Across the Divide
by Ravi Dev

[Editor's Note: The following is the text of the speech delivered on behalf of Ravi Dev, Leader of ROAR to the “March for Rule of Law”. The organizers were aware that Mr. Dev could not deliver the message in person since he would be making a presentation to the “Global Organization of People of Indian Origin” on “Human Rights in a Divided Society”, at St. Johns University in NY. Repreinted also in Kaieteur News, 3-20-2004.]

Fellow citizens of Guyana: Namaskaar, Asaalam-wali-kum, Peace, grace and hope

Today we have come to speak our truth to you. We say, “our” truth because we hold that only Almighty God is in possession of the totality of truth, and that the best that we mere mortals can do, is to have a little humility when we speak of “truth”. It is in that spirit of humility that we greet you and speak to you.

ROAR accepted this invitation to speak at this “March for the Rule of Law” because we believe that, with the evidence clear before us, Guyana has reached such a low point on its downward slide, that all of us who profess to care for this land should either put up or shut up. ROAR has decided to put up. If today we cannot speak honestly to one another, then we are wasting our time. And believe me, we really have no time to waste.

We are here to rally for the “Rule of law” to be re-established in this land. And what is this “Rule of Law”? Simply this: that to live in a society, we must all be governed by laws of our own making and not at the whims and fancies of those in office. It means then, that our Government must govern under those established laws but that we ourselves must govern ourselves by those laws. No one is, or can be, above the law.

On Thursday, as I was leaving Guyana, I came across an advertisement for this March. And I was gravely disappointed, but not surprised. The ad purported to give the rationales for this March and I saw – “Death Squads, Drug Trafficking, Corruption, Crime, and Executive Lawlessness”. But where was “ethnically or racially directed violence?” I asked myself. “Hadn’t the organizers agreed that this rationale was a pivotal element in the breakdown of the Rule of Law in Guyana? And this is the crux of the problem in our Guyana, isn’t it?

Our “truth” invariably includes only what happens to us and “ours”; never what happens to the “other”, who is out of sight and out of mind. Our throats become choked and our pens become dry when we have to mention the pain and violations of the other. Well today, we have come here, to listen and share with you in your truth, but also to tell you the “truth” of the “other” side. We have come here against a background of overwhelming skepticism, fuelled by the PPP’s propaganda machinery that has denounced ROAR for marching with the “other”. You see, the PPP tells the “other” that they can Mash with you but they can’t March with you. They should “backball” in tights with you, but not struggle for rights with you.

But I say to you, today we have come to March and not to Mash. And Marching is serious business. So let me tell you right up front, what the Ad didn’t want to say – ethnically directed violence against Indians is as much a violation of the Rule of Law, as any of the violations listed. And to try to “cover” it under the rubric is an insult to those who have been violated. And to those of us who want to move forward.

When African citizens can inflict violence on “other” fellow citizens just because they are seen as supporters of another party, this is as much a violation of the Rule of Law as when “high Government officials” sit down to direct death squads against African young men. Are the lives of the scores of Indians snuffed out since the ethnically-directed violence of 1998, any less valuable than the lives of those African young men? The answer cannot possible be “yes”. If we must have an investigation into state involvement into death squads, shouldn’t we have an investigation into the organized banditry against Indians since 1998?

And this should not be only because of the moral question, but that because the two circumstances are ineluctably connected. My fellow citizens, we have to see that the existence of the death squads flow directly from the violence against Indians. ROAR has on countless occasions, condemned the PPP’s cowardice in refusing to professionalize the Security Forces to deal effectively with the problem of violence against Indians. But we cannot sweep the problem under the rug, especially as we struggle to re-establish the Rule of Law in Guyana. The PPP can count on deafening silence in the Indian community on the allegations of the death squads against Africans precisely because it can point to the deafening silence in the African community, on the ethnically directed depredations on Indians.

The issue before us is not a sharing of blame as to who “caused” or “started” what…but to point out that we all have to remove the scales from our own eyes and see the pain of the “other” - while we acknowledge the violations of self and group. To shut our eyes to the violence that emanated out of Buxton onto the surrounding Indian villages will be to ensure that the sore in the Indian psyche will continue to fester and explode, as much as we court tragedy when Indians say, “Oh! The death squads are only killing bandits”. We all know better. Let us investigate the prison break-out, as well as the affaire Gajraj. We know that we have to say, “no more manipulation by leaders – whether they be of parties or resistances”. We have to ensure that the umbrella of the Rule of Law shelters us all.

I close by reminding you of Fredrick Douglas’ caution that all progress comes out of struggle. The heavens must be torn asunder for the rains to fall; the ground must be furrowed before the crops will grow. Today as we contemplate tearing apart the heavens and furrowing the earth to establish the Rule of Law, let us ensure that its shade covers all Guyanese – Indians, Africans, Amerindians, Mixed, Portuguese, Chinese, and yea, even the Whites. Let us insist that we all have a chance to drink of the rains and eat of the crops of this creation called “Rule of Law”, which is sure to grow, if we remember the “other” as we struggle.


© 2001