They are small, but their message profound. The clay deyas which will today be lit as we celebrate Divali link us together with one idea. Light overcomes all.
Since Divali was proclaimed a public holiday in 1966, we have all taken advantage of this day to reflect and to celebrate. We wish for wealth and prosperity; commemorate the passing of another year, and seek to advance good over evil.
Let us today once more use this day to celebrate. In particular, we have to be grateful for the abundance of gifts which we continue to enjoy, notwithstanding our many challenges as a nation. One of those gifts is our remarkable diversity that affords us a unique perspective of the world. We are able to comprehend the fact that no matter how varied we are, no matter how different we sometimes appear, we are all one human race, illuminated from within.
But we now live in a world where the message at the core of Divali seems under threat. It is a world divided, filled with violence and bigotry. Joining Donald Trump at the table of world leaders this week was Sebastian Kurz, a 31-year-old millennial who is anti-immigrant, anti-refugee. The voices of racism and hate are on the rise.
Locally, we must be particularly vigilant. All public officials in Trinidad and Tobago should do their utmost to uphold the values and traditions which we have held dear for decades. Those values extol diversity and encourage the peaceful co-existence of different races.
This means our politicians have a responsibility to foster greater degrees of tolerance and compassion. The political rhetoric from the Opposition surrounding the recent invitation to Dominican nationals was disappointing. But the Government, too, must also not make unforced errors in its utterances from the political platform or in Parliament. No party should stoke the fires of divisiveness of any kind: be it race, gender, class, sexuality.
As the nation celebrates and reflects it is as good a time as any to remind all MPs of their responsibilities to their many and varied constituents.
We recently issued a call to all parliamentarians to have a proper and productive budget debate. With all due respect, it is clear that such a thing did not come to pass. Let us hope that all MPs will approach the chamber with the requisite degree of solemnity and respect that it is due going forward.
But though our public officials sometimes get carried away, ordinary citizens demonstrate, time and again, the warmth and vitality residing within their hearts. Today, thousands will open their homes and will seek to rekindle the joy that abounds when we come together as a people.
With the focus on merriment, we caution all to be vigilant as always on the nation’s roads. Recent weeks have been marred by deadly motor vehicle accidents, two of which have claimed the lives of six people on successive weekends preceding Divali. All should employ best practices, observe speed limits and assign a designated driver, especially when caught up in celebrating joyous times.
The observance of Divali is also a time when fireworks are, once more, popular.
There are rules and regulations which govern how and when such items are to be used and specific procedures are in place. While Divali is a day of illumination, that should never be at the cost of safety.
Nor should celebrations endanger communities or cause undue disturbance to residential areas and helpless animals. While it is important for relevant laws to be enforced, it should not be the case that scarce law enforcement resources should have to be deployed to police this matter. It is up to the citizen to show consideration.
The overall aim today is to remember the past year and to also look forward to the coming period with hope, despite the tremendous challenges at home and abroad. Let our lights shine bright. Shubh Divali!