Politics Will Not Decide Who I am

When I was 7 or 8, I lived along Craig Sideline Dam at my grandparents’ farm house. I farmed my own little plot of cash crops to help buy my school books and I spent hours stooping in slushy mud, between pakchoy and lettuce banks, picking snails and weeds from among the healthy, thriving plants. This is something I haven’t very often shared about myself.

I have milked cows, sold fruits and vegetables on the road side and cleaned out chicken pens. During my teenage years, I stood behind the counter of my uncle’s shop in Craig Old Road selling into the night. I fetched cases of rum, bags of sugar and rice and occasionally bunches of plantains from the boat by the Craig trench landing to our house.

Most of my immediate family are traditional PPP supporters. My maternal grandfather was a cane cutter and farmer. His wife, was a seamstress and market vendor. On my father’s side, they were rice farmers from Essequibo and later moved to the East Coast of Demerara. These are things about myself I used to be afraid to share because I was afraid that I would be shamed.

I became politically aware during my early 20s. I realized then that everyone stereotyped me. Because I looked Indian, because I was of Indian ancestry, it was automatically assumed that I was PPP. And guess how we stereotype PPP supporters? PPP supporters are painted as backward cane cutters, as lacking intellectual capacity, as being dishonest, as being evil, as being the people responsible for the state of Guyana.

So when some people look at my face or any face like mine, this is what they think of us. This is the product of identity politics in Guyana. It has robbed us of the right to be and to be proud of who we are and where we came from. It has robbed us of the opportunity to really see our parents and grandparents, to truly value what they have brought to this nation. My grandfather died without me ever recognizing what an extraordinary man he was and how hard he worked for his country. I never got a chance to look him in the eyes and tell him how much he meant to me. You see, before he died I didn’t realize that he was a victim of a system that he couldn’t control.

I do not for a second believe that my experience is unique to me or to young people of Indian ancestry. I believe this is something that is experienced by all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from. Our political culture has blinded us. We don’t see each other. We see the political stereotypes that have been painted of us for decades.

For a while, I hated looking in the mirror. I hated seeing my own face and what I believed it represented. Since then, I’ve realized that my ancestral history is so much more than the politics that has hijacked it.

And the worst part by far is that I cannot even speak up for my identity without having my voice politicised. If I speak for the Indian identity, for my right to this part of my culture and heritage, then I will be labelled as a pro-PPP racist. Most people don’t care for my independence, they only see what I look like and the stereotype that is attached to my features.

Yes, I am Guyanese and part of what makes any of us Guyanese is our unique sub-cultures and heritage. These differences give the Guyanese identity value. To attempt to take away any one facet of any of our identity, is to rob our country of part of its history and part of what makes it what it is.

We cannot have a Guyana without any of its people. We cannot have a Guyana without PPP supporters and they will never join us unless we stop demonizing them, stop crucifying them for their political beliefs, stop making them afraid to be among us. These people are our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, our friends.

The PPP alone is not responsible for the crisis of identity politics in Guyana. The PNC, now under the unity umbrella of the APNU-AFC Coalition, is equally responsible. I say this not to cast blame on either party, but to acknowledge that identity politics has been a weapon of both our major political factions. And until Guyanese begin to see what identity politics has taken from them, we will always be shamed for being who we are.

For Dave Martins – 100 Reasons to Hope: Reason #2

Dear Dave,

In 2015, the APNU/AFC Coalition won the general elections by 1.1% or 4, 506 votes. I like to think of this margin as the 1.1 majority and I believe that it is, to a large extent, reflective of the majority of non-partisan voters who voted in that elections.

We must also recognize that there are those non-partisan voters, like myself, who decided not to be backed into a corner where it felt like we were choosing between the lesser of two evils.

At the Guyana 2066 talk, President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vishnu Doerga indicated that he believed independents were less than 4,506 in number. He also pointed out that we kept seeing the same faces at most spaces which represent independent conversations.

While I am inclined to agree with Doerga on this, I also believe that the repetition of faces is not necessarily a bad thing. The repeated faces have access to their various in-groups where they act as influencers. They, in their own ways, lead independent thinkers or the non-partisan Guyanese and they have the power to increase those numbers.

