Sacrifice of people for power


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 10 Oct 04


I’m back. It’s only by going away “not far, to a perfectly friendly space in another paper” for less than a year, but far enough to realise that we each inhabit a space that is not just physical, but mental.


Writing columns in the Trinidad Guardian forced me to be an active witness to life in Trinidad from the mid-nineties into the 21st century.


The battle now is over the Budget, to put it bluntly. How will the pie be divided up? Will poor Africans be “given” more than poor East Indians?


The battle is not for promoting literacy—a shocking 40 per cent of our population can only read and understand headlines, and over 300,000 people are totally illiterate—not my figures, ask ALTA, the adult literacy group, or researchers at UWI.


The battle is not to push more young people to attend university. Our tertiary education figures are among the lowest even in the Caribbean so we can stop our superiority complex now. We have the oil bucks but our brains are going down the drain.


The battle is not about making every poor, illiterate, person become self reliant, or to provide decent health care for ordinary people.


No, each political side is fighting to throw crumbs at people as if we are mindless dogs with one beady eye towards the next elections.


In recent issues this paper has been holding up an unmistakable mirror to our society—photojournalism at its best, one face with the map of four continents—there is Chinese, Spanish, African, Syrian. Another beautiful face, a blend of India and Africa. You can separate people with party cards, but try and divide this face up, try and apportion this feature to this race, and this hair to that. Their existence should shame those who sacrifice nationality, patriotism to race.


Let’s get one thing clear. Whether it was of their own choosing or not, the Africans and Indians who came here generations back, then mingled with the Europeans, and Asians severed roots when they dropped their languages, the core of every culture. But they did come with memory, and that was used to create separate valid necessary cultural identities but also a collective national one.


Now to take people of the new world with a mutating, distinct identity (mother India, mother Africa are little more than a dream-memory isn’t reality) and pitch them into an African/East Indian battle is a Machiavellian grab for power.


Let me go back, before I move forward to show you the circularity of things, to convince you of the enigmatic truth in the idea that more things change, the more they stay the same.


In a 2002 column written in this space, a mother travelling from India to Trinidad is speaking to her child.


“We are going to a place which, though small, is the gathering place for peoples of the world. You will see the elderly Chinese man sitting under Poui blossoms in the Savannah, the Syrian who handles brocades lovingly, the blonde French Creole and the dark African noisily cheering for an Indian player at a cricket game, jhandis swaying in yards, blanched petticoats worn by Baptists ballooning in shaded water.


“A place so free you can wear salvaar khameez at the Temple, walk bare feet on its cool parapet in the morning and wander around in bikinis on hot beaches in the afternoon. You will hear strains of pan mingle with the power of the Azaan on loudspeakers from mosques during Ramadan; and in a pub not far from either, dance to calypso music.”


Is this Budget going to be about sacrificing people for power? The more things change the more they remain the same.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur