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Raffique Shah


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Wayne's Choice

By Raffique Shah
October 12, 2014

Wayne Kublalsingh's second hunger strike has bared the good, the bad, and the very nasty sides of his fellow citizens, although I feel certain none of this surprises the environmental activist whose dogged pursuit of his goals puts many of us to shame.

One does not have to agree with Wayne to admire the man. I have stated before, I do not know whether his opposition to the Debe to Mon Desir section of the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway is justified, if the alternatives he proposes are better. Like most people, including Wayne, I support the construction of a highway that will make commuting in Deep South Trinidad easier.

I understand his concerns over the dislocation of a large number of long-standing residents and the likely negative impact on the Oropouche Lagoon. But I know, too, that we pay a price for progress, although many might argue that the highway cannot be classified as progress.

Differences over this particular project will linger long after the highway is built, and those who clamour for it today may well learn it is not a panacea for their commuting woes. All the expansions and improvement works on the Uriah Butler and Churchill-Roosevelt highways have hardly reduced the traffic nightmares that commuters in central, east and north Trinidad face daily, especially during peak hours.

But back to Wayne and his hunger strike: he has galvanised and polarised the society in an unusual way. His decision to starve himself to death if need be to make his point has triggered human compassion among many people who do not necessarily support his cause. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to consciously decide to go hungry and thirsty, with all the concomitant risks.

The average fellow human does not want to see him die in the process, hence the many high-profiled interventions we have seen from early o'clock in this second hunger strike. Out of compassion, that most human and humane quality, they have appealed to the Prime Minister and Wayne to resolve the issues at stake before it ends in death.

We do not want to go down that road. There will be hell to pay if Wayne dies. He would become larger in death than in life. History is replete with examples of martyrs whose influence grew disproportionately after their demise.

But while the good people who understand this possibility intervene, there are many others, mostly supporters of the Government, who are wishing and willing Wayne to die, heaping scorn on his "farce" (their term), branding him a terrorist, and ridiculing him in the most vile manner.

Such people stand for nothing other than self-interest. They do not have the guts to pen letters using their own names far less take action for what is right. In fact, they do not know right from wrong, seeing everything through partisan lenses.

They derisively suggest that Wayne has been secretly eating food and drinking liquids, saying no one can live without water for more than a few days. That his body has deteriorated to the point where his doctor has withdrawn, speaking of imminent organs' failure, elicits no human sentiment from this sub-human lot.

In their ignorance, they know not that of his seventeen hunger strikes, Mahatma Gandhi conducted three that lasted for 21 days—and he was older than Wayne is. They pretend not to know of the several hunger strikes undertaken by populist Anna Hazare, very recently (2011) in India, as he campaigned against corruption.

In fact, they will be surprised to learn of an Indian female activist who has not eaten food since the year 2000—a 14-year fast! Sharmila Chanu of the remote Manipur state, now 40, has led a campaign against a law that insulates members of India's armed forces from prosecution for crimes against citizens in the execution of their duties.

Sharmila has not eaten solids, but she has been routinely arrested, charged and jailed for "attempted suicide", and forced-fed through tubes at a hospital in the state. As soon as she is released, she resumes her strike, is re-arrested, and the cycle continues.

There is a comprehensive story about this incredible woman on Al-Jazeera online.

The pundit who heads the Inter Religious Organisation declared that Wayne's hunger strike was political. When Kublalsingh and others fought against Essar Steel and a port at Claxton Bay, against the aluminium smelter plant in Point Fortin that the PNM Government was intent on building, I suppose their protests were political. Right, Pundit-ji?

When Wayne started this strike, I warned him that the PM won't be moved and her supporters would ridicule him. I advised that he should not sacrifice his very valuable life over a highway route that most of the people who will be impacted seem to welcome.

I do not have the courage and resolve he does, so I will support whatever option he chooses. It's his life, his body. For all of us, death is inevitable. How we die, though, is what makes a difference.

It is far nobler to die from starvation over a cause you believe in than to waste away from over-eating greasy foods and sugary snacks that will take most of us to our graves, not without agony.

Ah lie, Pundit-Ji?

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