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Raffique Shah


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Of pride and prejudice

By Raffique Shah
May 31, 2009

Every year, come Carnival or Emancipation Day or Spiritual Baptist Day or Indian Arrival Day, one hears the same refrain: the Government 'ent give we enough money to celebrate we special day.

Carnival band leaders, who charge mas' players severely for their flimsy costumes and all-inclusive-wee-wee-enhanced, two-chord-bands, threaten to blank competition sites because the steelband fraternity gets more dollar-support than the NCBA. Steelband leaders grouse about not having enough funds to paint their instruments, far less compensate the people who make music. Baptists shout loud about being discriminated against, and the scores of groups that mark Indian Arrival Day cry our louder: Discrimination!

Why the Government should fund any of these activities defies logic, not to add imagination, which is in short supply at all levels of this society. Paying people (who have already paid others) to “wine” on the streets and stages-does that make sense? Supporting the development of sports and fitness programmes, pan music, costume-making skills, Indian art forms and other nation-building ventures, is not unreasonable. Funding educational institutions, some of which may fall under religious organisations, can be deemed an obligation on government's part.

But why State funds should be shared like “prasad” among every Brian, Monica and Sat who claims to be doing “something” (never properly defined) for the country, is inexcusable. Successive governments, always with ulterior political motives, have institutionalised this “gimme gimme” syndrome that has grown to epidemic proportions. I am sure if all the money that is doled out for what are really privately-organised “celebrations”, is added up, we would have more than enough to build and equip a hospital for children born with congenital defects, and whose parents have to beg for money to take them abroad for ultra-expensive medical attention.

And that's on an annual basis. One year a children's hospital, the other properly equipped and serviced geriatric homes, and so on. Now, I know those who benefit from government's largesse will come at my throat, asking why I didn't write about the $500 million-plus spent on the two-day Summit. Let me write, for the records, that I found that too obscene to even touch on, much the way the UNC in government wasted millions of our dollars to have self-proclaimed “beauties” parade in a refurbished hangar in Chaguaramas. Governments are inclined to such ego-enhancing excesses.

But the very people who complain about government wastage are the ones who add to the problem. Take any of the events I identified at the start of this column (and there are more, many more). From one or two centralised celebrations, they have mushroomed into scores, hundreds.

Every two-house community wants funds to play drums on Emancipation Day (which they do for self-entertainment year-round). From Icacos to Rampalnagas, there are about 100 Arrival Day “celebrations”, some held in rum-shops, others in public grounds. Even though you may not see a bat-in-costume, Moruga and Manzanilla must have their share of the Carnival largesse. I know of steelbands that exist only in name, who hastily daub paint on rusted pans, clean the dirt and grass they lay in for the year-just to collect “transport” money when government paid for it.

Why can't we become more self-reliant, more independent of the very governments we cuss for wastage of public funds? Not boasting, but I was the prime driver of what started out in 1983 as the Mirror Marathon. It was the race that not only challenged participants' endurance, but it launched a hundred-plus other distance races throughout the Caribbean, some of which I also helped organise. The only concession I sought from governments during the 24 years I was in charge was closure of the course to traffic-which I never got. I relied on corporate sponsorship and volunteer help throughout my tenure as head of the organising committee.

I am proud of that, as I feel certain my successors are, notwithstanding the sponsorship challenges they may now face. If my volunteer colleagues and I, who gave freely of our time and energy, could make such a sterling contribution to healthy lifestyles among a significant section of the region's population, why can't others make similar sacrifices if they so love what they claim to believe in? If marking the emancipation of slaves is worthy of celebrating (and I believe it is), if the arrival of Indians to these parts must be marked (I also agree with that), then go ahead and do it.

But in so doing you must stand proud, and more than that, stand liberated of dependence on any government. I would be wary of government getting involved in any such activity-religious, historical, cultural-since it would demand its pound of flesh, if only in the form of some minister making a loaded speech at your function. Wake up, people. Stop preaching liberation and freedom, claiming masters-of-the-art-forms status, yet remaining dependent on the very authorities you condemn every day.

If you can't afford to host a huge celebration with the now-omnipresent big-truck, then stay at home and say your prayers or whatever. Pride is far more valuable than having to face prejudice.

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