Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh has been on hunger strike in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for some thirty-four days now. He is protesting the construction of a section of a major highway since it is contended that some 300 families will be displaced and about 5,000 persons indirectly affected by these works.
This is his second hunger strike. The first one went for twenty-one days.
Kublalsingh collapsed last week, but has resumed his hunger strike. There is now brewing skepticism about this present hunger strike since many find it hard to believe that anyone can go without food and water for so long. They should be reminded that the hunger strike of IRA prisoner Bobby Sands went for sixty-six days before Sands died.
Kublalsingh still has some way to go to beat that record, but it is hoped that he will end his protest soon, since he has already made his point and there is no need for him to risk his life. It is hoped that he stops his hunger strike before it is too late.
In an amazing twist, a young man, Ravi Maharaj, went on strike to counter the hunger strike of Kublalsingh. He was opposed to the hunger strike by Kublalsingh and so he proceeded on his own hunger strike. He collapsed after only five days and had to be hospitalised. He has wisely decided to end his hunger strike, but feels that he has brought attention to his own cause to oppose the movement led by Kublalsingh.
In the past in Guyana, Eusi Kwayana was known for using fasting, rather than hunger strikes, as a form of political protest. And in the early 1990s, Shaka Rodney went on a fast to press for an inquiry into the death of his father. He was able to have the government file charges against Gregory Smith.
Fasting as a form of political protest was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi, and was one of the main forms of protest used by Gandhi in his fight for India’s Independence and in seeking to bring an end to factional violence in his country after Independence.
I do not support hunger strikes as a form of protest. It is much too dangerous. Fasting can be differentiated from a hunger strike in that the person that is fasting does not deny himself food for an extended period. Fasting can be for a limited period – say ten to twelve hours at most. And water is usually permissible. This is known as limited fasting.
Limited fasting is a powerful form of protest and indeed can be deemed a creative form of protest. Instead of holding up a picket, the person on a limited fast – say from dusk to dawn for one day – can send a far more potent message than a thousand men holding pickets.
Fasting is a non-violent form of protest. It does not impede on the rights of others. It is not disruptive. It however sends a strong moral message. The protestor is demonstrating his or her willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the good of others. As a form of protest, fasting allows the protestor to not just make known his or her grouse to bear some personal sacrifice in support of his or her cause. The protestor becomes more psychologically attuned to the cause that he or she is advocating by being willing to deprive him/herself of something.
It is a way of demonstrating your moral conviction to a cause, as distinct from a mere interest in that cause. It shows you are personally convinced about the righteousness of your cause and willing to make a sacrifice for your beliefs.
A person that is engaged in fasting as a form of protest attracts an audience, many of whom come forward to offer their support. It is a way of linking more people to the cause being pursued – bringing people together in furtherance of a cause.
Fasting should however be very limited, and need not be undertaken by one person, but can be rotated for example by more than one person fasting for a few hours at a time, after of course consulting their doctors. No one should go on a fast without first consulting their doctor.
The opposition parties in Guyana have been taking to the streets with pickets demanding local government elections. But this form of peaceful protest has been ineffective. The opposition itself has recognized that it needs to be more creative in the manner it protests, but so far it has not had anyone go on a limited fast as a form of protest.
Many people are also concerned about the threat to muzzle Kaieteur News and about the vindictive acts launched against the publisher of this newspaper.
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