Replying to Vijay Naraynsingh
By Marion O’Callaghan
Monday, August 27 2007
I had mapped out in my mind what I would write for this Monday of the week of Independence Day Celebrations when lo and behold I come across Prof Vijay Naraynsingh’s address at the Fourth Mahant Ramdass Award Celebrations. I say to myself, “there goes again any hope of our living up to the promises of Independence and of a Republic.”
There is the list of wrongs which, according to Prof Vijay Naraynsingh, has been done to Hindus. These wrongs are not only in Trinidad and Tobago but “the Ugandan oppression of Hindus was political, so was Fiji, so Kenya and so Guyana.” Maybe but it is what is omitted by Prof Naraynsingh which permits us to understand that politics. Yes there was tension between African and Indian in Uganda. When Obote was Prime Minister however, the Ghais — to name one family — held posts at the university and was integrated into the broader Uganda society. It was the fall of Obote while he was attending a meeting where he had called for a stricter boycott of Apartheid South Africa, which brought in Idi Amin and triggered the expulsion of Indians.
Tanzania and Mozambique
Some of those Indians, including the Ghais, went to Tanzania. In Tanzania under Nyere, nothing of the sort happened. Indeed the Cassim sisters continued to be advisers to Nyere. Kenya was marked by a large wealthy European settlement and an armed struggle for Independence about which Indians were generally ambiguous. In the Nairobi of the end of the 1960s I was refused service in an Indian restaurant. I hasten to add that it was the only time that this happened in spite of my many journeys to East Africa and my liking for curry. In Mozambique Aquino de Braganzia was one of President Samora Machel’s closest associates and died with Machel in a famous air crash outside of Maputo. In South Africa Frene Gingwale, having represented the ANC in Dar-es-Salaam and in London, became the first Speaker of the House after the Mandela-ANC electoral victory. Now these differences are nowhere in prof Naraynsingh’s address. Hindus —nobody else, no Muslim Indians, none of the Ismaili Aga Khan Muslims powerful in East Africa, no Christian Indians, no Parsees, no Blacks, no Hutu, only Hindus are being oppressed.
May I add and underline that India’s struggle for Independence, Gandhi and Nehru became the inspiration for many of us. They inspired Dr Eric Williams. He visited India before Africa and few would have understood his phrase “recalcitrant minority” as would Nehru, himself fighting communalism within India.
It is this complexity that Prof Naraynsingh omits in order to present a picture of Hindus being universally oppressed — by Africans or like groups as in Fiji. Not a word about discrimination in Europe where Indians, like the rest of us are immigrants.
Outpouring of sympathy
This selective information is particularly worrying when it is about ourselves. Take Prof Naraynsingh’s version of what happened recently when Murtis were destroyed at the Temple by the Sea. Yes, the Murtis were destroyed. Yes there was an attempt to burn down the Sewdass Sadhu Temple. Yes some policeman remarked that it could be about rum drinking. But there is something else — the immense outpouring of solidarity with Hindus over the destruction of their Murtis. The condemnation of the acts against the Temple by the Sea and the destruction of the Murtis came not only from mainstream religions but from the anti-any image religions: from Muslims, Pentecostals, Evangelicals as well as from every organised religion. Sympathy with Hindus was spontaneous as were offers of help. Now this changes the story. It is no longer about Hindus under pressure. Take any of the items that Prof Naraynsingh enumerates to make his case for Hindus under attack for no other reason except that they are Hindus and his case falls apart. The Chief Justice case? But Desmond Allum who has supported the CJ throughout is not a Hindu. He isn’t even an Indian. Selby Wooding, who insists that the Chief Magistrate cannot be allowed to refuse to give evidence in a court and things go on as usual, is not a Hindu. He is not an Indian.
