I recently passed through Cheddi Jagan Airport and was pulled out for “hand” inspection. For some inexplicable reason, every time I arrived in Guyana under this PNC led regime, I am harassed at immigration and or at customs. If the intention of the regime is for me to end my activism against racial discrimination and political persecution, it is sadly mistaken. I spent my entire life championing free and fair elections and advocating for grass roots democracy in Guyana. I was accustomed to the harassment, intimidation, and physical violence of the PNC dictatorship –these did not stop me from my struggle against the dictatorship or speaking out against bad governance of the PNC and even during the PPP administration (although the latter did not directly harass me).
At Cheddi Jagan, the custom officer thoroughly went through all of my bags and separated all of the Indian garb on one side and left the other items in the luggage. She was not focused on a new pair of expensive booths or the new sneakers or refreshments or other items. She focused like a laser on the Indian wear. She ripped open the see through plastic bags containing the Indian ethnic wear instead of gently taking them out and examining them. These were brought to Guyana to donate to the poor as I would normally do whenever I come to Guyana. I always donate to the poor children particularly to orphanages.
The customs officer said I had to pay duty on the Indian garb. I asked why. She informed me that only three pieces of Indian wear are allowed duty free. What? Unheard of! Clearly none of the items could be for sale; they are personal items. The monetary value was negligible. How would she determine cost to levy duty? She said I had nine pieces; the truth is I had ten pieces with a total value of less than US $50 that I bought on a recent trip to India. Friends can attest I donate generously when in Guyana. I always brought Indian wear to donate in Guyana.
The issue of three Indian wear is very troubling as it restricts my right to dress in my culture. So if someone visits Guyana for an Indian cultural event, he or she can’t bring more than three ethnic wear without paying duties. Is this what the officer is saying? Is that the instruction from Finance Minister Winston Jordan and customs towards Indian coming to Guyana — not many Indian wear to be allowed in Guyana — deculturize the Indians? What next? Will there be restriction on consumption of aloo, dhal, roti, channa, prasad, sirni, etc. as happened during the PNC ethnic dictatorship between 1966 and 1992. Is the PNC government resending a message for Indo-Guyanese to go back to India or simply leave Guyana as the PNC did? Are we going back to the Burnhamism? Has Moses Nagamootoo, Khemraj Ramjattan and Charandass Persaud trade in the 11% Indian support with the PNC to go back to Burnhamism?
Does the restriction of three traditional garbs also apply to African wear? African nationalists like David Hinds, Kwayana, Ogunseye, Eric Phillips, Clive Thomas, etc. wear traditional African garbs. Are restrictions placed on how many pieces they can bring into Guyana? Do they support this restriction on Indian wear? Will they speak out against it?
I do not know if it is now de facto government policy to restrict how much Indian clothing a person can have or wear. I call on Indian organizations within Guyana and internationally to take note and voice their strong objection to this policy of only three duty free Indian wear.
Guyanese customs and or government cannot impose a limit on peoples’ choice of ethnic clothing of how many personal wears are permitted at customs. White governments don’t do it in North America and Europe. The Afro-PNC led government must cease and desist from this clearly racist policy. And the government also needs to stop giving instructions to harass political activists and having the special branch trail (and spy on) opposition figures – these were the hallmarks of Burnhamism and the evidence so far over the last two years is very strong that we are returning to that period.
I should note, however, that not even during the height of the PNC ethnic dictatorship did Burnham put restriction on Indian ethnic wear although importation of Indian garb was almost impossible because he refused to authorize foreign exchange to bring in traditional Indian garments. But there was a ban in place on food imports such as roti, dhal, raisins, etc. relating to the Indian cultural and religious diet.
The policy of levying duty on Indian wear for personal use must be resisted by all.
Dr Vishnu Bisram