Friday, February 23, 2018

Protest contest


Mark Fraser

 According to a report in the T&T Guardian this week, the Highway Re-Route Movement led by Dr Wayne Kublalsingh “has angered the Hindu community”.

Thribowhan—no, that’s not five typos—Seegobin, who heads the Hindu Festivals Society and the 240,100 Hindus in this country, was upset the movement’s protesters had thrown alcohol on a bulldozer. “I am disappointed that a beer would be used in a protest like that,” said Thribowhan, whose name should not be said three times fast unless you are a trained yogi.

Thribowhan, whose parents loved consonants, did not explain exactly what bothered him and all the other Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago, including down-the-islands. Was he worried about damage to the bulldozer? Had he sold land to the State? Did he find it a waste of a beer?

Alcohol, of course, is not allowed in Hindu events, such as weddings, which is why the guests keep it in the trunks of their cars. Some years back, Ravi-ji (no relation to Sat Maharaj-ji, Prakash Persad-ji, or Bunji) had to issue a public bouff to Hindus who came to Phagwa with rum bottles in their back pockets. After all, what kind of example does it set to have drunk men spraying down decent Hindu girls and causing their clothes to cling to their lissom bodies? Obviously, that is only acceptable when done by sober men.

However, it is possible I am mistaken about what Thribowhan really said because, after he introduced himself to the Guar­dian reporter, his tongue may have got a cramp. Even so, he raises an important point about the proper etiquette for protesters.

Back in the day, protesters in T&T knew how to protest. A certain form was observed—you threw rocks and other missiles at the police, as in the Canboulay Riots in 1881, and got beaten up by them in turn. If you were protesting over your right to waste water, you might even burn down the Red House and get shot by police, as happened in the Water Riots of 1903.

But that was a different era, when everybody knew their roles. There were the rulers, the ruled, and graph paper. Nowadays, though, people are confused about who and what they are, even in respect to their sexual identity, as artist Leroy Clarke has pointed out while wearing an orange gown. Now, when the Canboulay Riots are re-enacted for Carnival, we see people dancing in a manner which should raise protest at bad choreo­graphy. Now, people protest about lack of water without even a flambeau in hand.

This is just another example of how standards are falling. Areas like Laventille and Morvant, to their credit, do try to set a certain tone when they protest. They make sure they have all the necessary accoutrements for a proper demonstration—burning tyres, debris blocking the road, women in tight denim shorts.

But the people in these areas are usually protesting about a young black man being shot dead by police, rather than important matters like bad roads.

Even so, this is no excuse for people to ignore the basics. Some of it may just be ignorance—not all protesters know where to find tyres to burn. Some of it might be illiteracy—not everyone can pronounce “debris”. And some of it is demography—in Hindu communities, girls do not wear denim shorts in the road, which obviously reduces the effectiveness of any protest action.

And you cannot blame the Government for this. Indeed, the Govern­ment has been doing an excellent job in providing issues for protesters—from the self-same Point Fortin Highway, to hiring hacks with bogus degrees, to handing out billion-dollar wastewater contracts. It is the protesters who are failing to step up to the crease.

It is true Dr Kublalsingh has done so with respect to the highway, but he used a non-Trini protest method which involved not eating and not drinking, which explains why he would so blithely waste a beer on a bulldozer. Leroy Clarke, who has himself protested against homosexual criminals who create criminal homo­sexuals, would never come near such a suggestively named vehicle.

Yet, even if the Government’s efforts draw no protest, the police are always there failing to investigate cocaine in cargo containers, juice tins and the stomachs of patients at private hospitals. Yet few people are protesting about that.

Even so, you would think children being murdered and babies killed at birth would arouse the passions of protesters. But no: those deaths just arouse political hacks protesting about Verna St Rose Greaves’s one-woman protests.

Rather, people in this place get worked up over Socadrome, and the masqueraders who paid $4,000 or more for their one-day costume did indeed protest to their bandleaders and crossed the Savannah stage anyway. 

So maybe there is, after all, some hope for effective protest in T&T.