President David Granger must rebuke Nicolette Henry, the Minister of Education. In fact, Ms. Henry ought to be dismissed as Minister of Education. The President has to ensure his Ministers understand they are Ministers serving ALL the people of Guyana and not only some of the people. Her recent remarks during the Budget 2018 debate insulted Indo-Guyanese and Hindus and, indeed, all of Guyana. But not only Ms. Henry, all her colleagues should be sanctioned because they lustily cheered her on during her vile remarks.
When Ms. Henry stated “I am not a Chattri so I cannot be expected to know the difference between Phagwah and Diwali”, she crossed the line and disqualified herself as a Minister. Her remarks was distinctly and unequivocally racist, no need to sugar-coat it. Phagwah and Diwali are National Holidays in Guyana. Every citizen knows this.
Certainly, a Minister of Government is expected to know this. Even if everyone is not expected to know the full religious significance of Phagwah and Diwali, we each must know that these are different national holidays, holidays for all, not only for Hindus or Indo-Guyanese.
Ms. Henry clearly equated “Chattri” with being Indo-Guyanese and being Hindu. The fact is that not every Indo-Guyanese is a Hindu, not every Hindu is a “Chattri” and there are also Afro-Guyanese, Amerindians and people of other races who are Hindus.
Ms. Henry who was the Minister of Culture when she did not know the difference between Phagwah and Diwali, in effect, was arguing that she has no obligation to know when we celebrate Phagwah and Diwali because she is not an Indo-Guyanese.
If she believes it is below her standing as an Afro-Guyanese to know that these are distinct holidays, she may be within her right. But she is a Minister serving the Guyanese people and, therefore, has an obligation to know that these are different holidays. She has no choice in the matter; it is her obligation to know the difference between the holidays. To so vulgarly separate herself from Hindus and Indo-Guyanese, she clearly sent a repugnant message that she has no desire to serve them. President Granger, then, must dismiss her.
Unfortunately, such repugnant behaviour, far from being rebuked, is often encouraged and necessary for gaining stripes within the PNC/APNU/AFC. In fact, the more repugnant the behaviour, the faster they gain ascendancy in the ranks. This is why Minister Broomes behave the way she does. This is why Minister Lawrence walks into Parliament treating MP Damon as an animal, offering him grass to feed on. This is why a certain Minister arranged for a staff member to breach security and present herself as an “imposter Claus” to disrupt and threaten the Leader of the Opposition during his closing address on BUDGET 2018.
When as Minister of Culture in March this year, during the celebration of Phagwah, Ms. Henry wished people “Happy Diwali”, I was one of the persons giving her the benefit of the doubt that she simply mis-spoke. While there were criticisms from several quarters, most people adopted a generous stance, ignoring the gaffe and even accepting she made an innocent mistake.
Our generous stance was in spite of the fact that the speech was identical to the written text, showing that it was not a simple mistake. It revealed that she and her staff genuinely did not discern the difference. Instead of her at that time apologizing for the mis-statement, she ignored all calls for an apology, displaying arrogance, instead of humility, squandering an opportunity to claim an unfortunate mistake.
Her clumsy and vulgar remarks in Parliament last week are ample evidence that Ms. Henry remains steadfastly unapologetic and arrogantly believes she has no obligation to know the difference between the two holidays.
Her position, in her own words, is that these are Hindu and Indo-Guyanese holidays and she has no desire nor obligation to know anything about them. She may have felt victorious as she basked in the glory of the table-thumping approval from her colleagues, but she insulted a large plurality of the Guyanese people, based on their race and religion.
Ms. Henry’s insensitive remarks add to the insecurity and marginalization Indo-Guyanese and others feel. President Granger, who refused to rebuke one of his staff for racist remarks just a few weeks ago, is now confronted with one of his Minister insulting more than 45% of the Guyanese population. If anyone is holding his or her breath that President Granger will act in the interest of the Guyanese people, I wish them luck.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy