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Order of the Republic Exclusionary
Posted: Saturday, December 9, 2006

By Stephen Kangal
December 09, 2006

I have never ceased to agonise in mental pain at the continuing undue pressures being exerted on our Indian community to exercise constant and eternal vigilance geared to curb and correct the natural predilection of some public decision-makers in Trinidad and Tobago to exclude its presence from public symbols that claim by depicting selectively to represent the cultural diversity of our multicultural landscape. The absence of Indian names of public buildings and notably roadways are relevant in this regard.

Readers will recall that the first stimulus provided to review the symbolic Christian domination of the Trinity Cross Award was initiated by the late Pundit Krishna of my hometown of Caroni and the Mahasabha. He refused to accept the Trinity Cross. His "ratio dicidendi" was that the Christian Cross that was pivotal to our highest National Award insignia was inconsistent with the constitutional principle of equality of creed in a multicultural secular society such as T&T.

Now the Order of the Republic (OTR) that will replace the Trinity Cross emblazons a different but the same brand of exclusiveness. The OTR pays visible homage only to cultural emblems of both the First Peoples (Amerindians) and our African community. It deliberately excludes from its mosaic the inclusion of any clear motif depicting the outstanding cultural and other contributions of the Indian community that makes up 44 % of us. It is in fact using an African artifact to represent the Indian community. Was there any Indian input into the conceptualisation and design processes?

Is 'Indian' a bad word in T&T? Is it politically correct to place, "… the feathered headdress of an Amerindian chief," (that incidentally is the logo of the President of Guyana) to crest the OTR and simultaneously to exclude any remote symbol or "pagree" of an Indian indenture whose blood and sweat fertilized King sugar? Readers will recall the cultural exclusiveness of the "Soca Warriors" label even though the Indo-T&T community patriotically rallied around the team. There was a cry for the more inclusive name of "Soca-Chutney Warriors" that fell on deaf and unreceptive ears.

The principal vehicle/base used for delivering the message in the OTR is the tenor-pan as set out in the accompanying official description. Could not a motif of a tassa drum have been embedded in one of the 12 empty spaces of the musical scales? Will this not have powerfully transmitted the current natural process of cross-fertilisation of our cultures (pan-chutney) as well? Will this have distorted the empirical correctness of the tenor pan on the OTR? By what stretch of my artistic imagination then can the 12 notes of the tenor pan be artificially and misleadingly considered a legitimate symbolic representation, "…of the many social and cultural contributions to the life of this country"? That is, seeing T&T through the eyes of an Afro-Trinbagonian.

The tenor pan is a real physical instrument. It is not a creation of a visual artistic mind in the medallion that may be amenable to the kind of misleading and propagandistic symbolism that is attributed to it in the OTR.

The inclusion of the two pan sticks adds to the tenor pan in a real and not symbolic sense. You cannot attribute symbolic meaning and interpretations to a physical fact that is the outstanding cultural creation of the African community in T&T even if many non-Africans play the pan with distinction. This is misrepresentation - pure and simple - throwing dust in Indian faces. This is a poor justification for exclusion and ample and convincing evidence why unity is so elusive in this society. The heavy price to be paid for subscribing to cosmetic unity in T&T is the surrender and abdication of your cultural and linguistic distinctiveness and personality that make up and underpin the rich crust of our diversity. That is anonymity by another name.

The design of the OTR is therefore ethnically exclusive and culturally insensitive in a society in which "mixed communities" now constitute the basic policy and philosophy of diversity appreciation. What of the Chinese community that celebrated its bicentennial this year? Did they not make an exemplary social and economic contribution that may surpass that of the Amerindians and is excluded as well? Is the distinctive tribute paid to the Amerindians in the depiction of the headdress of the Amerindian chief in the design of the OTR an emotional response and/or a compensating factor to mitigate for past historical neglect by the nationalist movement? Or is it because Mr. Ricardo Bharath, the PNM deputy Mayor of Arima, is the head of the Santa Rosa Amerindian community?

The natural habitat of the national bird, the Scarlet Ibis, decked in their flaming red plumage is the Caroni Swamp. It is not the SW Peninsula as is stated in the accompanying description. Is there an aversion to attributing anything national or exemplary to Caroni at Whitehall?

The elaboration of the design elements in the last sentence of (iii) makes a fleeting and wholly erroneous summation about the "harmonious whole" arising from the distillation of the "many social and cultural contributions". What invisible hand distilled these separate cultural forces and where is the "harmonious whole" when the Regiment and Police Bands refuse to play Chutney music at National Parades and Indian musical expressions are accorded mere cosmetic representation in national/State events?

If the architects of the OTR are thinking of the natural flow of the cross- fertilisation process that is in fact taking place slowly but surely (cross over music) then I have made above a suggestion by which this can be effectively transmitted to the national and OTR recipient community.

I do not understand, with respect, what is meant in the second part of the last sentence of Section (iii). That is meaningless elegance of language that can be safely expunged from the unnecessary and ambiguous verbiage.

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