Of pride and prejudice

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, May 31st 2009

Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

Trini PeopleEVERY year, come Carnival or Emancipation Day or Spiritual Baptist Day or Indian Arrival Day, one hears the same refrain: the Government ‘ent give we enough money to celebrate we special day.

Carnival band leaders, who charge mas’ players severely for their flimsy costumes and all-inclusive-wee-wee-enhanced, two-chord-bands, threaten to blank competition sites because the steelband fraternity gets more dollar-support than the NCBA. Steelband leaders grouse about not having enough funds to paint their instruments, far less compensate the people who make music. Baptists shout loud about being discriminated against, and the scores of groups that mark Indian Arrival Day cry our louder: Discrimination!

Why the Government should fund any of these activities defies logic, not to add imagination, which is in short supply at all levels of this society. Paying people (who have already paid others) to “wine” on the streets and stages-does that make sense? Supporting the development of sports and fitness programmes, pan music, costume-making skills, Indian art forms and other nation-building ventures, is not unreasonable. Funding educational institutions, some of which may fall under religious organisations, can be deemed an obligation on government’s part.

But why State funds should be shared like “prasad” among every Brian, Monica and Sat who claims to be doing “something” (never properly defined) for the country, is inexcusable. Successive governments, always with ulterior political motives, have institutionalised this “gimme gimme” syndrome that has grown to epidemic proportions. I am sure if all the money that is doled out for what are really privately-organised “celebrations”, is added up, we would have more than enough to build and equip a hospital for children born with congenital defects, and whose parents have to beg for money to take them abroad for ultra-expensive medical attention.

And that’s on an annual basis. One year a children’s hospital, the other properly equipped and serviced geriatric homes, and so on. Now, I know those who benefit from government’s largesse will come at my throat, asking why I didn’t write about the $500 million-plus spent on the two-day Summit. Let me write, for the records, that I found that too obscene to even touch on, much the way the UNC in government wasted millions of our dollars to have self-proclaimed “beauties” parade in a refurbished hangar in Chaguaramas. Governments are inclined to such ego-enhancing excesses.

But the very people who complain about government wastage are the ones who add to the problem. Take any of the events I identified at the start of this column (and there are more, many more). From one or two centralised celebrations, they have mushroomed into scores, hundreds.

Every two-house community wants funds to play drums on Emancipation Day (which they do for self-entertainment year-round). From Icacos to Rampalnagas, there are about 100 Arrival Day “celebrations”, some held in rum-shops, others in public grounds. Even though you may not see a bat-in-costume, Moruga and Manzanilla must have their share of the Carnival largesse. I know of steelbands that exist only in name, who hastily daub paint on rusted pans, clean the dirt and grass they lay in for the year-just to collect “transport” money when government paid for it.

Why can’t we become more self-reliant, more independent of the very governments we cuss for wastage of public funds? Not boasting, but I was the prime driver of what started out in 1983 as the Mirror Marathon. It was the race that not only challenged participants’ endurance, but it launched a hundred-plus other distance races throughout the Caribbean, some of which I also helped organise. The only concession I sought from governments during the 24 years I was in charge was closure of the course to traffic-which I never got. I relied on corporate sponsorship and volunteer help throughout my tenure as head of the organising committee.

I am proud of that, as I feel certain my successors are, notwithstanding the sponsorship challenges they may now face. If my volunteer colleagues and I, who gave freely of our time and energy, could make such a sterling contribution to healthy lifestyles among a significant section of the region’s population, why can’t others make similar sacrifices if they so love what they claim to believe in? If marking the emancipation of slaves is worthy of celebrating (and I believe it is), if the arrival of Indians to these parts must be marked (I also agree with that), then go ahead and do it.

But in so doing you must stand proud, and more than that, stand liberated of dependence on any government. I would be wary of government getting involved in any such activity-religious, historical, cultural-since it would demand its pound of flesh, if only in the form of some minister making a loaded speech at your function. Wake up, people. Stop preaching liberation and freedom, claiming masters-of-the-art-forms status, yet remaining dependent on the very authorities you condemn every day.

