SOCIAL JUSTICE – rcsocialjustice.org
By Amílcar Sanatan, CCSJ Board member
People who identify as Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago form the second largest religious grouping in the society. For the most part, an appreciation of Hindu traditions in the Caribbean is an entry point into a deeper understanding of the Indo-Caribbean context and presence in the region.
Understandably, in a culture forged by colonial force and domination, Hindus have long struggled to assert their identity and imprint for equal standing in the national community.
Today, the widespread celebration and observation of Divali in the national culture, academic success of Hindu educational institutions and transformation of the aesthetic and socio-cultural landscape of the society with the prevalence of jhandi flags on bamboo in homes and temples remind us of the creative presence of these communities in our collective imagination.
It is in the interest of the community of believers in the Catholic Church to understand the socio-cultural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago to nuance, complicate and expand their understanding of faith.
Key figures in the Church were once Hindu and converted to Catholicism. Too often conversion is understood in moralistic terms as ‘discovery’ of the truth in one religion and repudiation of the other.
Patterns of evangelism and conversions provide insights into the sociological dimensions of society and reveal the complex ways people negotiate power structure.
For example, Fr Michael Makhan’s parents, whose Hindu marriage was arranged by a pundit, later converted to Catholicism. In ‘Fr Makhan’s Faith Journey – Part I’ (Catholic News, March 9, 2019) it is said, “His mother and her siblings’ conversion to Catholicism came as a result of a visiting Irish priest to the area, Father Layne, who had learnt a few words of Hindi. It was with awe that he was looked upon as he walked the streets calling out to the labourers in their own language. Rita and her siblings were baptised on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, and then changed their surname from Ragoobar-Maharaj to ‘Francis’.”
Fr Martin Sirju carries this discussion further in his desire to see a meaningful intercultural exchange with Indo-Caribbean traditions and the practice of the local Church.
He said, “I am despondent here. I am a lone voice. Afro/Creole/Hispanic-inculturation have all been accepted but not Indo-inculturation. It hasn’t been accepted by many Indians either. I think Indo-inculturation is caught up with Hinduism/polytheism/paganism and UNC politics. One of the problems of Indo-inculturation is that it has not been promoted by clergy/laity like other forms of inculturation” (Catholic News, July 1, 2021).
Over the weekend before Divali, I accompanied a team of young residents of East Port of Spain to the 85 ft tall statue of the Hanuman, the largest statue and tribute to Hanuman outside of India and later, to the Temple in the Sea.
The aim of this activity was to expose some of the youth to the architectural contributions of Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago as well as appreciate the standpoint of their faith.
The Siewdass Sadhu Temple in the Sea in Waterloo remains one of the most powerful symbols of spiritual and religious affirmation, the search for cultural independence, decolonial action and the possibilities of faith.
In a land where people and their cultures were excluded and restricted because they did not fit the order of the status quo, a man laboured to construct his vision for equality and faith by building a temple in the sea.
This story should inspire each Trinidad and Tobago and Caribbean citizen for centuries. I too dream to construct spaces of freedom and faith in my life and society, to construct one thousand temples in the sea.
In Gaudium et Spes, the Church is called to be engaged and in dialogue with diverse cultures of the world. The Dicastery for Culture and Education was built on the foundation of the Church’s need to sustain communication with other religious leaders, their organisations, non-believers and mainstreaming Church perspectives in the humanities, science, economics, and public affairs. Intercultural communication and exchange are pillars of evangelism and praxis in Caribbean societies, particularly those which are pluralistic in its ethnic, religious, linguistic, and socio-cultural composition.
SOCIAL JUSTICE QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
“Individualism does not make us more free, more equal, more fraternal. The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for the whole human family. Nor can it save us from the many ills that are now increasingly globalized.” (105)
– Pope Francis, Fratelli Tuitti.
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee