We have as much right as anybody else  

By Paramanund Soobarah 

I followed with great interest the snippets of information about progress on the World Hindi Secretariat project broadcast by the MBC in its Hindi news bulletin on TV at 6:00 pm on Monday 16 May. We learnt that the second meeting of the Governing Council of the institution was ongoing under the joint chairmanship of the visiting Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Hon Preneet Kaur and our own minister of Education Hon Dr Vasant Bunwaree. Shortly afterwards there was a most interesting programme on Channel 2 on the benefits of learning Hindi at school. Amongst other things we had the benefit of sound advice from Shri Ramnath Jeetah, Director of the Basdeo Bissoondoyal College in Flacq, as also from Ms Jeetah – who chose to chant her advice.

There was also a question and answer session with pupils from Hindu Girls College. Then, all of a sudden, without the least warning, right in the middle of the reply by a student who impressed by the depth of her thinking, the programme was cut by commercials in another language. I waited for several minutes in the hope that the programme would return after the commercials, but to no purpose. The station went on and on with other things. I was depressed and angry, and spent a very bad evening at indignities being hurled at us. Would this sort of thing have happened if it were a programme concerning, say, the French language, with a Minister from France around conducting negotiations for a ‘francophonie’ secretariat? I very much doubt it. The MBC Director-General should conduct an enquiry into this incident, identify the culprits and take appropriate action against them.

There is a lot of talk from one side urging unity and national cohesion and, from the other side, complaints about the lack of it. But almost everyday I am faced with reminders of the days when it was considered normal to hold Hindus in contempt. Open the so-called mainstream press any day, and you will find that we are being ridiculed, or organisations run by people like me are being slighted. Like everybody else, I welcome all disclosures of theft, corruption and waste in the public service, but generalisations insinuating the inferiority of any community are totally unacceptable.

Take the MBC, for instance. It is criticised daily for being too “pro-government”. In the years 2003-2005, when you know who was Prime Minister, the MBC news bulletin opened every single day with a picture of the Prime Minister walking into a room full of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries waiting patiently and respectfully for the arrival of his Imperial Majesty. This show became nauseating after a few weeks – but it went on and on for two whole years. The press had nothing but praise for this sort of thing – because the Prime Minister was from a distinct fold and not from the one traditionally held by this media in contempt.

I take great interest in a school which started life way back in the forties as a “baithka”. It has made lots of progress since, and we have occasion now and then to submit applications for assistance under the CSR scheme. It has by now become obvious to us that applications from organizations which have a Hindu affiliation are not welcome to the major corporations for consideration under the scheme. Perhaps the government should publish lists of donors and recipients and the amounts exchanged under the scheme for the public to judge the degree to which there could be ethnic or racial bias or pure discrimination.

We have lived in this country for a hundred and seventy-five years, arriving here just about a hundred after the first arrival of the communities that preceded us. We have largely made it what it is with our sweat and our tears. We have embraced the language of our predecessors — so much so that now most of us even use that language while speaking to one another in our own homes. But that language has refused to recognise the few sounds that would permit us to call one another by our names correctly. While talking Creole we cannot even pronounce the name of our Minister of Education properly. We believe that the Minister should open the floodgates to permit the scripting of few additional sounds required for pronouncing Bhojpuri/Hindi words correctly as a way of acknowledging that we also form part of the whole.

The very first thing I was taught as a child was to wash myself after passing stool – as is done by all people of Asian origin. I have spent the best part of fifty years on government premises, places like schools and offices, but nowhere have I met with a toilet with douching facilities. On reflection I have come to the conclusion that our leaders have been frightened by the horrible anti-Hindu campaigns of the 1960s and are still trying to ingratiate themselves with the parties that expressed those views and persuading them that we are acceptable company. They have therefore refrained from asking for some very basic things that are essential for our way of living. These are totally unnecessary policies in my view. We have as much right as anybody else. We should stop kowtowing to others.

* Published in print edition on 20 May 2011

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