If you can’t afford to host a huge celebration with the now-omnipresent big-truck, then stay at home and say your prayers or whatever. Pride is far more valuable than having to face prejudice.

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27 thoughts on “Of pride and prejudice”

  1. Raffique is right on most points. Except that I disagree with him on hosting the summit. This comment will be on expectations of handouts, and that only.

    The expectation of handouts has grown apace, to the extent that some groups reject the Government’s money in high dudgeon, aying that it is a pittance. Now, if I have nothing, a pittance is something, except when the group is pushed by opponents of the government.

    Now if the state made an allocation of, lets say, three hundred million dollars for the support of the arts,through a NationalArts Council, drawn up with specific rules,and gave NO money to anyone in the first year of the Council. A couple of things would happen.
    Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants groups, put together to capitalize on government handouts, will fall by the wayside, unless they get off their tushes and raise some money. The three hundred million, deposited in the Unit Trust Corporation, will accrue interest of fifteen million in the first year, at 5% Simple Interest. That money could be used in the second year to provide matching grants at a specific percentage written into the rules of the National Arts Council. If, for example, it is agreed on a 50% matching grant, the group asking for help, Indian Arrival Day Celebrations, for example, will have to show proof of having raised a specific sum, to qualify for the grant. The state will have to ensure that their money raised is not show money, the sort we immigrants to the US put into our relatives accounts for a week, to qualify them for a loan for a house, which is then given back after the loan is approved. They would need to show a clear pattern of fundraising for events. Large one time charitable donations would be immediately suspect, for reasons above. The use of the grant money would be subject to audit by state appointed auditors from the MInistry of Finance. Those who cannot allow their books to be audited will get no future money until an audit is successfully done. Meeanwhile, the undistributed funds continue to accrue interest for those who follow the rules.

    By not touching the capital, the state could continue to fund worthwhile arts projects in perpetuity.

    There must be a qualified accountant appointed to the Arts Council, and the other members will consist of the usual religious,ethnic, and political mixes, as well as arts people.

    Coterminous with this must be funding for arts in the schools, and courses in business manaement for young entrepeneurs, through our schools programme. We need to make the schools accountable for producing the kind of people the society needs.
    Eric Williams churned out economists from UWI in numbers in the 1964-69 period. The Unit Trust Corporation was founded by one of them.

    We have not totally lost our way, but like parents who had little, we gave our children too much, and that raised the sense of entitlement to exorbitant proportions of reckless, unaccounted spending, like if money grew on trees. Well, the tree is dying, putting in place viable watering programs and fertilizer, could keep it bearing for the next six generations.

    It is time that the belt-tightening begins. The state could use this letter to explain to the people what is going to happen.

    I write for the education of the masses, nnd this is one such piece.
    I light a candle, rather than curse the darkness.

  2. Good post, good read. I agree with you 100%. The money should be spent on education, and improving our hospitals.

  3. Mr Shah once again evades the issue which probably triggered his article. Is there a major disparity in the government’s funding of ethnic public functions? In typical Shah style he labors to give the impression that he is objective in his treatment of “both sides”.Mr.Shah’s criticism of the government is always balanced by corresponding attacks on the opposition.This repeated inclination in almost all of his articles creates suspicion of his true intentions.Is Mr. Shah carefully leaving himself open for some kind of political appointment by masquerading as an objective journalist?

  4. Let’s call a spade a spade here:
    1. East Indians are not culturally integrated into Trinbago and Caricom. The proper term for them is NRI: “Non-Resident Indian” meaning Indians residing outside India. Google it if you like. They have their own country, India, and their own Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to whom they can return whenever they choose. The Government of India provides ample funding to Indian cultural activities in India. NRIs in Trinidad can go back and enjoy this culture should they feel sufficiently homesick, no-one’s stopping them at the airport.
    2. If NRIs (“East Indians”) in Trinidad wish to hold their own celebrations, they have no need of government funding. The average East Indian in Trinidad and Tobago is fabulously wealthy. Much of this wealth was distributed to East Indians when the UNC was in pover (1995 to 2001) when they vacuumed out the Treasury and shared the spoils with their own people, even as hunger and homelessness stalked the Africans of Laventille.

