By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 04, 2018
It was Indian Arrival Day. I just had to go down to Paravati Girls Hindu College, Debe, to hear what Sat Maharaj, leader of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) had to say about the importance of Indian Arrival Day to his community and his response to the negative media coverage that attended his demand that Nafisah Nakhid not wear her hijab at his Maha Sabha School, which he said violated the school’s dress code.
Sat’s action was bad enough but then Kamla Persad Bissessar, leader of the Opposition, had the temerity to say that Sat erred in his judgment and perhaps needed to apologize. That was too much for Sat. He immediately withdrew the invitation to Kamla to deliver a feature address at his organization’s celebration of Indian Arrival Day and disinvited her from even attending the celebration. What followed was even more devastating. He announced that she had lost her right to the Hindu voters against whom she had sinned politically.
Kamla, he opined, had taken Hindu voters for granted. Therefore, he called upon them “to free their votes. Vote for whatever party has the best programme. Vote for whichever has the best candidates. Not because they are Hindu or Indian or women. The Hindu vote is going to be freed up. No more voting because you belong to the same race or the same class. Kamla, you are going to pay a hell of a price.”
When I arrived at the Paravati Girls Hindu School compound I approached the front of the audience. Sat invited me to join him and his party onstage. On the way to my seat, Sat joked: “Ah ban Kamla; ah didn’t ban you,” which I interpreted to mean that I was welcome at the function.
In his address Sat announced that this year’s Indian Arrival Day was celebrated at seventy-five SDMS secondary schools and one hundred and fifty Hindu temples across the land. He said his organization celebrated Indian Arrival Day because his ancestors were treated as animals. “There was no rivalry between the Hindus and the Muslims in those early days. We suffered the same fate and communal harmony existed amongst us.”
Sat announced that the SDMS schools are prepared for the changes in the world that await his students. “Don’t take us for granted. We are no coolie babu (older Indians who have struggled in the cane fields and now are walking with bent backs, shuffling feet with the aid of a stick.) You want to treat us as political fodder but the time has come when we must free ourselves from the politics that makes you a slave.”
Then he declaimed even far more forcibly: “Don’t let politics enslave you. It is time for our final emancipation. My navel string is buried on the banks of the Caroni River; we have built our cremation fire on the banks of the Caroni River. My ashes will be strewn in the Caroni River and over the millennium my ashes will touch the Ganges River and we will be one again.”
Sat locates himself within a curious blend of fierce nationalism and Hindu religiosity, economic self-sufficiency, and egregious political meanderings that Raffique Shah captured so admirably in his article, “Sat Still Stirring Religious Intolerance” (Express, May 29). Sat said in his address: “We have educated ourselves and drew ourselves up by our own straps.” This was not particularly true, but it suits Sat’s version of his group’s self-emancipatory achievements.
Sat views himself as a Trini through and through. His social and political history has willed him thus and he has no wish to be anything else. He wants to serve his people fully but that desire has always led him to say and do contradictory or even hurtful things. There can be no other reason for his intemperate words to Kamla: “You take for granted that you can behave anyhow; do what you want, eat what you want, drive what you want, play the ass all over the place and the Hindu is still going to vote for you. Kamla those days are over.” Sat actions also caused great pain to Ms. Nakhid.
These were enormous political miscalculations. Words that were meant to sink Kamla allowed her to soar above the religious and educational minutia of the day and locate herself atop the political pyramid of the society. As she said: “I do not lead a religious flock. I am a woman who has endured and continues to endure the most vile and misogynistic abuse. I will always protect the constitutional right of every person to be afforded their constitutional right for which I am prepared to die. That is the legacy I intend to pass on. Strength is in unity. We live together as brothers, or perish as fools.”
In her feature address at Cedros, Kamla declared: “There is no more Mother India, Mother Africa, Mother Asia or Mother Europe, only Mother Trinbago” (Guardian, May 31, my Italics). Kamla was at her eloquent best.
Sometimes the political gravity of events vaults a person outside of herself. In a curious way, Sat’s blunder may have prepared the way for Kamla’s political fortunes to arise once more.