ROAR of Ravi Dev
When late last Sunday afternoon I received the news of the horrible murder and mutilation of teenagers Joel and Isaiah Henry in the back-dam of Cotton Tree, as the father of four children, I could only think about the anguish of the parents of the unfortunate boys. No parent wants have their children die before them – and certainly not in this gruesome manner. The angry fellow villagers who blocked the roads and burnt tires the same evening, even as police arrested three persons and called for a restoration of order, echoed the shock I had felt.
However, the presence of a young attorney, who had aggressively defended several figures fingered in the recent elections rigging attempt, among the protestors calling for “guaranteed justice”, led to a sinking feeling in my stomach. A nexus with the political tension would be made. Having lived through bouts of ethnic violence starting from Black Friday 1962 when angry mobs were stirred up to by rumors of a killing, I feared what lay ahead if these actual killings were exploited for political mileage.
And those fears were realized the next morning when PNC leader David Granger and Leader of the Opposition Joseph Harmon showed up at the home of Isaiah Henry. Pouring fuel into the embers of anger, Granger complimented the organizers of the protests and declared, “we have to establish some self defence society … because unless we protect ourselves nobody is going to protect us.” Yet in March 2017, he had denounced the PPP’s prediction that fired sugar workers would stage protests as, “reckless remarks about an uprising and provocative calls for the mobilization of foot soldiers (which) have the potential to rip apart the fragile fabric of social cohesion that we enjoy.”
Harmon even more irresponsibly pushed Granger’s politicizing envelope by undermining the GPF’s investigative capacity and impartiality when he claimed it had been “infiltrated by thugs” since the PPP acceded to office. It was not surprising, therefore that the “protests” immediately escalated and spiraled into lawless “unrest” in African-Guyanese dominated villages all along the West Berbice Public Road.
This was even as Heads of Joint Services met the very day and warned that, “robbing citizens and damaging public property will not result in a solution to the problem but rather cause unnecessary and unwanted tension and anger. This will most certainly distract attention from a proper and professional investigation intended to bring those responsible for these heinous crimes to justice.”
Yet in what would be become the pattern for three days, vehicles that were forced to stop at the fiery roadblocks were ruthlessly battered with their Indian-Guyanese passengers robbed and viciously beaten. Many were forced to proceed onwards on foot; one individual was beaten with a hammer all while racial invectives were hurled at them. In one particularly egregious instance, on Tuesday after soldiers were deployed, they and the police stood by as rioters halted two paddy trucks, dumped the paddy and then burnt the trucks. The rioters had evidently agreed that the Henry boys were killed by politically motivated Indian Guyanese and they were now retaliating.
On Wednesday 9th, the body of 17-year old Haresh Singh, grandson of the Cotton Tree farmer on whose land the bodies of Joel and Isaiah had been found, was found behind the village. Indian Guyanese concluded this had to be an escalation of the retribution by African Guyanese. The same day, Prettipaul Hargobin, 34, of Bath was beaten to death after he was evidently harassed by protestors and returned with a shotgun and fired in their direction. Social Media was flooded by images illustrating the agony of hundreds of Indian Guyanese caught in the terror of gratuitous violence inflicted on them. However, amidst this reign of terror, were numerous instances of empathy by African Guyanese individuals who placed their safety on the line to rescue their besieged fellow Guyanese.
But the hero of the entire conflagration was Gladston Henry, father of Isaiah, who declared “I am not supporting un-moral protesting because I went out in Number Five (Village) and tell them straight ‘if you want to protest, is our right, let we do it peacefully’, you understand. And doing it peacefully, the nation cannot be fighting against one another because this is going on too long, let we don’t see this thing as Black or White or Chiney or Portuguese.”