 

Reason #2: Even though non-partisan and/or independent thinkers seem to be very few in Guyana, they hold enough power together to shift our traditional approach to politics. Guyana is we own so dem bettah watch wa dem ah tell we and do we.

 

Without Wax,

Bharrat

The Senior Government Official Guyanese Women Dislike

1These days I don’t say a whole lot about politics in Guyana but that doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say. I’m just not ready to say it. I’m still here and I’m still engaging my country men and women and I’m still recording experiences and opinions. Since the Granger government swore in its ministers and appointed its senior officials there has been a lot of muttering – even from that half the population that is pro-Coalition government. A chunk of the mutterings has come from women who very passionately dislike a certain senior government official.

Last week – in a blatantly sexist  act – I got in the car of a female taxi driver. It was quite some distance to my destination and so we got to talking about her profession, why she chose it and whether she felt very secure doing it. We drove by a trench that was recently cleaned and she commented about how the new government really was making an effort. I told her I was fond of the new president’s image even if I didn’t like some of the policy edits and approaches. Her response?

“Yeah girl, I like we new president to but it got one one of them people he got around he that I really can’t tek.”

“Oh?” I waited for her to say more.

“I mean I don’t understand how some people and them dutty character get big government wuk.”

She began telling me a story of sexual harassment and even without her naming the individual I immediately knew about whom she was speaking. Long before this particular Government official rose to his current position he has been infamous for his attitude to women – particularly younger women.

“I went to him expecting some professionalism, you know, and all I get was him trying to bus’ a hustle in me. Telling me about how he could do things to my body and how he want fuck me. I mean what shit is that? Can you imagine how I felt? How was I suppose to receive a service from a man like duh eh? And imagine this nonsense now, he get big government wuk.”

I related my own encounter with the same gentleman to her. It had happened more than 7 years ago at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court. Since then, I’ve heard many similar stories from women about him. The standard response to this particular official is “O, he? Everybody know how he stay”.

Such sordid behaviour from our politicians is nothing new. However, it certainly isn’t normal behaviour and it shouldn’t be accepted behaviour. A prerequisite of holding political office should be impeccable moral character and it is something we should begin demanding. The future of Guyana lies not in party politics but in the ability of a nation to recognise what it deserves and to demand those things.

What is Corruption?

“the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs. – Transparency International

As a certain budding blazer politician – who I once had pay for my fabulous Oasis coffee in the most rude manner possible – will testify, I am very fond of social experiments. There’s no telling what you’ll find. From now to next Thursday, I’m going to walk up to ten random people and bus’ the following gyaff:

Hear na, I waan ask you something and please try don’t laugh or get vex. This is not vex story and is certainly not laugh story. You eva pay a police or pass a lunch money? Or between me and you, is pay yuh pay fuh yuh driver’s license right?

What do you think the results will be? Y’all think I gon get cuss? Don’t worry though. I’m generally too charming to get a busin’ from anybody. The most dem might do is give me a suck teeth and watch me like cow bus rope. In the meanwhile, feel free to answer the questions too. I give you my word that you will remain anonymous. So have no fear, leave a comment.

I feel like I’m stating the obvious but I’ll do it anyway: corruption is such a natural part of our culture in Guyana and the Caribbean that we laugh about it all the time, treat it like a pesky housefly and happily tell people about how we pass lil money here and there to get away or get through with something (in other words, it’s a confidence booster used to build that bad man image).

These days, with Bharrat Jagdeo (no is not my family) on the loose as Opposition leader and the Government pushing out their chests with every announcement of some case or the other of monetary “misappropriation” (a nice way to say teefing), it’s quite clear that grand corruption has been grandly happening for a long, long time. However, I believe that the high presence of petty corruption and our laid back attitude to it – as I am sure my social experiment will prove – is equally dangerous and equally responsible for increasing the difficulty of fighting corruption in a society like ours.

So what’s the difference between the thiefing politician and you who does pay de police or pass a lunch money? Not much you know. The thiefing politician is engaging in grand corruption and you are facilitating and encouraging petty corruption. The social cost? About the same thing.

Like everything, corruption is a choice. You have the power to choose. Say no to corruption culture. #NoCorruption

Need a little more info on grand and petty corruption? Click right here.

