Thursday 5th June 2003

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Bridging the ethnic gap

Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, must be commended for pledging support for fostering better relations between various ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago.

In response to a promise made by President George Maxwell Richards to start educating different ethnicities about each other, Maharaj vowed that “so long as you pursue that, and as long as the Prime Minister puts that into action, the Maha Sabha and Sat Maharaj...will be with you”.

More poignantly, Mr Maharaj added: “This is our land. We love it.” It is noteworthy that Mr Maharaj and President Richards made their respective promises at a dinner function of the Maha Sabha’s to mark Indian Arrival Day. The holiday, its name the subject of public and political controversy, has become a benchmark date for passionate discussions on race relations in T&T.

With Mr Maharaj, an influential leader in the Indian community, publicly vowing support for Government plans to bridge the ethnic gap in the country, talk on this emotive topic should now turn into action.

In reviewing the history and accomplishments of Indians in T&T, President Richards already has a plan in mind — to appoint a committee to “develop strategies for unearthing such knowledge and presenting it systematically to the national community over a sustained period of 12 months”.

Recognising that polarisation could be “a sign that we need to get to know one another and ourselves better”, President Richard’s plan is a step in the right direction. Whatever constraints the Head of State may face in the operationalisation of this plan, he has given birth to an idea that warrants attention and should not be allowed to fall by the wayside, awaiting the next Indian Arrival Day holiday to come up for discussion again.

With the President’s support, coupled with that of Mr Maharaj, bridging the ethnic divide in T&T can become everybody’s business. As so it should be. It is a fact of life that there is much sharing, culturally especially, between the two major ethnic groups in this country; it is no idle boast that T&T is a multicultural society.

It is also a fact of life that this process is happening, daily and unplanned, among the people of this country, uninfluenced by politics, government policy or official directives. Mr Maharaj must know this; President Richards will learn of it. The ethnic divide is not so glaring as politicians, with an axe to grind and votes to get, make it out to be.

What we expect President Richards’ announcement to now do is to provide the impetus for individuals and groups to bring forth plans and strategies for fostering further cohesion between ethnic groups in T&T. And we expect that the data collection and information process will include the accomplishments and contributions of all ethnic groups in T&T. For, apart from serving to foster ethnic cohesion through an understanding of each other, such information is really the history of Trinidad and Tobago and therefore the nation’s heritage.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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