Even the Devant Maharaj Lottery Board case where a number of things happened which should certainly not have happened, or discrimination (which there was ) against the Maha Sabha with regard to a radio licence, could as easily be described as politics as it can be described as anti-Hinduism. After all Hindus cannot claim direct involvement in politics as religiously necessary for all Hindus, and at the same time expect to be treated as a religious entity interested only in praising the Almighty and morality. If we follow Prof Naraynsingh alone, they are not. They are interested in taking power. The very Bhadase Maraj quoted with great approval by Prof Naraynsingh, consolidated some Hindu factions as the Maha Sabha did the same with the sugar unions, launched into a major school building programme, founded two political parties — and used communal populist politics.
It follows that political parties who are also interested in taking power or who are in power may treat Hindus as planning their downfall and to supplant them. In that crazy period when it was known that elections were in the air, it is possible, just possible that a PNM government did not wish an additional opposition radio programme and perceived a Maha Sabha radio station as likely to be just that. This in no way changes the fact of discrimination. It does change the likely reason for discrimination.
May I add that I remain doubtful of Prof Naraynsingh’s contention of an eternally existing link between Hindus and politics. This would be practically impossible in a caste society where King and Priest belonged to different castes.
Let’s face the truth as we celebrate the anniversary of our Independence. We cannot tackle a single problem as long as Hindus, with one-fifth of the country’s population, are deluded into believing that they can, by establishing hegemonic control over all Hindus then over all Indians, take political power and rule in Hindu interests. It ain’t going to happen. The same dream, ie, the Hindu India of RSS and VHP, lasted only the length of a BJP period in government.
Prof Vijay Naraynsingh’s analysis of Hindus and politics comes to the conclusion that, after following a leader “for some 40 years the Hindus are now Caroni-less, landless, jobless, penniless and almost hopeless. We are dragged through courts, dismissed from strategic positions and denied opportunities using State resources.” Now this kind of language is familiar — it is the kind of race-populism which has led to disaster in the lifetime of many of us. What then does Prof Naraynsingh propose? “Every Hindu leader, every pundit, every temple group must come together and make firm decisions about the political future of Hindus.” It is the end of democracy, of a secular state and of a Republic.
Luckily for us, there is no way that this race-populism can win an election in spite of our dangerous predilection for communalism. It won’t even get the vote of all Hindus. Thanks be to God. All that it does is divert our attention from what we are, and what we can be.
Temple and Doctor
If I had my way on Independence Day I would have read in all the Republic’s schools the story of Sewdass Sadhu and the Temple by the Sea. I would tell of the indentured immigrant who wished to build a home for his deities in a country that was now his home. I would tell of how he braved years, prison and the power of Tate and Lyle to build his Temple, monument to Trini courage.
I would have read in all the nation’s schools the story of Caroline McShine, the immigrant from St Vincent, domestic servant at the Siegerts whose husband had left her to bring up five children in that tough area called Behind the bridge. Yes the story of how Caroline McShine’s son Arthur Hutton McShine studied by the street light for the coveted “exhibition” while his brother stood guard. And how Arthur Hutton McShine went to QRC and on to win a scholarship, become a doctor and the City’s Mayor.
I would tell the story of Captain AA Cipriani, the “French Creole” Corsican, who captained his troops in the First World War, and there in the deprivation of war, asked himself the same question that Eamon De Valera or Michael Collins asked. Why was he fighting for the freedom of “small countries” when his own “small country” was not free and when there, in a war for freedom, his own Trinis who were not white were twice unfree. And so Cipriani returned to become a trade union leader, Mayor of Port-of-Spain and perhaps the greatest of our leaders.
I would tell the story of Beryl McBurnie who translated customs and folktales into dance and founded the Little Carib Theatre, and the story of Pan. Sweet Pan from cast off garbage can covers. And I would tell of another Naipaul, that Naipaul that we rarely meet, and who in his speech of acceptance of the Nobel Prize rooted himself, not in India but in Chaguanas, carrying us beyond our pretensions and his.