Remember…We’re all Guyanese

Less than 24 hours ago His Excellency President Donald Ramotar named the big day: May 11, 2015. Campaign material flooded social media almost immediately and, of course, the inter-party battles begun.

Guyanese will be attacking each other in the safety of cyber world with the worst possible weapon: words. But must it really be this way?

Not so long ago, my elderly neighbour collapsed in her home and had to spend a few days in hospital. As soon as she came home again, I rushed over and I made sure I held her close and told her how much she meant to me. I did not want the words to be left unsaid.

Every morning she sits on her veranda watching as the soft sunlight slowly awakens our world. For years, my eyes have always turned upwards looking for her when I walk out my front gate. I cannot imagine our village without her. I cannot imagine becoming this me that I am without her.

Her family and mine will most likely not be voting for the same party in May but this does not lessen my love for this woman. She has a right to freedom of choice; to choose as she pleases.

So today, if any of you are so moved with those passionate emotions that cause us to wield words that inflict deep and lasting wounds, please don’t. I beg you.

Stop and think of someone like her, think of someone different from you, someone who does not share all of your beliefs but still holds a place in your heart. Think of how you still care for them despite this difference.

I am certain that all the people in my house will be voting PPP. I am not sure where my vote will go but I know where it will most certainly not go.

My family is aware of my choice and yet they love me no less. We are a family and we share a bond that cannot be broken by a difference in political preference. And is this not what a nation should be? A family?

So please, please, whether you’re supporting PPP, APNU, AFC or one of the others, I beg you to respect each other’s choice. In the end, isn’t this what we all believe we’re fighting for? For continued freedom? And doesn’t this include the right to freely choose without being hurt for that choice?

Remember, when this is all over we will still live together under the roof of this nation. And when the politicians have settled into the powers that we have given them at the price of our bond with each other, we will be the ones who will struggle to put the pieces back together again. We will be the ones, watching each other try to scrape a living.

It is sad that more often it is only in such times of great misery that we manage to see ourselves in each other and only then realise that beating a man over the head with one truth does not cause him to forget his own truth.

Without Wax,

Bharrat

Will the PPP win in 2015?

In the land of the blind, one-eye man is king…

From now until May 11, some of us will contemplate the answer to this question with much fear, hope or a combination of both.

Will the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)win? Or will they lose?

Before I answer this, I believe it is worth clarifying where I stand: I am the Bharrat who stands in the middle. It is true that I am not pro-Government. Unfortunately, this statement seems to be synonymous with “I am anti-Government” or “I am pro-Opposition”. I am none of these things. I, Bharrat, am pro-Guyanese.

Those on my left believe that – given the degree of exposure suffered by the PPP – the ruling party will fall. However, a condition which seems necessary for this is a coalition between the two main opposing parties. These people are not necessarily fearful of another PPP win but they intensely hope and, in some cases, believe that the ruling party will lose.

On my right, there are those who trust that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) have sufficiently ruined their own images. If they could not capitalize on a hung Parliament then how will they make a coalition work? This is the question I hear the people on my right asking no one in particular with some hope in their voices. These people hope intensely for a PPP win and are very fearful of any other outcome. Fear makes people unstable; it makes them suffer.

During my months of bad health and worse silence, I listened intently to those around me. Many older Guyanese are still choking on rice flour bake and roti and the choking syndrome has been inherited, unwillingly for the most part, by their descendants.

Only tonight I was told that the “National Mood” is indicative of a PPP loss. However, I believe that what shows itself as a National Mood are things that we are able to see or feel in some way; things that have been let or leaked into the open. But what about those things which are carefully guarded? And never voiced?

It is all too easy to see the ocean’s surface but we must dive beneath the waves and become intimately acquainted with those powerful undercurrents that carry truth.

As it is now, I believe there is a higher chance of a PPP win than of a PPP fall.

In this worry of win and lose, all I can think of is whether the outcome, whatever it may be, will be best for our people; our Guyanese brothers and sisters. There are few men and women among politicians whom I perhaps can bring myself to trust but they are certainly not enough for a Cabinet and do not all come from the same camp.

While I do understand the fear that weighs on the hearts of men and women who could be my mother and father or my Nani and Nana, I sincerely hope that they can bring themselves to fight the fear.