  5. Thank you , Mr williams. You have just summarised the attitude of the PNM government towards East indians in T&T!

  6. I understand Raffique point but he should have remain factual and not engage in ole talk. Didn’t it come out that Emancipation day is really centralised so not every group would want money except for the ESC. Then who are these steelbands he is talking about? The indian case is obviously different as several groups vie for a piece of the pie. And yes we could co with a children hospital but not at the extent of supporting culture. We have money for both.

  7. “Supporting the development of sports and fitness programs, pan music, costume-making skills, Indian art forms and other nation-building ventures, is not unreasonable.”
    I beg to differ. The government should not support Indian Art Forms either. Private Indian donors should support Indian Art Forms.
    Government should only support all or none.

  8. How long does it take an Indian immigrant to Trinidad and Tobago to become A Trinidadian? Six generations done gorn.I ask this because three branches of my family include Indian people, and it is as “ordinary” for me to collect brassware carved in India, as it is to collect wooden figures carved in the Africn diaspora. When, in North America, the people “discover” India, through an art exhibit, for example, I am proud that I knew that already, growing up in Multicultural Trinidad and Tobago.

    Those who continue to see themselves as “Indian” and not Indo-trinidadian, should take the advice given by others, and by myself on another post about three years ago. Some Baboolals and Ali’s are my nieces. The portrait gallery of my younger relatives is a reflection of the true Trinidad. Should they choose? Should I love them less?
    There are hundreds of thousands such people. The “Indians” are fighting a rear guard action. This is not India, nor Sri LAnka, nor the Maldives, nor Pakistan. It is Trinidad and Tobago, not an Indian outpost in a far flung land. In that sense, the government may well ask “How many non=Indians will be involved in this project?” and count heads the way the Indian community do in every government ofice.

    Our money must promote a multicultural country, dwelling in unity.

  9. The Indian community in T&T learned to “count heads” from Black communities in the USA, South Africa, Canada and other parts of the world where Blacks continually advocate for equal opportunities.

  10. Mr. Augustus Williams, I find your comment to be ridiculous beyond measure. I just have a few observations to make.

    What exactly is the Trinidadian culture that Indo-Trinis seem to not be a part of?

    You would do well to use the same search engine to do some further research. On my first search of ‘culture’ I got this definition: culture is the “the predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization”

    Now, if you Google population by race you’ll notice that the majority of the population is Indo-Trinidadian. Now, presumably the predominating attitudes and behavior are held by the majority. If Indo-Trinidadians are the majority, which group’s behavior will decide what Trini culture is?

    In any event, it’s absolutely absurd to presume that all Indo-Trinibagonians generally behave the same way. With fall of that presumption so falls the rest of your argument.

    Great article Mr. Shah. Give money to no one, let no one claim discrimination.

    The only problem is that you have to start somewhere, somebody have to get cut off first and the that group will cry discrimination. But, our government is very daring, and the people very forgetful, so it really doesn’t matter.

  11. This is a fascinating article written by Mr. Shah where he touches the heart of our behaviour as a people. As with many aspects of what might be termed government handouts, this business of funding the arts is just as phony as other institutions where “government help” is needed to support local culture. I could’nt help but notice that Mr. Devant Maharaj was perturbed by Mr. Manning’s exclusion of the word “Indian” on the arrival day observance. There appears to be many versions of what “Indians” want to call themselves, “Indian”, Trinbagonian, Indo-Trinidadian or whatever, the one thing they want is respect and I think that the wider community is willing to afford them that but when over one hundred different organizations apply to government for “aid” in celebrating Indian arrival day, that leaves more than enough room for suspicion and about what we are celebrating. The other argument is if it is “Indian Arrival Day”, why not call it and Indian holiday? because there appears to leave no room for any kind of inclusiveness of the Arrival.

