Social change cannot be legislated, Father Hariss

Social change cannot be legislated, Father Hariss

Photo : Archbishop Joseph Hariss

Archbishop of Port of Spain, Father Joseph Harris conveyed his happiness that the Miscellaneous (Marriages) Bill making 18 years and above the legal age for marriage was passed in the Parliament. He said that he sees it as a cultural change. This is baffling to me. I don’t understand how passing legislation can bring about culture change. It is my view that change cannot be legislated and that it comes about by change of attitude and values.

The debate surrounding the child marriage act was not about social progress but an attempt to denigrate the Hindu community which was asking that the age be 16 years with the consent of parents and even the court if necessary. Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Maha Sabha, the largest Hindu organization, was at pain to point out the reality that few Hindu girls are getting married at age 16 and that the majority are registered at tertiary level institutions pursuing studies. But the Maha Sabha’s viewpoint was ignored by the Government while the Hindu Women’s minority view was lauded and praised.

What is hypocritical of the Attorney General and his government is that the social reality of teenage pregnancy that is a feature of urban slums is not being addressed. Everyone but the Archbishop and the Attorney General and his government, knows that girls are having babies as early as 14 years and when they reach 18 they have 2-4 children with absentee fathers. These teenaged mothers are generally left to fend for themselves and their children, eventually becoming a burden to society.

In an address at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port of Spain Father Hariss said that this nation was sick and needed healing. What was alarming about the report “TT is Sick” (Newsday, Saturday May 27, 2017) was that the Archbishop did not identify the social issues that are destroying the nation. It is this half-hearted approach to understanding social issues that explains why teenage mothers, vagrancy, suicide, addiction, etc are so rampant in our society.

Father Harris appears to come alive when it is time to “pelt stones” at the Hindu community. Chalkdust was never condemned by Archbishop for his vitriolic attacks on Sat Maharaj, Secretary General of the Maha Sabha and the Hindu community. The Archbishop should have chastised Chalkdust and prod him to sing about the success of the Maha Sabha’s schools, the low crime rate among Hindus compared with Roman Catholics and other denominations, strong family bonds, a culture  of hard work and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit.

I would like Father Hariss to address the trend of elderly men dying and leaving behind younger common-law wives and children. This was seen recently when a former minister of government died and his common-law wife was featured with a baby girl. What is the future of that child growing up without her biological father dead? Here is a case of another single mother to work, make groceries, cook, do the laundry, attend PTA meeting, supervise child’s homework, nurse her when she falls ill, etc. What is father Harris doing about this culture? Or, are these women his version of “superwoman?” These mothers and their children are hurting. Not surprisingly, research is now revealing that there are more than 400 children in the school system with “displayed signs of mental stress.” What is Father Hariss’s view on this developing issue?

What is Father Hariss saying about the reality that two conglomerates appear to have the government in their back-pocket. Instead of diversifying the economy the Rowley-led government is facilitating these vampire business elite by shutting down companies such as Caroni Green Ltd so that they can continue to import and distribute goods. The failure of the government to address the diversification of the economy is cause for concern. We need a culture of change here. No longer can we continue that lie that “oil and gas is raja.”  What was Father Hariss’s  point of view on the mismanagement of Petrotrin by the Malcom Jones-led board?

What is Father Hariss’s position on the corruption and hiccups in the present Cabinet? Is that the “sickness” he is talking about? Possibly! The Daryl Smith and Shamfa Cudjoe’s mismanagement of public funds is so childish-running up a phone bill of $59,000 in four days and sleeping in a hotel and driving around Tobago in rented vehicles. Not surprisingly Dr Rowley had to describe their “mismanagement” as juvenile and inexperienced? What is Father Hariss’s take on these matters? And what is happening in the EFCL? Is this a reality? This is mismanagement galore!  The audacity of the directors of EFCL to absent from a sitting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament is a slap on the face of democracy and the sanctity of Parliament. What is Father Hariss’s view on these matters?

But this is the culture of the west. The residents of this geographical community-rich, poor and dispossessed- have all concluded that the people “south of the Caroni” are the problem in T&T.  It is the opinion of the “lumpen elements” that Basdeo Panday is the “father of racism”  and that Indian youths drive cars that their parents purchased for them from corruption money. Is Father Hariss aware of such diabolic propaganda? The mansions, luxurious cars, yatchts of the conglomerate class are never noticed by this socially disadvantaged group. They have been brainwashed and programmed to view the people south of the Caroni as responsible for their failing social condition.

And this is exactly what Father Hariss is saying. He is happy for the “culture change” but ignoring the reality of households in the urban ghettos. I want to assure Father Hariss that the social conditions of Hindus are far from being excellent but that we are actively managing our affairs. While we appreciate his concerns, it would be better that he directs his energies to assist the poor and misguided in the urban slums.