We must recognize that politicians rise to power with our blessing and upon our shoulders. We, the people, give them power and we most certainly can strip them of it. This year can perhaps be the year Guyanese win if we learn to use our own powers; if we learn to put politicians in their place.

Without Wax,

Bharrat.

To AG Anil Nandlall – On the “Chatri Coolie”

Dear AG Anil Nandlall,

Since President Donald Ramotar prorogued Parliament, I have not heard much about your Chatri-Coolie-Corruption tape. The proroguing seems to have worked out for you in more ways than one. Also, pardon me if I don’t use the word “alleged” anywhere in our correspondence because the president declared to the nation that the tape was not doctored but that your words were taken out of context. It seems that you now and forever more will be tied to those utterances.

I am not here to take sides or to defend any individual or group of individuals. I have learnt that people, no matter how righteous their actions may appear, all have some deep-rooted aim which motivates them. Instead, I defend near dead things like honour, honesty, justice, democracy and freedom of press and of expression.

I have only just listened to your tape, sir, and I like that you use our Creole language; that you embrace your identity. I heard you ask Leonard if he knew the meaning of “Chatri Coolie”. “I am a Chatri Coolie,” you declared to him. Well sir, I do believe that had you been aware of the true meaning of the term then you would not so freely use it to describe yourself.

You see, Anil, my Nani – who still swears that it could not have been you uttering those words on that recording because she cannot believe that a good and nice boy like you would do such a dishonor to his country and his people – has told me all sorts of stories about mystical India and the culture we have inherited from our forefathers. A Chatri Coolie, as Nani has explained it, is an Indian man (or woman) – or in our case a descendant of such a man or woman – who is not powerful because he revels in power but because he is a defender of those who do not sit in the place of power and because he truly understands the responsibility that comes with power.

How many people do you think have Googled Chatri Coolie over the last month Anil? How many do you think now associate the term with dishonor and corruption and a power-hungry fool? Just think Anil, this is the association that goes with the term in our little world and you, having branded yourself a Chatri Coolie, are irrevocably married to these connotations. You are the first of this new type of Chatri. Just think Anil! This is how you have been frozen in history, this is how you will be remembered, and this is now your legacy.

Chatri, dear Anil, is the mother caste of the Rajputs (even Wikipedia agrees). When we think Rajputs, we immediately think of honor and pride. A Rajput’s honor means more to him (or her) than life. In the ancient social system mapped by the Vedas, the Chatris are the sacred warriors who save the people from wounds by sustaining wounds themselves.

But you Anil, what wounds have you sustained for your people? What have you done for all of us? Have you stood apart from and fought against a system of evil that plagues us? Have you fought for every coolie man and woman, every black man and woman, every Amerindian man and woman, every Chinese man and woman, every white man and woman, every hybrid man and woman in this country? What have you done that is deserving of honor, sir? What is it, beyond riches and power, that makes you Chatri?

And you know what else Anil? The utterance which convinced me the most that you are lost – was not the scandalous things you said about your uncle wanting to fuck a young reporter or about the “borrowing” of state funds or even about attacking the Kaieteur News – it was when you expressed your concern for your wife and stated that in all of this she is innocent and knows nothing about it.

It was the only time I heard something genuine in your voice Anil. I could hear your love for that woman and your fear for her leak into your words and I listened with a heavy heart. I kept thinking, Anil, that had you really loved that woman in the way that I am sure she deserves to be loved then you would not have acted in any way that would have put her at risk. You would have guarded your honor closely, Anil, because as you well know in our culture and most others a husband’s honor is the same as his wife’s. Why would you do such things to her and your children and your mother and father and all those whose honor is somehow connected to yours? Even me, and all of those like me, young, promising souls struggling to birth Guyanese, why would you do this to us?

But more than all of this Anil, what I really want to tell you is this: you see how you love and fear for your wife? I understand that well. But the love I feel for the people close to me, can in no way eclipse the love I have for my country and all those who call it home. I believe that had you loved our country like this, had any of you loved Guyana in such a way, such dark days would never have dawned upon us. These things Anil make me fear for our country and its people, even you.

Without Wax,

Bharrat.