  12. Mr. Augustus Williams comments are a generalization, but they aren’t ridiculous. They speak to a certain level of assimilation or a lack of assimilation by the Indian population in Trini-society. However, Aaron Seaton is also correct in his analysis of who dictates the cultural identity through numbers of the over all population.
    The Indo-Trinidadian population as a whole has not assimilated to what Mr. Williams views as Trinidadian society as he a perhaps many other non Indo-Trinidadians see it. Then again, Mr. Seaton points out that the majority rule when it comes to cultural identity of a nation.
    I’m willing to bet that there are more Afro-Trinidadians residing outside the country then within the boarders of Trinidad and Tobago. Surely they should not be dictating what the cultural identity should be.
    The point is, that when it comes to the culture identity of what is a Trinidadian, both of these gentlemen have very valid points. Should the identity of what is Trinidadian more like the average Trinidadian that lived in TNT around August 1962 or like the average person living in TNT now?
    Without the numbers, I do not understand how the minority group could claim to be the essence of a Trinidadian.
    Government should not show bias by supporting any group on the basis of culture, religion, race, nation of origin, etc…!

  13. All “civilized” western countries support the arts. This is why when Trinis go on cruises to Italy, they can visit the Trevi Fountain and the excavations at Herculaneum, as well as thousands of years of art stored in museums and great churches like the Vatican. Ours is a young culture. We need to support the arts, but we need a structure within which that support flourishes.

    Go to the Met.in New York, go tot he Hall of the Nations in Ottawa and see the arts presereed there. Ancient people were painting ten thousand years ago at Lasceaux in southern France. Their work is presered for us to see.Only those with no souls will say do not support anyone. This is a Christian writing here. I believe people’s souls speak through their art.I believe people have souls, no matter what their religion. My faith in mankind informs my viewpoint.



  15. Had a nice week at home of sun , coconut water, doubles, ital foods, bake and Shark , plus visited the Edie Hart ground last Sunday and saw the PM and his party in all their glory and splendor during their Sports Day, and is now more than ever convinced that they’ll rule our country for the next fifty years.
    Life is indeed fine in the land of the Hummingbird I thought to myself , as I saw the PNM entered the ground amidst joyous ovations to give his much anticipated speech led by a colorful group of Tassa Drummers and gyrating dancers
    As an astute observer of the political savvy amongst us , I know fully well that Oxford , Cambridge , and Harvard cannot teach you political smarts as fervently displayed by the PNM led by its leader. Perhaps UWI should take a bow Eh?
    Even the Old Doc would be proud of his protégée from Sando . Let the misguided and naïve still pontificate about political divisions, racisms , genocide and neglect, as opposed to building hope and look for common elements that can help enhance our personal and national causes.

  16. Hello Raf, I clearly remember the stand you took as a soldier and a Lt. But I am missing the FIRE from you about the MASS CORRUPTIONS by this PNM GOVT. We need a group of Revolution-minds to wake up TNT.as Geddes Granger,The Army andThe Unions did in 1970. Raff, its time to start a change in TNT.Manning and these bunch of thieves are far way Thieving as OLD PNMs did.O’Hallaran,Padmore,and the rest of this gang.Someone has to be accountable for these monies stolen.The Caroni Race Track was a joke,.Ish.Galbaransingh got 10M.dollars to build Caroni River Bridge,Got Rental monies from Ross Int. Canada to build a steel mill.Never did. Get on this move now.
    Please reply Thank you Sir.

