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Trinidad and Tobago Opposition leader calls for unity at the Divali Nagar

Remarks by the Leader of the Opposition and Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC), Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, at the Divali Nagar, October 19, 2019

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — It brings me great joy to join with you once again at this Divali Nagar, an event that has become a mainstay in our calendar. This, the 33rd edition of the Divali Nagar explores the theme: “Hindu Granth”. I wish to extend warm compliments to the National Council for Indian Culture (NCIC) for its sustained efforts in reinvigorating and promoting Indian cultural elements and art forms in Trinidad and Tobago, aspects of our culture which have been reconstituted through our experience of Indentureship and post Indentureship.

Indian culture and philosophy manifest in many forms in Trinidad and Tobago such as music, dance, and religion, one of which is Hinduism.

Ladies and gentlemen, in celebrating Divali as the rise of knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness, I believe we have a lot to learn from the open-minded theology of Hinduism, its flexibility, and ability to respond to change.

Hindu traditions

The Hindu tradition has distinguished between aspects of religion that are constant across space and time and those that are subject to change as knowledge grows and social contexts vary.

Hinduism has historically been comfortable in accepting, absorbing and transforming. The way of life is at ease with diversity. In the context of our country, diversity was created historically by colonialism and contemporarily, it is being continued by globalization.

The foundation of Hinduism is the essence of unity in diversity. This is applicable in our country where multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and multi-religious groups make up our national citizenry. The Upanishads which encapsulate the fundamentals of Indian philosophy, declares, “Ishavasyam idam sarvam,” that is, the universal spirit resides in all beings, whatever be their form. Despite outer appearances, all living beings are one and interconnected with one another.

The Ramayan and Mahabharat – two great Indian epics, also proclaim the virtues of brotherhood and compassion, to all human beings and all forms of life. Divali commemorates the return of Shri Raam from his fourteen years of exile. Thousands of deyas were lit to welcome him.

Let us use this story to remind us to welcome our good and genuine qualities and transcend negative tendencies such as lust, greed, anger, hatred, and pride, which has kept us in ‘exile’ throughout our lives.

What Divali represents

Divali is not simply lighting the physical deya, but it’s using this deya as a symbol; the clay deya itself, representing our body; the oil signifying everything we pour into our mind and body; and the wick, symbolizing the medium through which our qualities are displayed, being our thoughts, words and actions.

The flame of the deya, when ignited, is the result of that which is put into our system. If for instance, we pour contaminated oil into the deya, pollutants in the form of black smoke will be emitted.

Similarly, when we infuse negative vibrations into our being and act contrary to the Dharmic way of life by violating the laws of Dharma, our actions, temperament, and disposition will obviously be negative. However, by emptying pure oil or ghee into the deya, the most radiant flame of light is released, and this is the central message of Divali.

It communicates to us all that the purpose of our existence is to create that continuous flame of brilliance in our hearts and in the hearts of our fellow human beings. Divali is a festival that adds lustre to the series of religious observances that we celebrate annually.

Earlier this year we observed the sacred culmination of Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, and the joyous occasion of the birth of Christ is just around the corner.

These three major ways of life recognize the significance of the ‘light’ in the form of the moon and star, Christmas lights and the deya. Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism all promote the universal teaching of recognizing the light of divinity that exists within every human being and all of creation.

This again is yet another example of how we, can co-exist with each other. You know all over the world wars are being fought over whose religion is the “right” one. Thousands of people are killed because of strife and tension caused by disagreements when we right here in tiny Trinidad and Tobago can teach the world a lesson about unity. For nowhere else in the world can you see such diverse religious beliefs being able to not only peacefully coexist but also each one participating in the other.

I am certain not everyone here [tonight] is Hindus. Recently I celebrated with my Muslim brothers and sisters in their sacred festival of Eid Ul Fitr. And not to mention, all of us, including myself are all excited about Christmas.

During Divali, we also invite and invoke divine feminine energy in the form of Mother Lakshmi. Quite significantly, the Hindu way of life propagates the uplifting of a woman and condemns her degradation.

The Vedic tradition declares that women are the embodiment of great intellect and virtue. It not only encourages women and girls to be scholarly but expresses that, it is the duty of parents to ensure that their daughters are educated.

In order to truly celebrate Divali, we must be prepared to forsake superstition and falsehood and accept that which is truth; and rise above ignorance by illuminating our intellect with knowledge and wisdom.

The Rig Veda, one of the oldest religious texts in the world, proclaims, “The way a river breaks away mightiest of hills and rocks, the scholarly woman destroys myths and hypes through her intellect alone.” Knowledge is light and power, and so I wish to encourage our girls and women regardless of age, religion, and ethnicity, to let this Divali be a reminder of your intellect and your inner Shakti. Remember that Hinduism has never seen women as weak, meek, or docile.

Mother Lakshmi, in her various incarnations, reminds us of this truth, that women are the very embodiment of Shakti- the power that is behind all energies and all activities in the cosmos. I urge you to continue to be inspired by our ancient Vedic tradition which holds women all over the world in the highest regard and instructs that we should all be treated as equals.

Hinduism and Feminism

In its own way, Hinduism is a very powerful form of feminism.  In an age of rapid technological advancements, the proliferation of social media, evolution in the workplace, I urge young women to continue to speak out against social injustices and gender-based disrespect, whether this disrespect occurs within your small friendship and familial circles or in larger political and national spaces.

