In early March, Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev speaking on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the termination of Indian indentureship, expressed concerns at what they saw as the pervasive foreboding, gloom and uncertainty sweeping across large sections of the Indian population. How can we speak of the closure of sugar estates in Guyana without expressing the slightest concern for those who would be victimized by this move? What sense of hope are we supposed to have when hundreds of Indians were removed from various state offices? Why should we be not concerned about the trend of authoritarianism that is once again raising its head in Guyana? It was these and other similar concerns that both Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev presented to their listeners.
Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev are two leading activists who raise issues pertinent to the situation of Indians and national development. No government or party can afford to ignore what they have to tell us. They write in excellent, readable prose. They present their argument in a logical and cogent manner. Ryhaan Shah, in particular, is the one person I often hold up to students as an example of what good writing is all about. She is not only committed to a cause but has also been blessed with a fountain of courage. There is no one in our country today who speaks to power more consistently, passionately and fearlessly than she does. Both of these writers are educational and informative and, above all, honest.
The issues that they have raised and continue to speak about are not different from those articulated by people who almost on a daily basis complained about disenfranchisement, marginalization and discrimination perpetuated by the previous administration. During the same period, there was a relentless attack on the system of government we have in Guyana. We were never made to forget the evils of “Majoritarianism” and the inadequacy and irrelevance of the “Westminster Model”. There were urgent, and justified, calls for “shared governance”.
A special favourite of mine was when major players of the day, Rodneyites among them, sounded a warning that there was apartheid in education simply based on the fact that in that particular year students of a particular ethnic group dominated the results at the NGSA, CSEC and CAPE examinations. It was a sensational, provocative and one can say an almost race-baiting claim but it was worthy of consideration and such a consideration was given when it was pointed out, among other things, that the critics were attacking a system that was entirely in control of the supposed aggrieved ethnic group.
One remembers also, another beauty, when the then opposition was in search for its presidential candidate, Moses Nagamootoo was rejected on the ground that it would be an affront to “ethnic pride.” During that period, we were consistently told about the “big” houses owned by Indians from Crabwood Creek to Charity and of recent we have been reminded that Indians “own 96%” of Guyana’s economy. I have often wondered why the purveyors of this gem even bothered to stop at just 96%.
In nearly all of these cases there have been responses, arguments and counter-arguments, and no matter how passionately people presented their views, there was a measure of civility and respect for the opponents. Views and ideas were analysed and critiqued to demonstrate their deficiencies and contradictions. The discourse was conducted in an atmosphere that reminds one of Mahatma Gandhi’s statement, “My opponent is not my enemy”. It was also clear that people were not simply interested in scoring points and there was a clear desire to inform, educate and learn.
But unfortunately, not everyone can be persuaded to play by the rules of civility and so, with respect to Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev, there has been a barrage of name calling and invectives presented in a nasty, ugly kind of gutter language. In this response one gets the impression of a tomahawk wielding, slash and burn, self-appointed judge and executioner. I have always considered it a sign of mental ineptitude and a severe impoverishment when, incapable of dealing with another person’s ideas with which there is any disagreement, antagonists have to take recourse to wallowing in an orgy of cheap and sensational name calling and meaningless labelling culled in a language that is deeply chilling in its violence. How does one “stop” Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev, take away their computers? The suggestiveness of this language has not gone unnoticed.
In the drought and famine of ideas, there has been recourse to coarseness and obscenity, and who can be better targets than Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev, two outstanding and fearlessly out-spoken Indian intellectuals. This kind of response reminds us of the fact that no Indian dares to speak of issues affecting Indians. They are automatically branded as racist, fascist, supremacist and the list goes on, and are hounded by a hired-gun mentality, hysteria and fanaticism.
Let us be reminded that it may take only one man to engage in all manner of name calling against every Indian intellectual who dares to raise the ethnic question from their particular perspective, but that one man doesn’t live in a vacuum. For months and years, he has been breathing a miasma of contempt and execration, odium and intimidation, all of which is aided, abetted, fomented, and forgiven by his handlers. But alas, apart from a narcissistic self-indulgence, what will such a writing ever be able to achieve?
Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev will continue their struggle for decency. I am reminded of a Sanskrit verse which paraphrased tells us, one may light a torch and hold it down but the flame still rises. I am delighted to see that both Ryhaan Shah and Ravi Dev simply refuse to be dragged in the gutter. A picture that always comes to my mind, from beloved India, is that of majestic elephants imperially ambling across the village green followed by the vicious squeaks of starving mongrels harmlessly groveling in their path. The disdain could not be more profound. The answer could not be more powerful.