Last August Guyana’s High Commissioner to India Charrandass Persaud had abused Asso-ciate Professor Sonya Ghosh in the most vulgar fashion outside his home in New Delhi. The verbal assault had been recorded, although for some reason the video has only now surfaced in the local public domain. In a Page One Com-ment two days ago we had called on President Ali to immediately recall Mr Persaud as well as provide an explanation in relation to the questions raised by this incident. As yet, the public has been given no satisfaction on either front.
The President did address the public, but his video presentation lasted all of three minutes. There was no rebuke of Mr Persaud in relation to his behaviour, nor any statement that he had been recalled; rather the impression was conveyed that he was returning to Guyana by mutual agreement. Satisfaction for the public, or for Ms Ghosh, was not forthcoming either in the Facebook post by the head of state. He related that having reviewed the video he called Mr Persaud, who told him that the incident had occurred in August last year and that the video was not complete, and therefore not a full reflection of what had taken place.
The President went on to state that he had explained to the High Commissioner that representatives of Guyana should conduct themselves to the highest standard, and then said something incomprehensible: “Mr. Charrandass then communicated to me that this matter was dealt with by the relevant agencies and authorities in India and that there was no evidence of any misconduct and for a matter of fact he was cleared of any accusation of sexual harassment. He also shared with me the letter that substantiated this statement.” It was after this that Mr Persaud had agreed that he would return from his posting in India.
Aside from the fact that as we pointed out in our report yesterday Mr Persaud has immunity under the Vienna Convention of 1961, and it was therefore not for the Indian authorities to investigate the matter but for our own government, there is a more fundamental problem casting a shadow on the President himself. The video as it stands is so shocking it really doesn’t matter if it is incomplete, there are no additions which could redeem the former High Commissioner. What was the head of state thinking, therefore, when he regurgitated Mr Persaud’s excuse? Did he really not think the obscenities, sexual remarks and intimidatory gestures recorded on the video were a disgrace and brought this nation into disrepute? If he didn’t, then the people of this country have a serious problem.
The Indian investigation followed a criminal complaint filed by Ms Ghosh, and our report said that from a document seen by this newspaper it did not appear that it had taken account of the video. The possibility always exists, of course, that the Indian government did not want to embarrass its Guyanese counterpart with whom it is on very good terms, and so chose to ignore the video or simply did not bother to watch it. It might be mentioned that misogyny is hardly unknown in the sub-continent, although there is no evidence to suggest it necessarily played a role in this case.
What the Indian document said was that no one was allowed to enter Mr Persaud’s residence without his permission and that allegations of sexually abusive words had “not been substantiated.” It was this supposed lack of substantiation which had been seized on by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it issued its statement on Tuesday, as a consequence of which, it said it “therefore considers the matter closed.” It was Takuba Lodge’s babbling which was echoed by the President, a clear case that a whole cohort of our most senior officials seem to have a hearing problem if not eyesight problems as well. Failing that there is a more disturbing possibility which relates to their personal ethics and the governmental principles they apply in office.
We had already asked in our Page One Comment why it was that Takuba Lodge had not acted earlier on the diplomat’s scandalous conduct which took place on August 1, 2021, since it must have been notified of it long before this. ‘Was there an attempt to cover up what Mr Persaud had done in the misguided belief that it would never be revealed?’ we asked.
Which brings us to three underlying problems associated with this government which this incident exposes. The first, as just mentioned, is the compulsion to never disclose, never admit and wherever possible, to deny or engineer a cover-up. There is no question of adhering to principle here; this is all about never being seen to have made a mistake or being seen to be wrong. The fig-leaf the Indians provided of non-substantiation is not, in fact, a fig-leaf, given that the entire society has seen the video. Yet still even the President clings to defending the indefensible. It all has the whiff of arrogance if not self-delusion about it.
Then there is the matter of unsuitable diplomatic appointments. The PPP/C has a history of these, going right back to its first period in office in 1992. It has always had a weakness for treating ambassadorial postings as rewards for some service rendered, or as a consolation prize when someone is forced out of another position against its wishes, as happened in the case of Mr Ronald Gajraj (also made a High Commissioner to India). Mr Persaud was clearly a most unsuitable appointment, and the general assumption has always been that he was sent to the mission in India as a reward for voting against the last government in the no-confidence vote of 2018.
Lastly, and most seriously, there is the misogyny which characterises this administration, from which even its ministers are far from immune. One minister during its previous period in office had to resign his post, but no lessons have been learned from that, it seems, and even in recent times another minister has made sexually offensive comments to female MPs while in Parliament. Since we have a supine Speaker, no consequences followed, while his party appeared totally unconcerned, including its female members. Of course the government at an official level talks the talk about women’s rights, etc, but the behaviour of those associated with it and what comes out of their mouths unofficially contradicts this. Is an underlying misogyny the reason why Mr Charandass Persaud is not being robustly reprimanded and why the President is grasping for any futile rationalisation to explain what happened?
Why won’t he come clean with the people of Guyana? And most of all, why won’t he offer a sincere apology to Ms Sonya Ghosh, a lecturer in English at Delhi University, an ecologist and an animal rights activist, on behalf of the Government of Guyana? It is the minimum which must be done if this country is not to be characterised as a misogynist jurisdiction where anything goes.