by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“What is the real date for Diwali?” the man on the phone asked.
Guyana has been blessed with two dates for Diwali since Diwali 2015. There has not been much writing in the papers this year. Everybody seems resigned to the fact that Hindus are not ‘united’ in deciding their dates and will make do. The Government has declared the holiday as Wednesday 18th October, 2017 based on the recommendations by some Hindu organisations. The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha and others will celebrate on Thursday 19th October, 2017.
But why should it matter? According to one website about holidays in India, and talking about Diwali in India in 2017
“.. The most widespread holiday is 18 October, where Diwali is a holiday in Arunachal pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarah, Goa, Himachal pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Madhya pradesh, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Tamil nadu, Telangana, Uttarakhand.
Diwali is celebrated on 19 October in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh. “
The pujas associated with Diwali are done over four or five days with different Hindus having different emphasis on the different days. There are different ways of celebrating, with some additions which are not necessarily in the scriptures.
There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures about the spectacular Diwali motorcades or other events. One of the sad realities of the two Diwali dates in Guyana is the insistence of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha to hold their Georgetown/East Coast Demerara motorcade on the night that some Hindus would be celebrating Diwali.
There is nothing in the Hindu scriptures about National Holidays either. The Government selection of one day for the holiday over the calls for another date is also a problem as it seems to pick sides on who is correct and who is not correct.
There is nothing in the scriptures about abusing animals and other human beings with fire crackers and bombs. In Guyana, two Diwali dates also mean two, possibly more, nights of misery for those animals and humans who cannot handle the sound of firecrackers and bombs.
The Indian Supreme Court has recently banned firecrackers in Delhi during Diwali. Diwali is now associated with increased pollution from the fire crackers. There is much opposition to the ban from the traders in fire crackers, while many have welcomed the ban.
The lack of consideration which characterises so much of Guyanese life is supposed to have been ruled out in the Constitution. The lack of consensus building is easy to dismiss in the way the Constitution is formed.
Reforming the Constitution
The man called about the Diwali dates while I was attending a forum organised by RISE Guyana.
RISE Guyana has taken on the task of advocating for Constitutional Reform and to engage the public. It is not going to be easy. The last time there was talk about Reform was after the December 1997 elections and there was a lot of hope in the improving Guyana. That has not happened.
The post-election violence led to the Constitutional Reforms of 2001/2003. The process was managed by a Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) which was convened in 1999.
The Terms of Reference were clear, with specific focus on areas including fundamental rights and governance. There were clear mandates for the Commission to make decisions by consensus and on the functioning of the commission. The National Assembly at the time agreed to the process and the mechanisms of the process.
In 2017, the National Assembly is expected to consider a bill to form a Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission to ‘assist’ the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform. The Prime Minister has put forward the bill as it is his mandate.
The APNU+AFC majority might vote for the Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission.
The the opposition might not bother with it, especially if their favourite MP, the Prime Minister is going to be responsible for it.
So we could end up in this two Diwali dates scenario where a Constitutional Reform process is started without the full support of the National Assembly and where there will be 100 consultation events throughout Guyana.
Consultations are events which have people talking a lot, and then some nice pastries/snacks and juice. The caterers are very often the only people who benefit from consultations as many times the ‘views of the people’ are never incorporated into any documents or policies or the people never hear back anything.
Reforming/Rewriting a Constitution
Israel does not have a ‘written constitution’ . There has been advocacy for and against a written constitution. A group of Israelis, the Israeli Democracy Institute, drafted a proposal for a Constitution by Consensus. They detail their own biases and their own beliefs, and acknowledging that “at the conclusion of this process, not one of the fellows of the Institute is entirely satisfied with the final draft which we have all signed…”
Israel has also decriminalised marijuana, though long after the IDI crafted their Constitution in Consensus.
In Guyana, some people have also said that there is no need for immediate reform, but that duty bearers should be following the Constitution.
There are violations of the Constitution. There is no Local Government Commission. There is no Ethnic Relations Commission. There is no Human Rights Commission. There is no urgency on the part of the duty bearers who want to hold 100 consultations on the reform of the document they are violating in dealing with these breaches. Do they want to do away with these Commissions?
It is easy for duty bearers to not adhere to the Constitution as there is no accountability mechanisms. The ‘fit and proper’ dilemma of the President in identifying a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission show the problems with the language of the Constitution and those who have to interpret it.
Another website from India has a different distribution of the States on the Wednesday/Thursday dates for the 2017 Diwali holiday. The information on the website suggests that there are some places in India with a Deepavali holiday on Friday 20th October, 2017. Maybe people are allowed to take the holidays.
The Guyanese nation, many Hindus included, would probably have been glad for a long holiday weekend, even if they prayed on one or both of the nights.
How can Guyanese transform the Constitution so that it reaches out to other possibilities when those who benefit from the status quo are entrusted with the ‘reform’? Is the Constitution the mechanism to allow each of us, regardless of which day we celebrate Diwali, to reach our potential without having to throw firecrackers or bombs to disturb any one else?