Diwali is being disrespected. The latest outrage was at a Rangoli event hosted at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus, where a Christian activist invaded the event and proceeded to lecture those participating about her religious beliefs.
That was a ‘hostile’ act against university students taking part in a Diwali-related activity.
It should be punishable as a criminal offence. Unfortunately, it will not because despite all the braggadocio about religious freedom, there are no local laws which can punish the actions of that individual who disrespected a Hindu custom.
Guyana has created an offence of exciting hostility and ill-will on the basis of race. In fact, former President Bharrat Jagdeo was charged privately for this offence for merely exposing the then opposition party’s tactics on Election Day 2015.
The High Court rubbished the charge against Jagdeo but he faced the humiliation of having to appear in Court to answer a charge which had no merit.
Persons can nevertheless be successfully prosecuted, once the evidence is there, for exciting racial hostility and disaffection. There is, however, no similar charge when it comes to exciting religious disaffection. And it is time one is created to prevent the occurrence of what took place last week at the Turkeyen Campus of the University of Guyana. There are laws against discrimination on the basis of religion but exciting disaffection is not discrimination.
Last week’s occurrence is not the first time that a Hindu observance at the University of Guyana was disrupted. A few years ago, a similar activity at the University was disrupted when a group which included hooligans decided to start a basketball game on the tarmac where a Rangoli activity was being held. So last week’s intrusion is not a singular development at the university.
The University of Guyana ought to have expelled those students who disrupted the Rangoli activity with their basketball game. It constituted scant regard for the Hindu community at the University of Guyana. It was a disgraceful and inconsiderate intrusion which should have been severely punished by expulsion of those involved.
The University of Guyana needs to take action to protect future Hindu activities on campus from similar disruption. No one has ever been accused on campus on disrupting a Christian or Muslim activity so why should Hindus be the eye pass on campus.
Disruptions of religious observances can get ugly. In 2008, there was a horrific firecracker attack on residents of Alexander Village. The village is usually thronged by persons interested in viewing the illuminated homes. But the situation got grossly out- of- hand when residents’ home and even the Hindu temple came under siege by persons firing off explosive squibs. For more than five years after, the police had to be deployed to ensure an orderly “lighting-up” celebration.
Firecrackers have long been associated with celebrations of Diwali. In fact, the Supreme Court of India has refused to ban the use of firecrackers during Diwali but has placed limitations on noise pollution caused by firecrackers and the times during which they can be used.
There were more firecrackers exploding than diyas lit during this year’s Diwali in Guyana. Hindus are also complicit in the use of firecrackers.
The excessive use of firecrackers can lead to a repeat of Diwali might in 2008 when Alexander Village was laid siege by exploding firecrackers. In Guyana, firecrackers are illegal but that has not stopped its availability. The police have not done much to prevent the use of firecrackers which are reportedly being sold openly in our markets and in shops around the country.
Diwali is a festival of the largest religious group in Guyana. People should respect the festival. Attempts at disruption should invite sanctions under the law. At the same time, a serious debate needs to be initiated about the use of firecrackers to celebrate religious festivals. If it is illegal under the law it should not be encouraged period. And those trying to disrupt religious festivals should face jail time.
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