ROSHAN KHAN WEIGHS IN ON ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION… -AS NEWLY APPOINTED MEMBER OF THE ETHNIC RELATIONS COMMISSION By FEONA MORRISON
Having been out of existence for more than a decade, President David Granger, last month, swore in members of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC). The ERC was established in 2003 with the primary purpose of hearing and investigating the complaints of citizens who believe that they have been mistreated based on their race. Mr. Roshan Khan, a renowned and respected businessman, who has transformed the provision of security services in Guyana, has been appointed as a member of this Commission. The businessman believes that although Guyana is a cosmopolitan society with six different races, discrimination among the two major ethnic groups—Indo and Afro Guyanese—still exist. As such, Khan has vowed to use his recent appointment to the ERC towards working effectively to foster the development of this country by advocating for all Guyanese. In a recent interview with the Guyana Inc. Magazine, Khan weighed in on ethnic discrimination among other burning issues.
Below is an extract of the conversation:
Guyana Inc. Magazine: Do you feel that citizens have been mistreated because of their ethnicity?
Roshan Khan: It is unfortunate and painful to me that in this beautiful country with a vibrant cosmopolitan society where our six races have lived together for hundreds of years, there is still fear of ethnic discrimination. As I see it, this fear exists mostly among Indo and Afro Guyanese, our two major races, two major power forces in terms of population, size and talents. The Almighty has bequeathed upon both these two main races, and all of our other races, bountiful talents and blessings. The Creator has given each racial group in Guyana enormous intellectual and cultural gifts and each has a unique opportunity to use these talents to make significant contributions to our human and national development for their own development and prosperity and that of the entire country. Just look at our Indigenous peoples. They are renowned for their tremendous understanding of the arts and sciences that come from ancient knowledge. Their keen awareness of how astronomy affects earthly phenomena, their knowledge of the movements of the earth’s waters and their
understanding of animal and plant life are monumental. The Europeans and Portuguese have always been great industrialists and entrepreneurs. The Indo Guyanese are renowned for their entrepreneurial and philosophical wisdom while the Africans are famous for their great architectural and agricultural skills in the lands from which they originate. The Chinese are famous for their culinary skills, ancient natural medicines and inventions. But regardless of what any particular race might be celebrated for at any point in time, these skills and more are found among people of all races. My point is that we are all blessed with tremendous talents and wisdom, no matter what the colour of our skin or the texture of our hair is, so I do not see any reason why we should put up with suspicions and ethnic discrimination in our country. However, it is a harsh reality that we have high levels of distrust and discrimination among our racial groups. If it were not so, there would have been no need for the ERC. It is precisely because of this distrust and the prevalence of certain people in Guyanese society with a penchant for racial discrimination that the ERC exists. Since we are aware that Guyana has a race relations problem and it is destroying the social fabric of the nation, right thinking citizens have an obligation to confront the problem and get rid of it. That is why I am proud to be sworn in as a Commissioner on the Ethnic Relations Commission and it is an honour to work with other committed nationalists elected from civic groups to bridge the gaps that exist among our peoples to form one true, cohesive society and nation. It must be understood that once one is sworn in as a commissioner, the institutional or religious mentalities give way to national ethos.
I am fortunate and blessed that the Islamic people of this country chose me to be their representative on the ERC and my advocacy will include all Guyanese. I am extremely proud that both sides of Parliament showed similar confidence in me by voting for my appointment and I felt privileged to be sworn in by the President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, His Excellency President David Arthur Granger.
Guyana Inc. Magazine: What, in your view, are some problems a country can face if its citizens become divided along ethnic lines?
Roshan Khan: One main problem is that some people will develop a superiority complex and practice racial division believing that their race is superior to the others. We know that in the eyes of The Creator we are all branches of the same tree of humanity and we are all equally important, so there should be no superiority or inferiority complex existing among our peoples. But I have a great fear that once such things exist in other parts of the world, especially where the major races in Guyana’s population originate from, then they will tend to exist here. For example, there is a tendency among Indo-Guyanese to believe that some people come from a higher caste and are superior beings, so some persons want to use this false belief to lord it over others. In a similar way, some Afro-Guyanese who have a lighter shade of skin-colour tend to feel and act superior to persons of a darker complexion. I have heard certain segments of the population saying that so-and-so believes he or she is a higher African being. Furthermore, apart from the caste and class structures, some who were fortunate to become highly educated believe their education has transformed them into a higher order of human being than those who, for many reasons, could not reach the highest levels of education. This absurd superiority complex based on education is prevalent among all races in Guyana and around the world. We are all the creations of God and we all have our role to play in the world.
