By Linda E. Edwards
Mixing a callalloo and stirring up a hornet’s nest both involve stirring. One creates a delicious green soup, the other a vicious attack by angry wasps.
Is the issue of the Trinity Cross as the nation’s highest award connected in any way with Indian Arrival Day – now a national celebration of that Muslim ship that brought so many people to Trinidad “looking for wuk”? It depends on who you talk to or listen to.
All of the recent prognostications on the issue, written by people who would like to claim that they are directly descended from that first shipload, are written by people with Hindu names, so I believe that my use of some of the writings of Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate in Economics from India, are apt. His book, The Argumentative Indian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2005) caught my attention at a recent speech he gave. Immediately I saw in my mind the “rumshop” arguments that lead to “buss head and murder”, the conversations I have with Indian friends where a guru is invited to lead the discussion in the search for truth and young twelve year old know-nothing-yets challenge everything, even the Guriji’s statements; the number of Indian lawyers who are arguing before the bar in TnT, Gandhi, as a young lawyer being tossed off the train in South Africa because he thought his suit, far removed from a dhoti, made him a person of higher rank than the Indian shopkeepers in South Africa at the time; and which led to his dedication to the cause of freedom, not only of Indians, but of all people – sainthood sometimes begins with a simple act of malevolence; and of all of the Indians in TnT who have chosen politics as the ultimate outcome of their argumentativeness; so, I bought the book and he autographed it in Hindi. I consider him an authority on his own people.
What he says casts an interesting light on the current argument, revisited by Hindus in TnT, for the removal of the Trinity Cross as the highest national award.
Sen points out, that first of all, India is not a Hindu country as so many people would like to claim, but a secular democracy with a long tradition of religious tolerance. He alludes frequently to the fact that there are more Muslims living happily in India than the entire population of Pakistan (200 million in India, 154 million in Pakistan). India achieved some of it’s highest points of learning under the Pathans and Mungals – Muslim rulers like Akbar Khan, and Shah Jehan. India’s most famous shrine is the Taj Mahal – a tomb built by a Mungal emperor to celebrate his wife Mumtaz Mahal. His most significant point that I want to refer to is the fact that under the rule of the Janata Hindu Party (which was ultimately defeated by the Congress party founded by Nehru, and now run by his granddaughter-in-law, Sonja Gandhi), India began a drastic revisionist program that attempted to rewrite history by writing out the role of the Mungal rulers and the great rulers of faiths other than Hinduism, who helped propel India into the modern secular democracy it is today. To quote him: “History is an active field for the Hinduvta movement, and parts of that movement have been involved in the rewriting of history”, inventing history. “As a result India’s history has become such a battleground” and the Shiv Sena movement, a fairly small militant Hindu movement, had become a dominant force in politics outside the state in which it was founded.
The picture of India as a place of Hindu vs Muslim and Hindu vs Christian conflict, emerged under the Janata Party’s vision of militant revisionist politics.
Around this same time, Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago began loud, almost militant calls for the removal of the Trinity Cross as the nation’s highest award. There were, however, people who had refused it long before this. Their positions, I can accept. Would they settle for Trinity Award? Respecting the three major religions and the three major groups whose cultures created the polyglot society we identify with? Trinity could mean Christian, Hindu and Muslim, it could mean African, European and Indian. No, that is not good enough. In either of those interpretations of Trinity, a non-Hindu group would be named first. That, apparently, would not do at all.
Those of us who grew up in the country know all about house building; you add a second storey, your neighbour must add a third. He has to be above you, no matter what.
Yet, Trinidad and Tobago is a Christian country, in that Mosaic law, obtained from the Ten Commandments, is the basis of the laws of the land. All that pertain to man in the conduct of his affairs with his neighbour, except covetousness, is covered by Mosaic law. Covetousness as it leads to muggings, burglaries, adultery resulting in murder, are covered after the fact of outcome.
We do not stone to death. We do not amputate for theft. We do not immolate people who are living. We consider suicide a crime, but we only punish unsuccessful attempts. Christian churches deny Christian burials for suicides, generally, and Christian prayers are read over those condemned to die at the hands of the state, except if a specific wish for other prayers are made. When the Widows and Orphans Fund of the old Police Service was set up, Christian principles dictated that someone needs to provide for the untimely death of a breadwinner. The concept of the Good Samaritan, that requires us to render roadside assistance to victims of accidents and other trauma, comes from our Christian principles. I am aware that people of other faiths are Good Samaritans also.
