The elephant in the courtroom
ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, June 17 2012
IT was ironic that a sudden gap in the schedule of the Colman Inquiry resulted in Sanatan Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj being brought to testify on Thursday. We have heard a great deal of technical evidence about the dire state of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU). But for many, it was only this week the inquiry found the most fundamental aspects of the thing: religion and race.
For a large portion of the population, the HCU collapse goes deeper than simply a breach of “fiduciary duties” or “regulatory procedure” or “standard accounting practices”. For some, the failure of the HCU was a failure of community: a betrayal.
Race and religion have always been the elephant in the room. They are hidden factors that have really been the most powerful factors all along. Courts and rational legal systems are not designed, nor are they meant, to handle such ticklish human subjects. For good reasons, courts attempt to create as fair a space as possible, they give birth to that creature called: “the reasonable man” and “the fair-minded observer”.
When the HCU became successful, religion and race were clear factors behind that success. The country has an enormous Hindu population, itself a portion of a larger East Indian population. The notion of a Hindu Credit Union was just waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, when the HCU failed, race and religion were the very same factors used to denigrate those who had put their money into the HCU. The two factors merged. HCU shareholders and depositors were deemed insular: their desire to bank only among their own was regarded as racial prejudice. There was a subconscious idea that these people deserved to pay for thinking of race.
But, as Maharaj said last week, there are many credit unions that have been premised on religion. The Catholic Credit Union, the Muslim Credit Union. Hindus, he said, if they wanted to come together with others who shared the same ideological beliefs, had a constitutional right to do so. The issue was not one of race, Maharaj said, but faith. There are black Hindus, he said.
Of course in the real world it didn’t work like that. There is no doubt that some, not all, thought “Indians would not tief Indians”. But consider this: if a group of black-power activists came together and formed a “Blacks Only” credit union, would this be regarded as appropriate? If they called it “Yoruba Credit Union” and said it was based on religion would that justify it? Do we have a right to be among only one race in our private lives? Clearly we have a right to our private practices that do not harm others. So why castigate the private HCU club?
All of this is now enmeshed in the question of the need for regulatory bodies with more teeth across the board at all financial institutions, be they Hindu, Muslim or Christian.
It is a coincidence that in the same week Sat Maharaj testified about the right of Hindus to associate as they wish, the Roman Catholic church voiced strong objection to the mixed housing of students of the Pt Cumana Roman Catholic Church with students of the secular Cumana Government School. Arguing against a permanent mixed housing of students, Archbishop Harris said, “the choice of Catholic education is a right of members of the Catholic church.” Unlike the HCU case, here, there is no confusion with race. Catholicism, once regarded as a white religion in this country, is now truly universal. Maybe there will be more black Hindus in years to come?