Thursday, February 22, 2018

$3m for Divali


SAT GETS $$: Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj, right, receives a cheque from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar during Thursday's Divali function hosted by the PM at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's. –Photos: AYANNA KINSALE

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SINGING MINISTERS: Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, left, and Local Government Minister Suruj Rambachan sing bhajans during Thurday's Divali function hosted by the Prime Minister at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's.

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The Hindu community has received a total of $3 million from the Government for Divali celebrations this year.

Some $2 million was given to the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) and $1 million to the National Council for Indian Culture (NCIC).

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar hosted a lavish Divali function at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann's on Thursday evening when Maharaj publicly extended his thanks for the money.

However, in his address, Maharaj criticised politicians for abusing the coffers of the State to their own benefit.

He noted that religious organisations in this country supplement the work of the State at every level of life through the provision of churches, mosques and temples and schools from early childhood to secondary.

As he stressed that religious bodies work in tandem with State policy, Maharaj added: "It is therefore regrettable that some politicians from time to time use State funding as a weapon against the churches."

The Express contacted Maharaj yesterday by phone to explain what he meant by this statement.

He responded: "It is obvious...under the PNM, the Minister of Culture took $50 million and distributed it under a secret grant that nobody knew anything about. They were funding their own people."

Asked if this problem was still present under the current People's Partnership administration, he said: "We have instances."

However, Maharaj did not divulge any further information.

He did note that all religious bodies have been getting funding from the Persad-Bissessar-led coalition.

Maharaj noted that this year the Emancipation Support Committee received $4 million; ASJA got $1 million and subsidies for Muslims to go to Hajj; some $2 million was given to the Catholic church and the Spiritual Shouter Baptist community recently received a $15 million school.

In her address at the function, Persad-Bissessar said that this country can proudly boast of the fact that the freedom of worship as enshrined in the Constitution is alive and well.

"The fact that we, as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, can appreciate and celebrate diverse cultures and religious holidays as a united people and as a nation speaks to our shared values as well as our profound respect for each other's beliefs," said the Prime Minister.

She also pointed out that for the first time a woman–Tulsi Gabbard–in the United States will be sworn into Congress taking the oath on the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu holy book).

Persad-Bissessar went on to tell a story from the Mahabharata where Drupadi, a devotee of Lord Krishna, was captured by an evil king.

The king's noblemen, said Persad-Bissessar, tried to humiliate Drupadi by stripping her clothing in front a jeering audience. However, Drupadi held on to her sari for as long as she could and called out to Lord Krishna for help but he never came.

In her final moment of agony, Drupadi finally gave up all her efforts and resigned herself to her horrible fate and only then did Lord Krishna appear and turned her sari into an infinite robe and she was untouchable.

Persad-Bissessar said when Drupadi met Lord Krishna she rebuked him for not coming when she first called him. Lord Krishna, she said, told Drupadi that only when she had lost all hope, that her ego had finally loosened its grip on her sari, that her heart allowed space for the Divine to enter and work its miracle.

"In other words, let go and let God...In addition to total submission to God, we must not only remember God in times of distress, but also in times of joy and happiness. " said Persad-Bissessar.

"When unrighteousness takes place and when elements of evil try their best to humiliate and degrade us we must stand up for the truth and defend our dharma," she said.

Persad-Bissessar urged guests to purge themselves of negative thoughts and influences and let the positive light of the Divine take over.

"As we work toward a bright and prosperous future for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, let us focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us...together we can win the battle over discrimination, injustice, hatred, bigotry, inequality, greed and violence," she said.

In an extravagant dinner comprising of a variety of authentic Indian cuisine, catered by Bombay Duck restaurant, guests were also given hampers.