Guyana Inc. Magazine: Can you express your feelings at being appointed to such a longstanding commission?
Roshan Khan: I feel personally extolled by the national recognition that comes with my appointment and I was pleased to be sworn in by none other than President David Granger himself, for whom I have great respect as a person and as a leader who can take Guyana to new and greater horizons. I am extremely excited and look forward to serving the great historical peoples of our nation, all of whom originated from ancient civilizations and countries. Together with my fellow commissioners, I look forward to working effectively to foster the development of this country. I believe we have a golden opportunity to take it forward, not only to be a country of philosophy, wisdom and teachers, but also as a nation of great industry and commerce, which I firmly believe Guyana has the capacity to achieve in the not too distant future. We can definitely take this country forward like what was done in Dubai, Abu Dabi, Baharain, Singapore and Malaysia.
Guyana Inc. Magazine: What role can the Ministry of Social Cohesion play in promoting ethnic relations among citizens?
Roshan Khan: When I heard of the creation of this Ministry by the President and the new Government, I thought quietly about the mind of the individual who conceived this thought. In a philosophical way, I was extremely moved because I strongly believe in national cohesion. I do not believe in discrimination in any form whatsoever, particularly ethnic discrimination and I believe this Ministry can play a big role in removing this scourge. But it is painful to me that, although the Ministry knows about me and my advocacy
for positive social change in Guyana, since the new Minister took over the management of the Ministry, I have not been invited to any event that fosters national cohesion, nor was I given a chance to participate in any activity that could foster national unity. Nevertheless, I believe in the Ministry so much that I went in personally and spoke to the Minister on my own time to encourage him and let him know that this Ministry has a most noble mandate and that is to bring humanity together. I also decided to go uninvited to some events related to national unity that were held by this Ministry. Yes, I was a philosophical gentleman gatecrasher. And I apologized to the coordinator of the events for being a gate-crasher. But I believe in the Ministry and what it can accomplish. My encouragement to the Ministry is to keep it out of political partisanship and to work with all society, all humanity to develop full national cohesiveness and consciousness in the nation.
Guyana Inc. Magazine: Since the Ethnic Relations Commission was non-functional for more than a decade, do you feel that citizens were deprived of their rights?
Roshan Khan: Yes, citizens were deprived of their right to approach the ERC and seek redress if they felt discriminated against. I also believe the inactivity of the ERC caused a massive loss of opportunities to present projects to improve race relations in communities and groups across Guyana. I think the people have lost tremendously and the country has lost tremendously. I do not worry about tit-for-tat political madness that
sometimes happens in our country. We know the ERC and some others were starved of funds and could not fulfill their mandate. The then Opposition voted to stifle the finances for the ERC. I hope that those in that position today, if and when they get power, will not try to seek vengeance by starving us and other important bodies of funds. Bodies such as the ERC are good and necessary for human development and cohesion of our countries. They should never be starved of funds by anyone with political partisanship. I stand a free and fair thinker forever and a lover of all people. If the delay was not so long as a 10-year gap, the negative impact would not have been as great. Further, all the amazing work done by the ERC in the past would have been forgotten and come to an end. Now, we have to reinvent the wheel all over again. I am also sad over the fact that they are taking so long to convene the ERC, now that the commissioners are sworn in. They need to convene the ERC in order to select a functioning committee comprising a Chairman, Vice Chairman etc. Some people I have spoken to are beginning to lose interest in the ERC because of this long wait and this is not very good. When things are moving with energy, then that energy needs to be harnessed and capitalized upon. My encouragement to the clerk of the National Assembly is to convene this at the earliest opportunity so that the ERC could proceed with its work.