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Friday 20 July 2018
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Commentary

Where is the moral indignation?

JEAN ANTOINE-DUNNE

I READ A very interesting letter to the editor during the week that sought to persuade readers of the need to retain the buggery laws in Trinidad and Tobago.

The argument marshalled went something like this: revoking the existing laws would remove the protection for victims of buggery. Victims of buggery include both men and women and the current laws give them a means of redress.

I wondered on reading whether the reader might also have been thinking that we should inscribe a law against sexual intercourse per se since this might stop rape and sexual abuse. Does the court’s ruling on Thursday that the laws that make homosexuality illegal are unconstitutional and the decision to delay a final verdict, to ensure protection against non-consensual sexual relations, in any way affect such opinions?

More to the point was the letter by PT Satyanand Maharaj, Spiritual Head of the Satya Anand Ashram, who on Thursday wondered why the various religious groups were able to unify in a concerted action against the repeal of the laws on buggery, but had remained silent in the face of allegations of sexual harassment by a minister of government? Indeed why?

It is a well-known fact that crimes involving buggery are to be found amongst both the clergy and the laity. There are also practising homosexuals who are men of the cloth. The truth is that we are a deeply hypocritical society. And we hide behind religion and a sanctimonious repression that covers a multitude of sins.

One newspaper columnist last week cited Ireland as a predominantly Catholic nation that had been able to move on. It is worthy of note that James Joyce once said of his birth place, “When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.”

Citizens of this once religion-bound nation of “saints and scholars” voted to amend their constitution to allow legal same-sex marriage in 2015. Literally, Irish people have sought to flee the nets of religion and bigotry to become a modern nation.

In Trinidad and Tobago we are determined to remain in the Dark Ages in many senses. We feel that mouthing platitudes or better still giving the impression of being modern is sufficient.

So while our concerned citizens marched to protect themselves against the horrors of homosexuality, and presumably to protect citizens from what they perceive to be predatory sexual deviants, the head of the Cerebral Palsy Society, Crystal Jones, was calling for the right of single women to remain at home to look after their children with cerebral palsy. This, given the fact that in TT they have few, if any, options.

She was not exaggerating when she said that girls with cerebral palsy left at home by those who were forced to go out to work could be, and had been, subjected to rape.

There is little support for those parents who have to undergo the indignities outlined in the Public Assistance Act which gives the committee the right and the obligation to make “full and careful enquiries … into the circumstances of the applicant by the local board appointed for that purpose.” And which means in practice that applicants are subject to invasive, often scurrilous comments.

This is apparently also the experience of those who wish to stay at home and look after their children, according to Crystal Jones. She claimed that the grant available to parents who are unable to work “was stopped in May 2016 after government ministers said they would not be paying mothers to sit at home and do nothing. As a result, mothers are leaving their CP children at home where they are very vulnerable and going out to work.” I believe her. The grant may still be on the books, but the issue remains the attitude of those who administer it.

Her story did not make any headlines. No one marched in support, nor have I heard of anyone marching or storming any building since the protests by George Daniel in 2003 against the hiring practices of National Flour Mills and discrimination against people in wheelchairs. At that time his demand was for concrete changes to enable the rights and the sustainable living of people with physical disabilities.

Today, in 2018, we in Trinidad and Tobago are still basking in contentment as we give news space and news time to explaining, yet again, what disability means. We have been at this stage of building awareness for over a decade now. It makes us all feel very good and possibly very holy. But where is the action to ensure the facilities needed for the well-being and rights of people who are disabled?

The much-touted National Enrichment Centre is now a myth, or should that be a fairy tale? But where are the marches by citizens against discrimination in education and care? Where is the moral indignation?

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