Continue to interrogate, ask questions, creatively introspect and construct your own experiences in various spheres such as culture, religion, politics, academia, literature, and fashion. In addition to turning to the Hindu scriptures for role models, multiple local role models we can look up to and emulate as women continue to shatter glass ceilings and break barriers.

During this period of Divali, and throughout our lives, may we realize that we are simply children of God, sparks of light, radiating from that greater light, the light of God. If we realise this, it will be impossible to speak an unkind word or commit an act of injustice towards another being.

Overcoming the darkness

However, my friends, we are at a distressing juncture in our society, where the social and economic climate is on a consistent decline, criminal activity is astronomically increasing, mental health issues are on the rise, job stability is threatened and our citizens live in a constant state of fear.

We need much more than empty promises and (LED) light bulbs to overcome the lingering shadow of darkness that is currently plaguing our country. There is tremendous potential for Trinidad and Tobago to reclaim its status as a leader in the region, and for us to transform our economy. I am confident that our people have strong determination, a capacity for innovation and excellence, and are committed to a brighter future for our country.

For as stated earlier we as a people are gifted in our unity. When you take one broomstick, it can easily be broken but the whole cocoyea broom cannot even be broken by the strongest man here [tonight]. For our strength comes from our unity and only when we are united, we can overcome the darkness. Just as 100 lighted deyas can light up this entire hall ease so too we must share our strength and knowledge.

When one deya is lighted it burns bright, when another one is lighted, so too it burns bright. One does not take away any light from the other, they both work together in doing what they were meant to do. With sacrifice, diligence, resolve and a shared vision, we can make this transformation possible. The creative spirit of our people is on display tonight – in the production of this Divali Nagar.  From the performances to the set design, to costumes, the wealth of talent is amazing.

A little over a week ago, I outlined some of the proposals and initiatives the party I lead, the UNC has developed to make this a reality.

Our plan for the creative arts

We recognize the critical importance of the creative sector in creating jobs and earning revenue. We intend to undertake a number of initiatives to develop this sector and ensure that it becomes self-sufficient and flourishing. We expect that this would generate about $US 50 million in foreign exchange and contribute about one percent of GDP by 2025.

Initiatives include:

  • Export local creative content to international brands and a global audience
  • We will assist small local creative productions in developing strategic alliances and commercial arrangements with international studios and networks like Disney that are constantly seeking new, original creative content.

One example of this local production is the highly successful “Christmas Joy”, an annual concert which is the brainchild of master designer Brian McFarlane.

Another example is the Ramleela community festival, Hosay, Diwali and the Tobago Heritage Festival, all of which have strong economic potential and global cultural appeal.

Develop a “Trini Creative Arts Street” in West Port of Spain

  • We will invite private investors to establish a space within the western side of the capital city of Port of Spain that will showcase major iconic themes from each of the major countries that influence all rich and diverse culture.
  • Establish a full “Carnival in a Box” franchise for international markets
  • We will invite private investors to develop and market a full “Carnival in A box” franchise that will give us a cultural footprint in the wider world.
  • The franchise will offer a complete Trinbago Carnival package along with local musicians and bands, our artistes, promotion and event management to any city in the world.
  • Market Trinidad And Tobago As An Alternative Bollywood/Nollywood Island Destination
  • Utilisation of community centres to encourage community participation in creative arts- music, painting, acting, costume design, spoken word, etc.

Prosperity engines

We have identified 12 prosperity engines spread across communities in Trinidad and Tobago. These prosperity engines will mobilise and engage the private sector, both local and international.

They are:

  • Brechin Castle agro-processing complex
  • Organic sugar and sucrose derivative manufacturing facility
  • East-West Biotechnology manufacturing corridor
  • Sevilla Digital Innovation Park
  • Tamana “Solar Tech” renewable energy park
  • West Port of Spain “Trini Creative Arts Street/Area”
  • East Port of Spain steelpan manufacturing facility
  • Piarco aircraft maintenance, repair, and operations hub
  • Cedros/Morugo southwest peninsula economic zone
  • Point Galeota energy logistics hub
  • Plymouth international cruise ship/marina complex
  • Tobago’s first locally-branded hotel


My friends, I know these topics are weighty ones, but I feel compelled to share our ideas with you. We know our nation is facing challenges, and even though we may be feeling that the darkness is enveloping us, the light of the deya serves as that symbol of hope.  As we journey on the path of the enlightened to attain spiritual light this Divali, and like the sun, go forth in divine brilliance in all directions.

Before closing, I want to ask you all to guard against those who may try to divide us. Those who recognize their only pathway to power is through division and hatred. We must recognize them and become even stronger in the face of their division. As I said, we here have a valuable lesson to teach the world. This lesson of unity. Only in Trinidad and Tobago you can see such unity and we must protect it.

I remind all gathered here [tonight] that it is through the celebration of our festivals such as Divali that we increase our consciousness of the ways in which light can triumph over darkness and good over evil. We can recommit ourselves, to be that light, in our country.

For those of you who will be lighting deyas in your homes and communities, let these clay lamps be a symbol for hope, and a sign of prosperity for the years ahead for our beloved nation. I take this opportunity to wish each, and every one of you a Shubh Divali.





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