Monday 5th June, 2006

Prakash Persad
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Crossing the rainbow

Cultural insensitivity is not an attribute of which to be proud, more so in a land of many peoples in which “tolerance” is a watchword/motto.

There can be no argument that the naming of the highest award of the land as the Trinity Cross constitutes cultural insensitivity of the highest order. So why the huge resistance to rectify this historical mistake?

Justice Peter Jamadar, in a well-researched and written judgment, has confirmed the arguments of those seeking a religious neutral name and has now given a legal basis for the struggle.

It is indeed more than passing strange that in a secular country, legal battles would have to be fought to separate church and state.

One is further befuddled and saddened when the Attorney General of T&T, one of the most diverse countries in the world, would claim victory in a court case that results in the preserving of this cultural inequity. One could not be faulted for thinking that he should be leading the charge to have the name changed.

The Government is urged to make this long needed and awaited change. The fact that previous governments did not effect it is a reflection of their unwillingness to exorcise this historical lagahoo. The ghost of the past should not be allowed to unduly influence the present.

Recognition for services rendered to country should be an occasion for joy and merriment. For citizens professing to the Hindu and Muslim faiths, who constitute nearly one-third the population, acceptance would pose a serious and traumatic dilemma.

This is an untenable state of affairs, unless it is expected they are unlikely to be recipients or that they would be willing, in the case that they are nominated, to casually dismiss their religious beliefs and compulsions.

The argument that the movement to have this name change is an anti-Christian one is totally without merit. Yes, the Hindus and Muslims have been the leading proponents for the change. But note they have not been asking for Hindu or Muslim symbolism, imagery or names.

They have been asking for a religious-neutral name. So there is clearly no intent to push, inflict or impose their beliefs on the population or State.

On the other hand, if Christians insist on keeping the name, irrespective of the reasons they advance, they are guilty of supporting an unjustifiable (in the context of a secular state and a plural society) inequality on the population. The question then they have to ask themselves is: do they really believe in the saying “Do onto others as you want them to do onto you?”

The IRO’s belief in the brotherhood of man is put into question since it has yet to support the call for change, one that not only rectifies this indigestible cultural and religious hegemony, but also seeks to bring about equality and equity.

One would assume that this is an issue that would have had its unreserved support. One is hard-pressed to comprehend how non-Christian members could continue to serve in or belong to an organisation that does not act to change or speak out against such discrimination and inequity.

This issue has the potential to create even greater divisions in an already divided society. Indeed, if it does not act, one would be forced to question the utility, function and rationale for the continued existence of the IRO.

To the apologists who claim that there are many more pressing issues that are facing the country, I say to them that they should curb the nonsensical spouting. Some one-third of the population feel that this is very important to their psychological well-being.

Furthermore, are they saying that as a nation we are incapable of dealing with more than one issue at any instant in time?

To the charlatans and the ignorant who claim that the cross is not a Christian symbol or that it is a Hindu symbol, please check any reputable dictionary, encyclopaedia or the judgment of the eminent Justice Jamadar. In fact, as a public service I would propose that this judgment be made available for public consumption through the Internet and/or the print media.

It is indeed incredibly amazing that this award, which violates the principles emanating from the national anthem, one that violates the basic principles of natural justice, that does grave violence to the concept of plurality and publicly mocks the idea that we are a secular state, still exists. We cannot change the past but must learn from it.

We should not use the unwillingness and or inability of others in the past as an excuse to not rectify this historical injustice. They have already been judged.

Are we, in the here and now, prepared be like them or are we prepared to fully subscribe to the idea of a plural diversity, one of harmony in diversity, a shining, colourful rainbow coalition.

Please, let not the cross cast a shadow over our rainbow.

Prakash Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc

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