Mosaic law also dictates most of what Muslims do, but what was taught in the making of a Trinidadian, what the Golden Rule teaches, is based on Christian principles.
Even in Government schools, El Socorro Government was where I began teaching in 1956, grace before meals and after and the singing of a hymn was prevalent. At Arima Girl’s Government “Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessings” was the daily fare. Heaven help you if Ms. Cleveland or Ms. Blackett found you not singing.
These were the principles, founded on four hundred and more years of Christianity on the island that we took into Independence. Granted that under British and Spanish rule a whole lot of barbaric things were done in the name of God. In other parts of the world, equally barbaric behaviour was done in the name of their deities. We have moved beyond the barbaric in most ways except the death penalty and wife killing. We have recently gone there in terms of child sexual abuse. That, too, is a world wide phenomenon, that we are taking to ultimate horror levels.
Great Britain awards the Victoria Cross for bravery in battle. Indians have won it, Pathans(Afghanis) have won it. West Indians have won it. I am sure Hindus from India have won it. No matter how many Hindus and Muslims live in England, and each group there far outnumber the entire population of Trinidad and Tobago, they would not dream of asking to have the Victoria Cross renamed. If an Indian, from either hemisphere, and note that they never want to be called West Indians, only Indians, is offered a knighthood by the Queen of the Commonwealth, they become a Commander of the Order of St.Michael and St. George. They cannot have the name of the order changed to Order of Vishnu or Lakshmi. Similarly, if a distinguished Trinidadian had done some significant work for India, and they were being offered an award of merit of the Government of India, they would not dare ask that it be renamed because of their Christian sensitivities. If they worked for France, they could earn the legion of Honour or the Croix de Guerre, which is a cross. Would they ask for a lotus flower or a lamp?
We need to assert that Trinidad and Tobago is a country founded on Christian principles – which, simply stated is “Love thy neighbour as thyself, and as I have loved you.” Words attributed to Christ. It says nothing about replacing thyself with thy neighbor. It was a Christian country when it moved from Spain to Britain, before the Fatel Razack came to its shores. It will remain one, although a recent conversation with the consul of a South American country in Houston left me stunned when he said, “Oh yes, I know about Trinidad and Toabgo, it’s an English Speaking Christian Country with a Hindu government.” He spoke in tones of derision, it seemed to me. My instant retort was “Not any more, and their leader is in jail.” (He was at the time). How could such a statement be made in May of 2006? I wondered if the Trinidad and Tobago Consul in Houston still thinks so too. She was appointed by that Hindu Government, at a time when the BHP was funding militant Hinduism in the only four places where it could be profitable – India itself, Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. This information did not come from Dr. Sen’s book, but from another Indian economist who regretted it to me, at a meeting in Canada in 2000, when I was the one who insisted that foods containing meat products be served at a different table, because there were three Hindus there who ate nothing the first day. (We were way out in the countryside, and nothing was available for sale). I was practicing “love thy neighbor”. He became very cordial to me, and that knowledge must have bothered his conscience. He expiated it.
In a previous piece I wrote about two years ago, I suggested the Order of the Marigold – with three marigold flowers, the Order of the Crescent Moon, repeated three times, and call them all Orders of the Trinity. Then, depending on professed faith and culture, the recipient could designate which medal he/she wants.
It is now obvious that that will not do. What some groups seem to want is a total destruction of the foundations on which Trinidad and Tobago was built. Would we remove “God Bless Our Nation” from the National Anthem next? Would we forbid the service at Trinity Cathedral that opens the Judicial year?
Would we then rename towns like St. Joseph, San Juan and San Fernando? And what of the Trinity Hills from which the country got its name? Should all children of Indian descent cease to go to Trinity College? What kind of a country would we have then? When a religious fanatic wanted to get his own way, partition of India resulted in the creation of Pakistan as a separate state. Further fractioning on the Indian subcontinent resulted in a bloody war between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. India came to the aid of East Pakistan which named itself Bangladesh. Do we want this in Trinidad and Tobago? Is this the implication in some statements of the “or else?”
We cannot be two or three nations under God. Which part will be deserving of His blessings?
The way we are going these days, the One Nation needs it. One nation with a Trinity of peoples, a Trinity of religions.