On October 14, Guyana hosted CXC in the declaration of the 2021 CAPE and CSEC results – broad outlines of which were presented. The programme began with prayers, Christian only prayers. We can only imagine what would be the reaction of this nation if it was Muslim prayers only, or God forbid, Hindu prayers only.
This, we know, is not an infrequent occurrence in Guyana where prayers are required at functions of State agencies. Others are excluded. In a programme broadcast to the entire region and beyond, the organisers did not see it fit to include prayers from representatives of other religions, giving the impression that we are still in a de facto Christian State in which others have a dubious existence at best in the margins.
This de facto Christian nature of the State is seen in other practices, such as the Christmas time lighting up of Government buildings including Parliament Building, the Demerara Harbour Bridge and other prominent locations. But, for Divali, which is the festival of lights, the disdain is hardly concealed.
Dr Baytoram Rambharak has written a brilliant biography on Dr Jung Bahadur Singh detailing his struggles to break the chains of cultural and religious domination and for the recognition of Hindu and Muslim beliefs and practices. Ms Lea Ventre has recounted this struggle in a lengthy letter to the Stabroek News (15/10/21), reminding us that he, “was at the forefront of the civil fight for Hindu and Muslim rights”.
One wonders what Dr Singh would have to say if he learned that more than seventy-five years after his death at a major function on education only Christian prayers were said, with all others being dis-invited.
In this matter, the final responsibility obviously lies with the Ministry of Education but we also have to be cognisant of the reality that despite its best intentions to promote inclusion and respect for diversity, there are those within the system who are relentless in their efforts to subvert, or, as the call has been recently made, to “undermine” policies.
There is clearly in Guyana an internal system of cultural and religious hegemony that persists across many State institutions. The colonial State by its own self-definition was a Christian State dedicated to saving the souls of the heathens, and for many in the country’s public institutions this continues to be so.
Seventy-five years after Dr JB Singh, and more than one hundred and eighty years since the arrival of the first Indians, the struggle for recognition and an equal place at the table continues. Hindus have just completed the fortnight to honour their pitris or ancestors. The greatest homage we can pay to them, such as Dr JB Singh, is never to relent in this struggle. No one is going to give us our rights on a platter.