Violence is inter-related

Dear Editor,

Mob violence continues in Guyana, starting with the citizens from Bare Root who beat Radika Singh to death in 2007. Now there are the citizens in Sophia with the citizen justice meted out to Nigel Lowe and in Port Mourant with the citizen justice meted out to Alfred Munroe.

Stealing receives torture and a death sentence. But this violence is part of our society, some would say necessary, because we have not been told differently.

The police have used violence. Sometimes they are charged and sometimes they are not charged. Some of us shudder and mourn while others celebrate and say, ‘Yep, good for them that deserve to be beaten and killed.’
Johan Galtung proposed that there different types of violence which are interrelated:  the personal or direct violence which some of us like, the structural and indirect violence which many of us are victims of and feel we can do nothing about, and the cultural and symbolic violence which many of us uphold as sacred and which we are scared to challenge.
And so it is that the National Assembly recently agreed to address interpersonal violence and maybe take on the citizens who felt that Radika Singh, Alfred Mentore and Nigel Lowe deserved to die.

But the National Assembly though, has to take on this year, the issue of beating children. And this is where the problem lies, because if Galtung’s idea is true, that the violence is inter-related, then Guyana’s future will undoubtedly be characterised by increasing intensity in the violence if we keep believing that we must beat children to keep Guyana good.

The Guyana Teachers Union in a Kaeiteur News article on April 30, 2013 said they are against the abolition of beating children in school. The reasoning led by the President and the General Secretary is that they believe that student violence against teachers needs to be met with equal force. Nowhere though, in the article, does it mention anything about whether the weapons that the teachers have to use, have to be more than what the students will come with.

There seems to be a sense, in the reasoning, that the students are to be told that they are to take the violence when it is meted out as discipline, and do nothing about it.

The tragedy though in this stance of the GTU, is that there is recognition that the teachers have to deal with the problems created in the wider society.

The teachers know that the violence that is meted out in school often reflects the violence at home and in the community. The teachers know that they are dealing with children who are not being parented. The leadership of the GTU instead of being the agents of the state in oppressing the children in their care, have a great opportunity to be advocates for the communities from which the children are coming. Does the GTU care that while they have to deal with violence and with hustling money to buy school items, and to combat the failing infrastructure, that things like casinos are given priority over institutions of learning? Does the GTU feel that their members; labour is worth less than the ‘advisors’ and ‘assistants’ to the President, and that instead of beating the children into submission, that they should be calling for the human resources needed to reverse the problems they have to deal with?

So how do the teachers deal with the students who might have witnessed the events in Bare Root, Sophia and Port Mourant and other places? How do teachers deal with students who are taught to fear police, or to hate police, or to reject authority because authority for those children is enforced with violence?
There is a crisis in Guyana and the solution cannot be war between those who are supposed to be in authority against those who are supposed to subject themselves to the authority. Red Thread in their letter on April 23, 2013 noted, “But how can violence correct violence? In situations like this, we need to be careful to re-examine our values about the rights of the child, and to be ready to take some responsibility for the actions of our children, as they undoubtedly reflect upon ourselves.”

Many people believe that the teachers have stopped beating children in schools. Some schools (like Queen’s College) let parents know in the welcome kit that the children could be beaten. So this idea that Guyana will become worse if children are not beaten in schools is a myth, given that Guyana’s mess now is in a society in which children are beaten in schools and homes. The only difference now is that the children are fighting back in different ways.

Kaieteur News on April 28, 2013 carries an interview with another teacher, Mr Phillip Deobhajan MS. The article said, “He does not support the use of corporal punishment, rather the use of special sessions to motivate and change children’s behaviour—counselling and guidance is very important in schools… we had it years ago but I doubt whether we still have this today. When we were young teachers, every week we visited the parents, especially of those children who were absent frequently. The teachers formed themselves into groups and travelled into the communities to meet parents, but I don’t see this happening today.”

So in order to deal with the problems of the home in the school, the school had to visit the homes. This is probably still happening in some areas of Guyana. Nowhere in the GTU stance does it seem to give room for the possibility that teachers like Mr Deobhajan would be able to take the leadership in creating a different kind of society which deals with all of the types of violence.

There are many teachers who do not believe that it is necessary to beat children. Those teachers need to be recognised as the leaders and be given the support to push for the change we need. The National Assembly should be voting for the actions needed to create the change in the schools and communities, instead of hearing how important it is to uphold beating children as sacred while dealing with other forms of interpersonal violence.

Yours faithfully,
Vidyaratha Kissoon

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