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Apologise to all women for depiction of violence

Published: 
Monday, August 20, 2018
SDMS Secretary General urges PM to
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PNM Supporters look on at a screen display during Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley ’s apology to the Hindu community over the controversial sari skit during the party’s public meeting at the Upper Malabar Community Centre in Arima on Saturday night. Photo by:Ayanna Kinsale

Apologise to all women as well as the Hindu community.

That’s the view from several quarters including Hindu community leaders, on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s apology to Hindus for a controversial PNM skit two Sunday’s ago.

“The Prime Minister still owes the women of T&T—not just the Hindu community—an apology since that skit portrayed violence toward women,” said Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha general secretary Satnarayn Maharaj yesterday.

Maharaj was among those responding on the PM’s recent apology to the Hindu community regarding the skit which showed men dressed as gorillas unravelling a sari from a woman.

It was performed by PNM’s Tabaquite executive two Sunday’s ago at the PNM Family Day in Chaguanas.

Following protests from Hindu sectors and women’s groups, Rowley apologised to the Hindu community during last Saturday’s PNM Malabar meeting. He praised SDMS Maharaj’s stance on the issue.

National Security Minister Stuart Young, who also came under fire for saying the skit was a “lil bit of fun”, also followed Rowley. He apologised yesterday primarily to the Hindu community plus “any and all” offended by the skit.

But Maharaj added, “My take on this is that it wasn’t a Mahabharata (Hindu scripture) scene. This was a scene regarding T&T where women are being raped and murdered. Some people tried to say the garment in the skit was a sari. But the only people in T&T who wear a sari all day are the Catholic nuns of the order of Mother Teresa. The sari isn’t Hindus’ own, alone.

“So the Prime Minister still owes an apology to females who were killed, who survived attacks and women in general. I don’t need praise,” Maharaj said, adding he wasn’t among Hindu leaders whom Rowley said he would meet with on the issue.

UNC activist Devant Maharaj said neither Rowley’s apology to Hindus nor Young’s apology to “all and any” sufficed.

Maharaj added, “While the Prime Minister must be commended for—finally—apologising, he didn’t apologise to T&T’s women since the skit portrayed violence toward women.

“Cafra, Womantra and other organisations protested. Even if Young apologised to ‘all and any’, the Prime Minister is the ruling party’s leader and should have set the example, taking the lead on this,” he said.

“After digging in on the position that allegations of religious, racial and gender intolerance about the skit was ‘foolishness’, Rowley did a complete, unexpected flip. But he still denied the skit portrayed violence toward women and— exhibiting his trademark belligerence—no apology was offered there.

“Refusal to acknowledge that women were offended reinforces the view that ‘PNM’ stands for the People’s National Misogynists. Even Sat Maharaj, who the Prime Minister praised, said the skit was about violence against women,” the former minister said.

Querying who in the Hindu community Rowley consulted on the matter, Maharaj asked why he couldn’t have consulted women’s groups also.

“It’s amazing a 60-something-year-old man in T&T is ignorant about the Hindu population’s culture and ignorant about issues that offend T&T. What’s scary is, this man is the Prime Minister,” he said.

PM dismissed women’s concerns—Womantra

While the Prime Minister’s apology was a step in the right direction, his dismissal of the concerns expressed by Hindu and other women sends a clear message that those concerns aren’t important, says Womantra founder Stephanie Leitch.

She added, “The sign of a good leader is one who can admit they’ve made a mistake.”

“It’s disingenuous to reduce women’s call for an apology to political mischief based on the participation of the Opposition Leader and we are frankly tired of our leaders using our lives as political mileage.”

“In a time when women are on high alert about attacks on their person, our government cannot afford to be tone deaf to how a re-enactment of a woman being undressed by gorillas as a form of entertainment can be insensitive and triggering.”

“The Prime Minister had an opportunity in his apology to acknowledge the hurt his party’s action caused and to admit that he may not understand women’s reaction, which is steeped in fear of our current climate where women’s lives are disposable. It will serve our Prime Minister well to spend more time listening to women. This alone can bring about revolutionary change.”

Apologise to women

Former public service head Reginald Dumas said, “This situation went beyond religion. To me, it was more a question of women’s rights and the decent way one should act toward women. So an apology to the Hindu community isn’t sufficient. It should have been made to women in general.

“I was very surprised to hear the Prime Minister say he’d never heard of the Mahabharata. But I agree our education system’s at fault. Society talks about ‘all ah we is one’ and ‘every creed and race find an equal place’ but people don’t know much about one another. Education must be geared to teaching about each other’s culture and religion. If people know more about others, they may not hurt them,” he said.

Political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath agreed Rowley needed to apologise to women also. He noted women’s groups as well as Hindu protested the skit. Ragoonath added, “As opposed to the leadership’s earlier position (on the skit), they’ve now recognised they should apologise and do damage control as there was probably political backlash brewing within the party. For example, a PNM Diego Martin councillor and PNM’s Tabquite vice chairman distanced themselves from the skit.”

Ragoonath said Rowley is now being forced to act on issues—for his personal leadership’s sake—since, in the past, he had been perceived as remaining silent and condoning transgressions like the Tobago PNM’s ‘Calcutta ship’ remark.

Young sorry to ‘any and all’

In a Facebook post yesterday, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, National Security and Communications Young, noted the Prime Minister had apologised for the skit performed by a PNM constituency and “its negative effects.”

Young added, “I’d like to apologise to the Hindu community for the insensitivity of the skit which I was completely unaware had serious religious connotations and was disrespectful to the Hindu community. I admit that I’m not versed in Hindu community and I wasn’t aware of the story of the Draupadi from the Mahabharata.”

“I hereby offer my sincere and unreserved apology to any and all who were offended by the said skit, in particular to the Hindu community, and also for my description of the skit as a ‘little bit of fun’ when confronted at a media conference the day after the skit was performed.

“I have never and will never condone or accept any act of violence to women or children nor do I see race and religious differences as negative issues. I truly believe every creed and race should find an equal place in T&T.”

(See Page A6)

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