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posted 28 Oct 2009, 10:22 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 29 Oct 2009, 09:01 ]
The Rights Action Group (RAG) of Trinidad and Tobago views with grave concern the news that the Police did not grant permission for a march planned for last Sunday to commemorate the Jahaji Massacre or the Hosay riots. The killings occurred on Thursday October 30, 1884 in south Trinidad, when the British colonial authorities fired on and killed participants in the annual Hosay processions...more

It appears that in 2009, the PNM government has taken on, unabashedly, in full mas costume, the contestation of the 1884 British colonial masters, with the masses. The context of repression of the 1800-1900s and the attempts to stop the cultural and political expressions of Canboulay are well recorded and known. However, less familiar, even to their descendents, are the struggles of the Indian communities to assert their rights to engage in their cultural rituals, Hosay with its drumming being one of them.

Repressive measures were imposed by the plantocracy and its agents, the British colonial power, to suppress the rights of people. Today, the PNM government is showing that same arrogance toward the religious and cultural pluralism of a large group of its citizens as did the British and the religious hegemony of the planter class in the 1800s. The irony of the denial of permission to engage in peaceful procession in 1884 and in 2009 is not lost on us.

RAG reminds all citizens that Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as ratified by this country, affirms the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The Jahaji Massacre Committee 2009 sought the permission of the Police to assemble and march peacefully as they have done for the last five years. The Police responded negatively and so late that the Committee had no recourse but to postpone the march. That repressive act of denial is regrettable and a strategic error on the part of the Government. The denial only serves to raise more questions and reinforces the belief in this PNM government’s complete indifference to the cultural diversity of T and T.

it also reminds us that parents and grandparents, as distanced as they were from the centre and hegemony of political and cultural power, were prepared to lose life and limb to ensure they and other citizens would enjoy their inalienable rights to freedom of expression. Who is so prepared today? Do we, as citizens, possess that strength of conviction those ‘less-educated’ indentured labourers possessed?

RAG calls on the Ministers of Education, Culture and Tourism to collaborate with communities to ensure that the history of the struggles of all of our peoples does not go unrecognised.

RAG calls on the Mayor of San Fernando, the business community and the prestige schools of all denominations in the southland, to establish commemorative plaques, with proper ceremony and records of history, at the sites of the massacres just as other countries have done. Let these landmarks remind all citizens, future governments, and visitors that we value our small heroes and the price they paid for their convictions that human rights matter. The meaning and purpose of their deaths must not be lost.

The voices of the 1884 massacre victims must still echo through the land even as we raise our voices in the struggle for our rights to free assembly and freedom to speak out in 2009.

RAG gives notice that we intend to join other progressive voices in speaking out for our democratic rights. We will use the drum and the pan to voice the celebration of our rights.

Rights Action Group  

October 27, 2009

Norris Deonarine