May 25 2000, 806 words
Prime Minister Basdeo Panday is his own best argument against the so-called Equal Opportunities Bill. Clause Seven (c) of the Bill outlaws any act "which is done with the intention of inciting racial or religious hatred." So, if this Bill was law when the Guardian published its "Chutney Rising" headline, Panday, who found that headline to be racist, would have presumably have taken steps to arrest editor, reporter and sub-editor.
I exaggerate, you think? Bear in mind that, just last week, Panday defended China's human rights record. "All social development is organic and it's a process that will differ from country to country," he said, and went on to complain that even in Trinidad and Tobago there are people who allege that there are human rights violations here.
His insinuation was that all such people are liars. One wonders, then, that if there are no human rights violations here, why there is any need for an Equal Opportunities Bill? The short answer is that this Bill has absolutely nothing to do with defending people's human rights and everything to do with giving the Government the power to trample on those rights (particularly the right to criticize the Government).
That Panday has no problem with China's human rights record is particularly instructive. Just last month, the Chinese government detained a labour leader in a mental asylum, imprisoned an anti-corruption activist, and imposed a 10-year jail sentence on a founding member of the China Democratic Party. This month, the Chinese government has so far arrested 5,000 steel workers who were protesting about unpaid wages and arrested ten underground Christian leaders.
These are acts that Panday, according to himself, has no problem with. He might argue that he would have a problem with them in the different culture of Trinidad and Tobago, but given the UNC regime's attempts to muzzle the media, its strengthening of legislation to control public protests, and its withdrawal of this country from international human rights bodies, it's not an argument I'd be readily convinced by. Also, Panday has for most of his political career argued that Indo-Trinidadians have been alienated. So what he considers as "organic social development" may therefore be far removed from our society's liberal goals.
It is hardly coincidental, after all, that the only organization to come out in support of Clause Seven is the Maha Sabha (whose columnists agreed with Panday that "Chutney Rising" was a racist headline). The Maha Sabha spokespersons have continually expressed ideas and beliefs which reject the concept of a Trinidadian identity and which favour totalitarian ideologies.
"Is it any wonder that some among us are seeking an ideological homeland south of the Caribbean?" asks Rajnie Ramlakhan. And one of their leading pundits writes, disapprovingly, "People have been allowed to think that they have the liberty to guide their lives according to their preferences and passions."
The irony of the Maha Sabha's support is that Clause Seven could well affect them even more than the evangelical Christians. Part (a) of the Bill bans any public act "which is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of persons."
So when Devant Maharaj continually rails against Mogul rule in India centuries ago, even going to the absurd length of blaming Muslims for child marriage and caste oppression in Hinduism, I imagine the ASJA could bring a good case before the tribunal on the basis of Clause Seven.
And when Noor Kumar Mahabir, in an article claiming racial bias in the media, cites as proof, "100 percent of the editors of the daily newspapers are black", it seems that the editors could make out a good case of racism against him.
So, too, could any mixed-race couple, where one partner is Indo-Trini, make out a case against Kamal Persad, who, without saying where he got the quote from, writes that in 1934, Supersad [sic] Naipaul, father of V.S., described as a "tragedy...Indian youths marrying outside of their race". Persad concludes that this comment "has great relevance today."
And I think a vast majority of women, including Hindu ones, would be offended by the Maha Sabha's statements that marriages are better arranged and that14-year-old girls must be allowed to marry.
Through Clause Seven and other means, Panday and the Indocentrists of the Maha Sabha want to remake Trinidad in their own image. My objection to that is that their image is not a very attractive one.
More importantly, Panday and the Maha Sabha do not reflect the attitudes of all, or even most, Indo-Trinis. Unfortunately, as next week's Indian Arrival Day brings this ethnic group into focus, it is the unprepossessing faces and opinions of that loud minority that other people will see, hear and believe.
Copyright ©2000 Kevin Baldeosingh