Travel around coastland Guyana and you will see it too – a preponderance of cages. Imprisonment of people – their bodies and minds.
I see burglar bars, grillwork, heavily armed company security forces, reinforced doors, guard huts, watchmen, security lights, CCTV cameras, reinforced steel shutters, barbed wires, broken bottle topped fences. Crime and insecurity make for big business these days.
Such is this national scourge that people in Guyana are now chaining down their flowering plant pots, garbage bins and even, as I saw in one yard in Georgetown, their clothes lines. Street signs which are bolted down or have their concreted bases buried in feet of earth are not safe.
In Guyana it is unthinkable for anyone to build a house on the coastland and not have grillwork on every window and door as a necessary prominent feature. It has become as basic as a toilet.
It is a certain form of imprisonment, not only of the body but of the mind. At nights not only is the nation locking out whatever elements may wish to intrude but it is also locking down itself against whatever dangers may lurk unforeseen inside. Fire being the most prominent one.
I remember the circumstances which led to the death of Guyanese cultural icon Lakshmi Kallicharan whenever I think of grillwork and my heart bleeds. Lest we forget, her Georgetown house became engulfed in fire one night and she was burnt alive at her grill door because she could not get to the keys to open the padlocks to get out. Some dismiss her death to unfortunate circumstances, I hold the leadership of our country accountable. What are the real reasons why Lakshmi had to live in a cage?
It is true that as Lakshmi did, the people are making practical decisions. They are voluntarily imprisoning themselves and their families out of what they deem to be necessity. One can’t blame them for taking action to protect themselves because the state has failed in its mandate to protect them.
But it ought not to be.
People often think only of what is on the surface. What would cause a man to plot and orchestrate to leave his home (if he has one) in the dead of night to go to the dwelling of another, risk his life and limb and break into it to get what he can? No one can convince me that this is what those thieves wantto do. For the vast majority it is what they are forced to do by circumstances. They keep at it out of necessity because they must and because they do not get caught.
Why is this so prevalent?
There is desperation. There will always be criminal elements of various kinds. But why, in Guyana, is there a criminal culture? Why is it a way of life, not for a handful, but for such a large segment of the population? Why is Lot 12 Camp Street overcrowded with break and enter thieves?
It has become a nationwide disease. It is not a Police Force problem or a Ministry of Home Affairs problem, it is a national problem. Such is its widespread effect that it requires the focussed attention from the head of central government.
It is not, as it used to be, a blackman perpetrated crime. Coolie men are in it now more than ever, perhaps as much as blackmen are. We see the names and photographs of the ones who are caught from time to time, we see skinny coolie boys just out of high school in hand cuffs being herded to the docks.
There are no jobs for thousands, for thousands of others there are only demeaning jobs cleaning drains, garbage bins, gutters, alleyways and toilets for scraps which cannot do for a decent week’s living for one let alone a family.
Men, in these sorts of numbers, in the first instance turn to this sort of crime not because they are inherently bad or lazy but because it is their last resort at feeding themselves and those who are dependent upon them. After repeat successes they may become career criminals but there must be an examination of why they made that initial decision to get into banditry and larceny.
The grillwork imprisons our bodies at nights but it also seems to be imprisoning our minds from understanding the fullness of the situation.
The grillwork is as a result of the prevalence of crime. The prevalence of crime is as a result of desperation. Desperation is as a result of hopelessness. Hopelessness is as a result of a lack of opportunity. Lack of opportunity is as a result of discrimination and the absence of real development for all across the board.
More than the immediate threat of bandits, to me, grillwork is another constant in-your-face reminder of the dreadful management of our country at the very highest levels.
Grillwork is an unmistakable statement by the people – coolie people, black people, all people – that they do not trust government and politicians, that they have no confidence in their performance, management and capacity. Grillwork is an indictment on our leaders.
Grillwork does not have to be, but it is because the leadership is failing the people. That is the legacy of national leadership in Guyana – a nation caged without any confidence in those who a flawed electoral system allows to lead, guide, serve and protect.