Oct 31, 2010 Letters
Last Sunday, 24th October, some boys of Saraswati Vidya Niketan (more popularly known as the Swami School), Cornelia Ida, West Coast Demerara, were sent by the school’s deputy principal in the community to get some dried coconuts to be used for decoration purposes in preparation for the school’s annual graduation which was to begin at 4.00 p.m., the same day.
I suppose being boys, they eventually reached a private farm in the next village, Hague and there they decided to gather the coconuts in addition to picking some guavas. Three of the five boys were subsequently apprehended by persons working on behalf of the owner of the farm. In the process one of the boys was slapped several times while a cutlass was held over him.
The boys were “arrested” and forcibly taken in a vehicle and on a tractor to the owner’s house where they were imprisoned for several hours. Sometime after the school received an angry call from the owner’s home with the information that some of the students of the school were being held in the owner’s custody while at the same time demanding that two of the school’s representative go to the house or else further action would be taken.
Being the teacher who took the call, I was concerned by the threats and ultimatum and immediately informed the deputy, the principal of the school being out on business pertaining to the graduation. The deputy immediately departed for the home in Hague. But as it turned out her presence was not sufficient to secure the boys’ release.
The owner demanded to see the parents who decided to come to the school first. There they met the principal who was overheard advising them that the matter should be brought to the police attention since it was only the police that had the right to arrest and detain.
The parents however, decided to go to the home to secure their children’s release. I subsequently learnt that the owner refused to accede to the parents’ request, and it was only upon paying a hefty fine of $10,000 by the parents that the three boys were released.
This matter raises a number of serious issues. First of all, despite whatever negative PR it may attract for sending the boys on an errand that went awry, the school must take full responsibility for its decision and the plight in which the youngsters found themselves in.
Secondly, there is the case of physical violence used against the students and the brandishing of a cutlass (according to one version the cutlass was held at one of the boys’ throat) as they were apprehended by persons including the owner’s son.
Thirdly, there is the case of imprisonment as the students were held against their will by the owner at his home, and finally was not the fine that the parents had to pay tantamount to extortion?
Given that the boys were apprehended on the owner’s farm (one version of the boys’ story is that they were not on the farm itself) with farm produce in their possession, was the owner’s action reasonable and justifiable? Can an individual, as in the above case, arrest using physical violence? Does he have legal power to detain, hold in custody or imprison? And finally, does he have the power to exact a fine from the parents? Is this a case of a person being the law unto himself? Is this a case of a person being the police, judge, jury and executioner, all in one?
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