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Thursday 20 June 2019
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Lawless Carnival?

Prof Ramesh Deosoran writes a weekly column for the Newsday.

Lawless. This means “having no laws or enforcement of them; disregarding laws, unbridled, uncontrolled.” Facing divided affection, this Carnival season might very well be the wrong time to talk about lawlessness. After all, the authorities have already surrendered a number of laws to Carnival — nudity, noise, breathalyser tests, etc. Then there is the annual controversy over tax payers’ support for Carnival, chutney, etc.

Enjoyed by many as a liberalising festival, Carnival is justifiably celebrated for its artistry and talented inputs — even for its tourism. But as a cultural enigma, should Carnival be now examined, starting, for example, from whether or not it is truly the national culture or part of it? Or whether it should operate as an entrepreneurial business or by tax dollars?

Funding for Carnival, chutney and their various components has become an annual, irritating controversy. “Funding culture vultures,” complained columnist Raffique Shah (Express, January 9). “Tax dollars down the drain,” cried Maha Sabha chief, Sat Maharaj (Guardian, January 13). “State $$ wasted on chutney soca,” claimed Vice-President of Chutney Foundation, Wendell Eversely (Guardian, January 14). Meanwhile Soca Monarch sponsor Peter Scoon called upon Government for more money (Express, January 5).

Like many others, Melissa Balgobin suggested: “Let’s make Carnival profitable (Express, January 9).” Why shouldn’t privately-owned Soca Monarch and chutney soca be privately-run? asked Maurice Burke (Express, January 6). Even National Carnival Commission chairman, Colin Lucas (Dollar Wine) warned: “In these economic times, the time has come to revisit Carnival modules since it cannot be business as usual with dependence on Government (Guardian, January 6).”

The Express editorial concluded: “By underwriting the cost of the show (chutney) to any degree whatsoever, the Government is just helping these business people fatten their pockets (January 6).” Government had reportedly just donated $1 million to the chutney competition and around $150 million to the National Carnival Commission. A society becomes confused when faced with too many contradictions — money short but pressures to spend more on non-essentials; zero tolerance but certain laws allowed to be broken, etc.

This troubled society must now examine how much tolerance it should give to lawlessness — in or out of Carnival. Effective law enforcement is founded on the consistency and evenness with which a particular law is applied. Mitigation and forgiveness may come after.

To what extent should Carnival be a celebrated exception?

Examples of cultural resistance came from recently-published exchanges between Machel Montano and Carnival promoter Dean Akin of Red Ants and the authorities. The police dutifully warned that it’s an assault to wine on other people without their consent during Carnival and if done, could lead to an arrest. During his performance at Tribe/Red Ants cooler fete, as highlighted in the media, 43-year old Montano screamed: “Dey say yuh could get lock up for thiefing a wine. Allyuh forget that, find somebody to jam. This is Carnival.”

And seduced by Montano’s demonstration with four women on stage, the crowd screamed in approval (Express, January 15). Remember, about three years ago, a chutney star, vexed at the competition results, told the crowd to pelt. No consequence. Tolerance of lawlessness from the top trickles down encouraging others — contradicting such law enforcement promises as zero tolerance and the “broken windows” approach.

Public Information officer, ASP Michael Jackman persisted: “Gyrating on someone without consent is also considered touching. Whether it is Carnival or outside Carnival, that type of behaviour should cease. It is an assault.” Montano later withdrew his comments. Social media heavily opposed the police view, with one saying, “Women who don’t want to be touched should stay home (Express, January 16).” Before I appear as a Carnival “kill-joy,” let me declare I played mas’ thrice (twice with Desert Rats) and, supported by faithful friends Cecil Paul and Cy Corbin, was a “soft” manager of fledging steelband, Crusaders, of San Juan hill.

Elevated noise has become a troubling issue to many residents.

The Environmental Management Authority duly cited the laws governing music levels, with special warning to Montano and Red Ants fete promoters. But promoter Dean Akin protested: “This will kill Carnival.” How much lawlessness should be tolerated in Carnival season? Are such instances an isolated minority in Carnival? Or are they reflective of an underlying, lawless culture? And the funding? Tune in next year.

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