By Sarita Boodhoo
These days one hears much about socio-cultural organizations, mostly in an adverse or negative strain. There are hundreds of socio-cultural organizations operating on a voluntary basis in this country. They belong to all denominations, regional and ethnic groups. Most of them are registered with the Registrar of Associations.
Their aims and objectives are noble. They cater not only to the altruistic temperaments of their members but do tremendous service to fellow humans in various fields, ranging from the socio-cultural to the welfare of the poor and needy. They also venture into domains such as sports, education and economic activities. They help to channel the overflowing energies of the population towards constructive, positive and dedicated causes.
Some of these associations are small and local, satisfying the social aspirations of their members, located both in rural and urban areas. But the target of virulent attacks these past few weeks has been, in particular, those large bodies which receive government subsidies on a religious basis, and of these two or three belonging to the same community. Why? Has anyone probed into the matter? Is the motivation political? Racial? Ethnic?
These socio-cultural organizations receive government subsidy to maintain the salaries of priests, teachers, and meet partially the running of the organisation and event management. One should have a breakdown of government subsidies as distributed to all groups and denominations and to what purpose these are put. In fact an audit of these organizations is called for.
We know that the whole scheme of government grants to socio-cultural organizations is but the consequence of what was the right and privilege of one or two religious authorities, namely the Catholic Church and Anglican Church, to maintain their parish activities in the colonial days. The government of the day in the middle of the last century, had two options facing it. Either (a) to put a complete stop to the flow of state or taxpayers’ money to only the above-mentioned privileged religious authorities. Given the turbulent political climate prevailing and the overpowering hold of these authorities on some sectors, as well as the incestuous links with the sugar plantocrats and the media of the day, such a move would have been unwise. It would only have served to incense the recipients and create a storm with disastrous consequences that would have caused havoc in the already fragile fabric of our multi-racial and multi-religious plural society. In any case, the Church authorities were helped in supporting and maintaining parish activities, and educational institutions that in those days were open to only a select group, unless one changed one’s religion or had a lot of money to donate. Conversion was rampant and many weak-kneed people were enticed.
(b) The other alternative was to share that state subsidy with the community at large. This is where the proposal of Hon Sookdeo Bissoondoyal came in and was later entertained by Hon Robin Ghurbhurrun. In this scenario, some people would have liked to have their cake and eat it too. And maintain the statusquo. However, the government at that time decided to extend that privilege to other denominations of the country. How to go about it was a headache. It was like opening the Pandora’s Box! The result was that several religious and linguistic associations were formed to benefit from this subsidy. Several factions within a religious entity were created to justify their legitimacy, aspirations and identities.
So far all these associations have done and are doing yeoman service to the community at large. They absorb a lot of energies that would have gone astray. If you withdraw that little sum of money, which is but a trickle compared to the billions wasted on sinecures and some ghost NGOs which get CSR from the private sector, which in turn is dished out generous stimulus packages from the Government. At least, these societies help to maintain the social stability. Of course all is not rosy, there’s room for improvement. But who does not err?
Why then are the socio-cultural organizations the bêtes-noires of some journalists and politicians? They run along democratic lines, guaranteed by the Registrar of Associations and even the Electoral Commission. It is true that, because of the meager benefits that such positions give, it leads to a scramble where different groups jockey for control of the apparatus and power sharing. On the other hand, politicians of the day share their limelight and accolades and vice-versa. Political leaders of all shades and régimes have enjoyed such an accolade. Sometimes one or two socio-cultural leaders may falter. They may lay more emphasis on their respective attributes and focus on achieving the aim of their respective associations. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But there are checks and balances within these bodies to regulate matters.
As recently as February last one senior most seasoned politician and ex-statesman had enjoyed such a ready-made platform of a socio-cultural organization to unleash his vitriolic tongue on his opponents.
So let us not be hypocrites and ride the wave of “pas moi ça, li ça” or the notorious “banne la ça”! syndrome. Jacques Julliard, reputed French journalist of Paris Match once wrote a book entitled: Nous sommes tous des hypocrites, sauf vous et moi”!
* Published in print edition on 27 July 2012