A society cannot be considered civilised if it refuses to acknowledge its diversity and the rights of its people to embrace different forms of cultural arts and beliefs. As time progresses we must grow in understanding; the fears of yesterday, have already been replaced by clear thinking and a greater understanding that cultural art forms can positively uplift their embracers.
The prejudice against Rastafarians runs deep in Guyana. There is still the myth that someone sporting dreadlocks is of no good character. A rebellious type that smokes weed and never works. Over the years Rastafarians have struggled to find a respected place in society; over the years they have earned that right. Conscious messages of peace, love and unity through music can no longer be questioned. Rastafarians have set a moral compass that guides even political leaders of this world. They are the living evidence that we live in a hypocritical world.
Today, we see in Guyana one organised group being denied the right to peacefully protest the wrongs that visit their followers every day. It sickens the stomach to see the glaring hypocrisy. The crack dealers and drug barons in Guyana are protected by the weight of their dollars, respected for their affluence by the upholders of the law.
I was home last November to lay my beautiful mother to rest. I joined some friends outside Barrow Restaurant and Lounge in Linden, popular for its weekly fish fry and lime. In full glare of the public, a senior police officer stood across the street with a known drug lord. The dialogue lasted for almost half hour. There was a time when people cared about the impression that could be created by such open association. The closet is replaced by the living room and no one dares comment for fear of reprisal.
Meanwhile a small and insignificant youngster with dreadlocks stands before a magistrate in Georgetown and is sentenced to three years in prison for smoking a spliff of marijuana. The prison is full of young men locked away for similar offences. The weight of their dollars could only afford the occasional joint; their affluence is only in the calming effects of the smoke in their heads. No big ones will dance for them or have a friendly conversation.
If officials can have an open association of that sort, what can they say to the upholders of the law who work for them. Rajiv Gandhi once said, “When the fence begins to eat the crops, there is no protection.”
The Rastafarian groups that organised the protest for which permission by the police was denied, must regroup in larger numbers and take to the streets of Georgetown in a peaceful manner. They should not be cowed. The right to protest peacefully cannot be legitimately denied by any government in a democracy.
I also take this opportunity to call for an appeal through the same courts to see the many young people, sentenced to years of imprisonment for similar offences given a fair retrial and freed. How can they lock away for years, a disturbed person who needs professional help and care, for the possession of a utensil used for smoking crack?
The weight of corrupt dollars must not transcend the scales of justice. Fear of reprisal must not choke us. Let us sound our voices in togetherness.