Religious leaders of all faiths are being urged to hold a meeting to discuss safety in religious places of worship.
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Pandits’ Parishad issued a media release yesterday, calling on religious leaders to meet and talk about how they can “ensure that all worshippers feel safe to attend to their churches, temples and mosques, and not be subject to abuse, hatred and intolerance; and, further, to resist any attempt by any arm of the state to trivialise these concerns”.
The Pandits’ Parishad suggested a religious freedom committee be established and its main objectives would be:
• to monitor and produce reports/recommendations on the status of religious freedom and intolerance in Trinidad and Tobago;
• to promote unity and harmony in a diverse and plural society such as ours;
• to contribute towards maintaining peace and stability in the society;
• to act in a consultative role, if needed, for the development of relevant legislation, with reference to what obtains in other jurisdictions and for the maintenance of the rule of law.
The release stated a formal invitation to other religious leaders will follow shortly after Divali, which is being celebrated on November 12th.
The Pandits’ Parishad stated that religious freedom is not just about individuals praying alone, but about communities of faith living through their religious traditions peaceably, and without harassment or ridicule, or fear of harassment or ridicule.
“In Trinidad and Tobago, we can truly be proud that, by and large, we have achieved an enviable level of religious harmony. But that is precisely the reason why we cannot afford to be in denial of, or indifferent to, these nascent threats that can rip the very fabric our society apart,” it stated.
The Pandits’ Parishad release also criticised Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who both said recent attacks on the Hindu community were not fueled by religious hatred and intolerance.
The Pandits’ Parishad said both leaders have attempted to “deceive” the population into believing these crimes were not crimes of hate or bigotry against Hindus.
“We, members of the Parishad believe that they were decidedly so. We accept that other faiths have been attacked and we condemn these equally,” stated the release.
The Pandits’ Parishad said they accept that some crimes against places of worship are tantamount to theft, as many temples have experienced theft of donation boxes, “aarti” monies, PA systems, gas tanks and the like, but “in these instances we did not consider these as hate crimes per se”.
“However, what we have seen in more recent times and with increasing frequency is the deliberate damage to our ‘murtis’ and other religious images which we revere during our worship.
“We have experienced actions aimed at defiling the sanctity of our religious institutions,” stated the release.
The Pandits’ Parishad said, “We therefore oppose the whitewashing of these perverse acts as another bout of the usual kinds of crime, which our leaders would perhaps want us to believe is the norm in this country, so they see no need for complaint. For this reason, we categorically reject the evaluations and opinions of these two high ranking officials.”