By Annan Boodram
It is a trait that seems to have become systemic in the community – the capacity to take disagreements and create irrevocable schisms.
Everyone is well aware of the fact that 60 plus Caribbean Hindu mandirs in New York City are the result of an inability to agree to disagree while remaining together within the framework of a single institution. Thus each time a differences arose two distinct groups emerged, often times court cases resulted as hard earned mandir revenues were spent in bids to take control of mandirs. Inevitably, the side that prevailed always retained control while the other side started a new mandir. And the snowballing effect has continued to this day.
When the Indo-Caribbean Federation (ICF) was launched the intention was for it to become an umbrella organization for all NGOs and community-based organizations. An inability to agree to disagree while voluntarily working together resulted in the ICF becoming just another organization while to this day a community with scores of NGOs and community-based organizations has no umbrella body, such as, for example, the Federation of Indian Associations in the Asian Indian community.
The rationale for launching the Federation of Mandirs was also to have one umbrella body coordinating mandir activities within the community. Today a large percentage of mandirs are not part of that body and the organization itself has not had an election for many years.
The Phagwah Parade, over the years, had become a landmark within the Indo-Caribbean community, perhaps the only institutions that brought a sense of togetherness. Inevitably many, who had never been interested in cultural practices, gravitated towards the Phagwah Parade and inveigled themselves into the controlling body. Instinctively power plays resulted and small differences began to widen as, one again was displayed, the lack of capacity to agree to disagree while remaining and working together for the greater good of a single entity. It was therefore only a matter of time before those differences became irrevocable and thus this year here was no Phagwah Parade. Various individuals and entities offered mediation, but one side or another refused to sit down and talk. The fact that the lack of a parade this year made the New York Times, is indicative of the landmark attention the Phagwah Parade had garnered over the years.
Then came time for Ramayan in the Park, a relatively new activity, (2015 is the seventh year of its existence) which had gained traction over the years and was also beginning to become a bit of a landmark and one of the few that brought the community together. Well guess what? Yes indeed! This year there are two Ramayan in the Park as the ability to agree to disagree and still work together once again reared its fatal head!
It is perhaps instructive that calls for Ramayan in the Park to include at least one night to be officiated by the Arya Samajis and another night to be officiated by a female, were never given consideration by the initial organizers. Perhaps had this been done, it may well have prevented the 2015 split because it would have indicate a willingness to be more embracing, inclusive and adaptable, all qualities that foster the capacity to agree to disagree while working together.
The million -dollar question naturally is this: what drives this constant disagreement that results in splinters, duplication and fragmentation? Well for starters, most of these organizations and institutions operate in an autocratic manner, run by the same set of people. Elections are rare and always seem to bring out the worst behavior and/or sometimes have to be court mandated. Consequently, leadership rotation is unknown, cadre building does not exist and thus there is no planned succession whereby older heads are replaced by younger ones. In fact, older heads seem to want to hold on even when they reach the stage of dodders. The argumentation that seeks to explain this is the combination of the lust for ‘power’ (sic) and ego.
But there are other traits at play also: many with money seem to think that their material status should automatically confer upon then leadership, especially of the autocratic kind and that others within an organization that has benefitted from their generosity, should kowtow to them.
Then there are the unwillingness to be inclusive, embracing, open and democratic; the ease with which ‘followers’ excuse the wrong doings and illegalities of the ‘leaders’ and the reluctance of members to be critical, inquiring, apply the same standards across the board and hold leaders to high standards of behavior and performance.
So then is this inability to agree to disagree going to continue to ride rough shod over the community? Or will a saturation point be reached and the people will not only say ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’ but will act to make it so? Dare we hope for the latter? And with it a return of the Phagwah Parade in 2016 with all and sundry involved? And then a return to one Ramayan in the Park with all and sundry also involved? Well we are entitled to dream are we not?