Basdeo Panday achieved in two years what Dr. Eric Williams, A.N.R. Robinson and Patrick Manning failed to do after 41 years
As the Shouters Baptist community commemorates its release from the colonial shackles, gratitude must be extended to Albert Gomes and Basdeo Panday for the role they played in making this day a national day.
The Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1917 granted to the Constabulary Force the powers to arrest any two or three Shouters gathered to engage in worship and that the decision of any magistrate was final. This law was oppressive and demonstrated the disrespect the Christian State had for non-Christian practices.
In 1951, on March 30, this oppressive ordinance was repealed by the Albert Gomes Government, thus allowing the Shouters to practice their religions. Though a syncretic faith- combining Christianity with African rites and rituals- the Shouters were marginalized by the established churches. Nevertheless, these Shouter Baptists persisted with their faith when in 1997 the Basdeo Panday-led UNC Government granted them a public holiday on March 30, the anniversary of the repeal of the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance of 1951.
Earl Lovlace’s Wine of Astonishment was a commentary on the life of the Shouter Baptist community during those oppressive years when they had to survive under those draconian laws. The Shouters retreated to the jungle in the dead of the night to worship and should they be caught they would be handcuffed with ropes and paraded through the streets in single file to appear before the magistrate.
The “descent and respectable” Trinidadians in those years would label those non-Christian faiths like Orisha, Hinduism and Islam and anything non-Christian as demonic and must be uprooted from society. Doon Pandit, had his temple raided by a constable who charged that he was practicing obeah. Luckily, the donations made by devotees were given to the Red Cross Society for charity, thus giving the police no ground to make an arrest.
Non- Christian marriages were illegal and their children were deemed bastards, without legal title to inheritance from the parents. Dr. Brinsley Samaroo, in his research, has documented several such families who had their estates forfeited by opportunists in collaboration with the State apparatus.
The commemoration of Shouter Baptist Day should remind the population that the PNM elites are Afro Saxons with resentment for indigenous cultures and religious practices. Hindus should never forget that it was the Government led by Albert Gomes with Roy Joseph as Minister of Education that granted permission for the Maha Sabha to build schools.
In 1956 when the PNM came to power its first act was to stop the Maha Sabha’s school building program. Balgobin Ramdeen, a former Member of Parliament, in his book “Untold Tales” said that Dr. Eric Williams was on a ‘meet the people tour’ when he visited a school in Tamana and noticed a school shut. He enquired form an officer ‘why is that school closed?” and was told that “that was one of the school you asked not to open.” There and then Dr. Williams instructed the officer to have the school open. A total of six schools had to be abandoned as the PNM Government refused to open them.
Today, the prejudices of the PNM of the 1950s continues unabated by Dr. Keith Rowley in the 21st century by his refusal to open the newly constructed Ramai Trace Hindu in Penal and the Reform Hindu School in Gasparillo.
The question must be: Had Basdeo Panday not granted a public day to the Shouters, would the PNM have granted it? It was after 41 years of rule by Christian Prime Ministers- Dr. Eric Williams -30 years, A.N.R. Robinson-5 years, Patrick Manning-5 years- that a Hindu Prime Minister, after only two years in power, saw the value in granting a public day to the Shouters.
It appears that some of us have fallen in love with the prejudices and biases of our colonial past. If we cannot transit out of this time slot, our society would continue to implode to the detriment of all.