The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Trinidad Christian Govt Attempts To Stop Diwali Celebrations

Wednesday, November 2, 2005 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)

For millions of Hindus around the world, Diwali marks a time for families and friends to gather for fireworks, lighting of lamps and feasting to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

But celebrating this year's ancient Hindu festival of lights took on a more personal tone for Rajesh Ramoutar.

Ramoutar, 37, is one of dozens of Indian-origin farmers in central Trinidad who say they were discriminated against by being denied the right to observe Diwali at the state-owned farm where they raise fish and sheep -- a charge the government denies.

Diwali, officially observed in Trinidad on Tuesday, marks the victory of Hinduism's most revered god, Rama, over the demon king Ravana in Hindu mythology.

The farmers got permission to hold the celebrations last week after threatening to sue, but not before sparking an uproar that highlighted racial tensions between Trinidadians of African and East Indian descent.

"Christmas celebrations are held on premises every year and no one has stopped them," said Ramoutar, who has worked for 14 years on the farm in rural Longdenville, 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of the capital of Port-of-Spain.

The government has said it never tried to stop the farmers from observing the celebrations but only from using a meeting room on the farm because of a fire hazard associated with using oil lamps.

"There was no discrimination involved," said Brent Bain, a spokesman for Trinidad's Agriculture Ministry.

Still, Ramoutar called the government's relenting "a victory not only for Hindus, but against discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago."

Politics is divided along racial lines in the twin island nation of 1.3 million. Blacks mostly support the governing People's National Movement while East Indians favor the main opposition party. The country's population is roughly split in half between both groups.

The Diwali dispute angered Trinidad's East Indian community, whose members complain that the country's winner-take-all system of politics results in discrimination against supporters of the party not in power.

They say the East Indians are denied promotions and jobs in the military and police service, noting the majority of senior police officers are black. Many East Indians also blame a recent wave of kidnappings on blacks who they say target Indian businessmen.

More than 200 East Indians arrived in Trinidad on May 30, 1845 aboard the ship "Fatel Razack" to work as indentured laborers on British sugar plantations.

The Diwali celebration is one of several traditions that add to the Caribbean country's cultural mosaic.

On Saturday, Ramoutar and about 75 other farmers gathered at the farm's meeting room, the men wearing traditional long tunics and the women wearing colorful saris adorned with hand-woven patterns and gold trimmings.

After being led in a puja, or a worship with special prayers, the group went outside and placed dozens of amber-glowing lamps on the ground meant to show Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, the way into homes and offices.

Other Hindus celebrate Diwali with loud firecrackers, followed by feasting on sweets made with milk, lentils, dry fruits and nuts.

"Look around us, there are all these lights and highlights of Hindu culture. We have to preserve this for our children. Our forefathers passed it on to us and we have to pass it on to them," Ramoutar said.

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