Afro-Trini Hindu charges bias against judge

July 08, 2007

HinduAn Afro-Trinidadian Hindu man has complained about a High Court judge whom he said “rolled up his eyes” and “shook his head” when the man asked to be sworn in on the Bhagavad Gita before he gave evidence in a court case.

Presley Roberts, 40, in a letter dated June 5, wrote to Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma as the head of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, charging bias on the part of the judge, also an Afro-Trinidadian.

Roberts, a foreign-used car dealer, said he had a matter in the Port-of-Spain High Court on June 1, and when he went into the witness box, the judge asked him his religion.

“I told him I am a Hindu. He looked at me, rolled up his eyes then told the lady clerk to sit down and told me to sit down as he has to think about this a little while.

“He then told the clerk to swear me in and after I was sworn in, he again asked me if I was a Hindu.

“I again answered yes, and the judge shook his head and then asked me whether I was born a Hindu,” Roberts wrote.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian at his Chin Chin, Cunupia, home on Friday evening, Roberts said he was born a Roman Catholic and converted to Hinduism in 1976 after he had became ill and doctors were unable to find out what was wrong with him.

He said after his parents took him to a Hindu temple, he got better and since then, he had participated in pujas and done other Hindu rituals. He said only last month, he conducted pujas for Mother Lakshmi and Lord Shiva at a temple at Pasea Road, Tunapuna.

Roberts said the judge asked him if his parents were Hindus and he said they were Christians.

Although, Roberts wore a pendant on Friday, he said he was not against other religions. He said when he goes to Japan, he even worships in Buddhist temples.

In the courtroom, Roberts said the judge had asked him to which caste he belonged.

“I told him I did not understand what he meant. He looked at me with scorn on his face. I felt very uncomfortable and hurt. I felt the judge was bias,” Roberts wrote to the Chief Justice.

“I believe that the judge could not understand how I, as an Afro-Trinidadian, could be a Hindu and it seems as though from his conduct and comments to me, he has a problem with Hinduism.”

In his letter, Roberts said: “I believe that from the questions that the judge asked me and from his behaviour that I would not get true justice in the matter before him.”

He said he eventually gave evidence in the matter and is to be cross-examined.

Roberts has asked the Chief Justice to investigate his complaint with a view to his getting justice, saying “the public should know what the judge did because judges should not treat persons who come before the courts in the way I was treated.”

Roberts said he has copied the letter to several people including President Max Richards, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, UNC political leader Basdeo Panday, the head of the Inter-Religious Organisation, to the judge in question and to his lawyers.

Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu organisation in the country, said anyone could be a Hindu once he practises the ways of a Hindu.

He said there were “quite a number of Afro-Trinidadians who practise Hinduism.”

Maharaj said he felt offended when reading Roberts’ letter and intends to take up the matter with President Richards, the JLSC and acting Chief Justice Roger Hamel-Smith.

He said a judge must perform his duty fearlessly and impartially.

The Sunday Guardian gave a copy of Roberts’ letter to Ayesha Scott, of the Court Protocol and Information Office, for a response from the judge in question and from acting Chief Justice Roger Hamel-Smith. Up to yesterday there was no response.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

4 thoughts on “Afro-Trini Hindu charges bias against judge”

  1. In my view, there is not a clear case of bias here at all. The judge saw something that is unusual and he probably was aware of the views of the dominant Hindu voices in the nation, especially Sat Maharaj, who has previously stated that one has to be born a Hindu to be a Hindu. Their often stated position ruled out conversion. There may be other sects that share different views on this but I have never heard any of them state a different position to the no conversion concept.

    The Guardian report is giving a different position from Sat Maharaj:

    “Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu organisation in the country, said anyone could be a Hindu once he practises the ways of a Hindu.”

    This is a 180% change in position and is the first time I am hearing this. When did Sat Maharaj change his position on this? Is he now taking this position to exploit the situation? When has Sat Maharaj ever accepted an African as a Hindu? Sat Maharaj’s position on conversion was also made around the same time he said he would disown his daughter if she marries an African or anyone outside his religion.

    Roberts said he did not understand what the judge meant when he asked him which caste he belongs to and this can be as a result of him not understanding the nature of Hinduism.

    Besides the convenient changing of position by Sat Maharaj there are still other aspects of this story that are worth discussing.

  2. I usually agree with Heru but I can’t on this occasion. To me there seems to be complete bias. Rolling of eyes by a Judge? Roberts appears to know more about Hiduism than many, including the judge. Hinduism is NOT an organized religion as Sat Mahraj would have you believe. Just because he is the loudest one, doesn;t mean he speakes for all. Each Hindu family worship in their own way and have their own interpretations.

    The judges behaviour is a reflection of a larger problem in the whole of Trinidad. I remember a friend of mine’s mother was at the hospital and when the nurse called for Mrs. (Indian name) she stood up, the nurse, like a hog, asked her if she can’t understand English and to sit back down. It did not occure to the nurse that this woman may be married to a man of Indian descent and hence a black woman with an Indian name.

    I salute Mr Roberts because I’m sure he deals with that sort of treatment on a daily basis from “fellow” Hindus but practices a basic right under the T&T constitution of freedom of thought. It is completely wrong than someone who is supposed to be unbiased treat him in such a way.

  3. hi i am dhaval from india i believe after hearing this case that the judge should be held behind the bars being a hindu i am telling this because the judge is a respected person and he must have that much capability of giving impartial justice .

  4. The judges behavior reflects the majority opinion of the people Trinidad. I have been around people of Indian decent who snicker when the see or hear about Africans who are Hindus. And I have been around Africans who snicker when they see and hear about Indians being Christians.
    It seems to me that there is an unofficial caste system in this country and that your race decides what religion you should belong. This shows the ignorance, when it comes to religion, of the people of Trinidad. Which is amazing considering how much Trinidadians like to brag about being well educated. They are quick to recite O-Levels and A-Levels to you, but when asked about the other race that they live next to all you will get from them are stereotypes and prejudice.
    Trinidadians need to free thier minds of all this prejudice and learn to accept people for what they are, not what they think they should be. Lets try a world where an African can be a Hindu, an Indian can be a Christian, or they can be whatever religion they want.
    A Guru was once asked his opinion on missionaries converting Hindus. He said he was in favor of it. He said that you might have a person who was unhappy being Hindu but happy as a Christian, and also unhappy Christian who would be happy Hindus.That it didnt matter what religion you were as long as you were happily worshipping God.

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