August 11, 2002
By Raffique Shah
EVER since Maha Sabha secretary Sat Maharaj first objected to the Trinity Cross on grounds that it was a Christian symbol that did not reflect the multi-religious nature of our society, the clash between those who insist on retaining it and others who want it removed has intensified every year. You'd think these religious zealots would be more tolerant of each other, that they would be guided by the injunctions in their various holy books that call upon them to choose the path of peaceful resolutions to problems. But given the hostile manner in which they come out to do battle on the eve of Independence Day, year after year, the time has come for someone, maybe an agnostic like me, to step in between the warring parties and bring some sanity to the table.
Maybe the "Shining Swastika" might be an appropriate replacement for the TC. Now, before Roman Catholic Archbishop Gilbert and sundry Pentecostal pastors call for a national day of prayers on Raffique Shah's head (you know, where these very religious people invoke the wrath of God on someone they see as being the anti-Christ), or Sat kicks in with a Kali puja to help trigger my first stroke or by-pass surgery, let me explain. The Swastika has strong Hindu roots. Its very name comes from Sanskrit (svastika), and although it became a symbol of anti-Semitism and terror when Adolf Hitler adopted it for his Nazi party, it is also believed to have come from an ancient Greek cross with the ends of the arms bent at right angles.
Really, given the spurious arguments these jokers advance for and against the cross, this is as good a compromise as we can possibly get. The cross will still be there to satisfy Christians who swear by it, but with the addition of a few geometrical strokes it becomes acceptable to Hindus as well. Muslims, at least those in this country, are hardly bothered by such mundane symbolisms, the majority of them being so busy trying to get rich and/or atone for their sins at the same time. In fact, Trini-Muslims come to life only when a wealthy "brother" like Sadiq Baksh is under perceived threat. Israel could wipe out entire Muslim communities in Palestine, or America could send thousands of hapless Afghan Muslims straight to heaven using "smart bombs" (which, at times, act very stupidly-like landing in the midst of a wedding ceremony), it does not matter to the Muslim community here.
So a Swastika replacing the TC would hardly evoke any negative response from them. By now readers will realise I'm being facetious about the whole question of national awards, and more so the Trinity Cross. Because over the years, all our awards have been devalued to the extent that many persons who have been nominated for them politely declined since they did not wish to be categorised with some who already hold the same awards, but who are anything but exemplars.
Over the years, we have watched people being honoured for doing work they have been paid to do. We've seen party hacks of one government or other, who have done nothing worthy of consideration for a village council award, dress up in their finest to go to President's House to be decorated, and members of the public asking: Who he? In this regard, we are aping the Americans, especially their military, in which soldiers get medals getting killed, not necessarily in battle, but sometimes rather stupidly while interfering in other people's internal affairs. Try that in the British military if you are bold enough. The Victoria Cross, the highest military award in the UK, is grudgingly given to soldiers who have so distinguished themselves in battle, most VCs have been awarded posthumously.
Few soldiers (or naval or air force personnel) were present to receive their VCs from the reigning monarchs: it is probably the award that given posthumously more than any other in the world. In 1965, a Gurkha lance corporal, Rambahadur Limbu, was honoured with the VC for a piece of madness he put down in Malaya (as it was then known), and he, all four-foot-eight of him, went to Buckingham palace to have Queen Elizabeth place the coveted cross around his neck. His officer received the Military Cross, a lower order than the VC that's given to officers who display gallantry in battle. On the civilian side, one must be seen to have made an immense contribution to his country or fellow citizens in order to be knighted (like our Sir Trevor McDonald and Sir Vidia Naipaul were).
In this land of mimic men, we tend to ape the worst aspects of metropolitan practices rather than the best. So with independence came national awards. But for a few outstanding citizens who truly deserved the TC, government after government has aided in devaluing the awards much the way our currency was. Why people would wage war over something like the TC, defies explanation. Those who wish to cling to the cross insist it's the "trinity" in it that's symbolic to this country, since Columbus first saw the three hills when he entered our waters. So why not use the Amerindian name for the country (Iere, I believe) since they were here long before wandering Christopher?
And for those who need it to be changed to an Om or a crescent before it's acceptable, why not the Kala Pani award, since our forebears blindly crossed the "dark waters" not knowing where they were going, what kind of life they would be subjected to. I find the arguments so sterile, especially when supposedly intelligent people engage in them. But, I guess, what can one expect from people who are steeped in dogma, who see everything through the edicts of religious texts? Whether it's the Trinity Cross or the Shining Swastika, what the hell does it matter-except that the persons who are nominated to receive it are deserving of the highest honour the country can bestow on its citizens?
Which brings me to this question: why has no government seen it fit to honour Makandal Daaga? He is the only one among us alive who led one of the landmark social movements in the country's history. Shall we wait until he's as old as Butler was when he was finally recognised? It has been the pattern for those who, like Butler, are seen by successive governments as rebels, trouble makers. And I'm sure Daaga won't mind if it's the cross, the Om or the swastika: it's the thought that counts, not the actual gift-or award in this case.
Copyright © Raffique Shah