  17. A sober comment that we should all take note of. Analyses of Indian presence needed.
    Friday, June 5 2009

    THE EDITOR: In one of his Indian Arrival Day addresses Mr Basdeo Panday urged his audience to use the occasion to deal with discrimination against them. Undoubtedly, Indian Arrival Day is used to focus on the issue of anti-Indian discrimination especially by the State and State agencies. The controversy surrounding the State financial contribution towards the hosting of the function is an issue.

    One however, must be wary when politicians make calls about how Indian Arrival Day must be used. Basdeo Panday was a former Prime Minister who, in his opposition days pre-1995, had made words like “discrimination” and “alienation” a fixed part of his political vocabulary.

    When in power the situation was different. His regime did pass an Equal Opportunity Bill which was never enacted. Mr Panday was, it seemed, content to pronounce that the bill existed.

    One must suspect that Mr Panday’s advice was politically motivated. The issue of discrimination, especially on the grounds of race, is a highly emotional one and can be used to rally one’s support in a particular direction. Occasions like Indian Arrival Day and African Emancipation Day can be used by politicians to garner political support for one self and party.

    One must commend Indian Arrival Day speakers like Anand Ramlogan attorney-at-law and Mr Sat Maharaj of the Maha Sabha. The panel of doctors who hosted a discussion in illnesses and diseases afflicting the Indian-Trinidadian community must also be commended and continued. Several authors took the opportunity to launch publications.

    What is absent is indepth analyses of the contemporary situation of the Indian presence. There are innumerable issues and challenges which require serious consideration by Indian-Trinidadians and any experts for that matter, as they relate and affect the Indian-Trinidadian community. This exercise will require what Sat Maharaj identified and emphasised, namely, “brain power”.

    The issue of anti-Indian discrimination especially by the State and state institutions is just one. One must be informed though, that an Indian-Trinidadian became Prime Minister, and while in power, there was no social explosion against his administration. His demise was largely self- inflicted. While in power, there were innumerable complaints by Indian-Trinidadians of discrimination. Agriculture was ignored and his regime originated the plan for the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd.

    Indo-Trinidadian exclusion from state power and resources, the demise of the Hindu Credit Union, political union with other states, the economy and national budgeting as it affects Indians, state discrimination, are some issues worth addressing.



  18. Mr. Singh, please include also, the high rates of wife murder, family murder, alcoholism and suicide in the Indo Trinidadian community. Those four are connected to “Indian succes” because in almost every case of wife murder that I have been following over the years, the woman was more succesful than her husband.
    There are some deep, underlying problem that cannot be dealth with by self-congratulation, that have serious implications for young Indian women of all three traditional south Asian belief systems: Hindutva,Islam and Sikhism.

  19. Well Trini culture is certainly not African. There is an obtuse tendency of many to attribute the Western patterns that inundate Trinidadian culture to African, and then claim there is an imbalance between Indian cultural representations and African.

    There is no African Arrival day to recognize the contributions of Africans. In fact there are no holidays in T&T that is distinctly and uniquely associated with Africans, like Pagwah, Indian Arrival Day et al are associated with Indians.

    Some real cockeyed reasoning is presented in this forum whenever the discussion goes along these lines, and it speaks to the lopsided and skewed sense of fairness and balance some walk around with like Chips on their shoulders.

  20. “Indo-Trinidadian exclusion from state power and resources, the demise of the Hindu Credit Union, political union with other states, the economy and national budgeting as it affects Indians, state discrimination?” Can someone please inform me if this character is really refering to my country. Perhaps someone should take him to the ‘suburbs of John John , Never Dirty Movant, Febeau Village Lavantille ,and let us just throw in backward neglected Tobago for good measure, ’ where kinky hair people predominate in constituencies that where controlled by Afro Trini elites since 1956 and poor infrastructures are the norm.
    As strange as this might sound, the pragmatist in me can make me still accept the Panday’s of the world . For the same reasons that Castro cannot be expected to suddenly change his mantra after so many years of defiance , the sly old fox must try to maintain his tenuous grip for what ever it’s worth, or as miniscule the returns might be. What I however find most heart rending is the cult like adoration of a 25 year old educated woman to a leader and political party.
    She claims to admire Mr Panday’s everlasting charisma , wisdom, vigor and endurance,” and so got into politics so as “to be a part of changing our political culture.” She finds lying in politics distasteful , adore folks with big hearts and will remains a staunch UNC since it is the only party in the country “ which has really proven to sincerely care for the people of T&T, and the country as a whole.”


