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.