The age of marriage has now been legally set at 18 in Trinidad and Tobago, to the relief of most in the country. However, this sentiment is not universally shared as proponents of teenagers getting married with parental consent still hold fast to their view and don’t look set to make a U-turn any time soon.
According to proponent-in-chief, outspoken Hindu leader Sat Maharaj:
“No politician across the world could teach us how to raise our children, because […] some of the most corrupt and vile people across the world are politicians themselves.”
“No politician must be allowed to enter our bedroom and tell us how to raise our children. Our ancients have left us the manuscript to follow.”
Maharaj is speaking of Hindu sacred texts or traditions when he speaks of “ancients” having already indicated the way in which things not to be done, and which is not to be strayed from in modern times. Maharaj often sounds the alarm against societal intolerance of his and his constituents’ religious views in Trinidad and Tobago.
His conviction that things must continue being done the way they have been done because they have been done that way (BD) is, of course, not the sole preserve of Hindus.
Many a Christian clergyman has used the following text to explain a similar view to Maharaj’s on other general issues in society:
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. (Matthew 5:18 King James Version)
So what is being said here is not that only Hindus would say this, but the person who said it is Hindu # 1 in T&T so there you go.
What do Trinidad and Tobago national “ancients” have to say?
Far from religious references – though the main person I’m about to quote is actually revered as a God-like figure in the pantheon of one political party – a few quotes from political leaders of yesteryear are going to be listed here as a response to Maharaj’s view.
On the occasion of Trinidad and Tobago’s 11th anniversary of independence in 1973, our independence leader Dr Eric Williams released a comprehensive statement about the values that needed t be promoted for the country to continue successfully along its road as a young and ever developing sovereign nation. The values in question are those which serve as our national watchwords: “discipline, production, tolerance”, and the tolerance section is most relevant here.
“Tolerance is another virtue which is indispensable in the citizens of a nation such as ours, who are of many different racial origins or hold different religious or political beliefs”
“You must remember that the essence of democracy is the right of each individual to hold whatever religious faith he wishes and to practise it; to hold whatever political opinion he wishes and to express it”
This is how Dr Williams introduced the topic of tolerance, against the backdrop of our diversity.
The diversity theme has of course become a standard trope to be referred to by any political leader.
Take for example when our 2nd prime minister George Chambers spoke in 1986 of
“the underlying unity of the society – enriched by its diverse ethnic origins and plurality of faiths” (1)
Or when PM number 5, Basdeo Panday proclaimed that we needed to
“celebrate our diversity and make it our strength, instead of trying to deny it, as some would have us do” (2)
Back the “ancient” of our republic, Dr Williams,
“Now, to practice tolerance does not mean that you must shrug your shoulders and accept moral standards or forms of behaviour which […] your conscience tells you are wrong. It does not mean that you must tolerate slackness or slovenliness in any form. You must, at all times, have a clear idea of right and wrong, good and bad, and must at all times accept only the right and the good and reject the wrong and the bad.”
This can be taken as a direct retort to Maharaj’s charge that no political authority was fit to tell people – Hindus in particular in this case – how to raise their children. In this case society at large refused to accept “slackness” and opted to enshrine a “clear idea of right and wrong” on the marriage age issue.
Even going back beyond Eric Williams, and indeed before Trinidad and Tobago all together, one of the “ancients” of modern democracy, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, said that people in society ceased to be at war with one another and accepted the “general will” to be delineated and enforced by a governing authority.
As such one is to wonder if Mr. Maharaj would say that no government authority can tell him not to drop a corn curls pack on the ground, or not to break to speed limit. Newsflash: government definitely is a thing…. Yeah.
Returning to Dr Williams – who lamented that “unfortunately in our society there are those who find favour in distracting youthful minds with evil intentions” – one last time, he also said the following:
“Each member of the community is equal in the sight of the law to each other member, regardless of social class, racial origin, political or religious persuasion”
This can be taken to mean that there in truth and in fact shouldn’t be specific laws to cater to sections of the national community according to their religion-inspired preferences, as the marriage acts specific to Hindu, Muslim and Orisha Trinbagonians had in effect been doing until now.
Sat Maharaj has his ancients and Trinidad and Tobago has its own too.
(1) Address by the Honourable Prime Minister George Chambers on the Occasion of the 24th Anniversary of independence of Trinidad & Tobago, August 30, 1986.
(2) Independence address by PM Basdeo Panday in 1997.
Independence Celebrations, 1973: its significance, by Dr Eric Williams.