  21. She chupiddee, that’s what. some of us have not moved from crapaud politics: see, that Crapaud looks like me. I votin for my crapaud, right or wrong. No ideas, racism, criminality, corruption, whatever, is my crapaud you talkin bout.

    Now, what you gonna do wid a people like dat?

  22. Ms.L as usual on top of her game when it comes to plain talk. I am not as eloquent as you unfortunately, or have as good a grasp of our local history. Vintage Doc eh? The Crapaud manthra, manifesting itself repeatedly even today. Let’s hear what one of our leading local Black Socrates movement deciple members have to say about sweet , sweet T&T aka Rainbow Country.

  23. Neal, you diminish the argument when you talk down to the level of Black this and Black that. What do you think my relatives named Baboolal and Ali would have to say?

    Watch today’s Express, and comment if you wish on the attitude of Sen. Wade Mark on refusing to quarantine himself after being on a plane with a Swine Flu case or two. Would Dr. Williams have acted like that? I am waiting to see how the duncy UNC people defend that idiotic son of Africa.

  24. Get it straight Ms.L , your ‘relatives Baboolal and Ali’ would disowned in a heartbeat, and even throw you under ‘the symbolic bus,’ if the opportunity presents itself, unless you hold some lofty position of power and influence ,as well as possess a couple millions of dollars in some selected offshore bank accounts across the globe.
    It’s call self love , and a distinctive characteristic that black folks needs to first inculcate ,then indulge in as a first prudent step before seriously trying to fully embrace others , if the end game is to rise up as a people, and most importantly ,the Dark Continent is to eventually become elevated like Europe, or seriously repositioned on a partway to concrete development like that of Asia.
    I however stand corrected , as you might not be too hesitant to remined me.

  25. It’s getting extremely boring reading about Trinis tearing themselves up in shreds whenever the topic of race and culture rears its ugly head.

    On one hand there’s boastful multiculturalism and on the next there’s the great divide. How many more centuries will it take before Trinidad & Tobago can rid itself of this curse.

    I can’t wait for the day when race, gender and all the other equality issues are mere words!

  26. Get it straight Ms.L , your ‘relatives Baboolal and Ali’ would disowned in a heartbeat, and even throw you under ‘the symbolic bus,’ if the opportunity presents itself, unless you hold some lofty position of power and influence ,as well as possess a couple millions of dollars in some selected offshore bank accounts across the globe.
    It’s call self love , and a distinctive characteristic that black folks needs to first inculcate ,then indulge in as a first prudent step before seriously trying to fully embrace others , if the end game is to rise up as a people, and most importantly ,the Dark Continent is to eventually become elevated like Europe, or seriously repositioned on a partway to concrete development like that of Asia.
    I however stand corrected , as you might not be too hesitant to remined me.

    Hear, Hear!!!!!!!!

  27. I am quite curious to know why someone would view the extremely enchanting and invigorating topic of race and culture as boring , a curse ,and ugly? Come on Norma , tell us backward Trinis how your much adored great Northern Metropolitan states such as , Canada, USA, Britain and all of Europe , as well as Australia ,New Zealand treat the subject outside of sweeping it under a carpet and pretend that it never existed. Do you think that our Africans, Asians and Latin American fellows do a more credible job?
    Ah ha , here is a novel idea, let’s hold our breaths and wait like Norma for the day long into the futures when matters of race , gender , and other equality issues, can loose their emotional appeal , and so evolve to become mere words.
    Just lead the way , and we would kindly follow Norma.

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