When I saw the headline “Age has nothing to do with maturity” in last Tuesday’s Trinidad Express newspaper, I wrongly assumed I would be led into an explanation why a majority of Independent Senators would so easily allow themselves to be drawn into an apparent formation of a caucus.
I was looking for an explanation because the cynical side of me senses a set up in such a formation. The report was not about Senatorial politics, but it did shed further light on the disadvantages of operating as a caucus.
The headline was a summary of the stance the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) was purportedly taking in unqualified defence of the dated statutory permissions for certain females to marry at 12 and 14 years old.
The report quoted Brother Harrypersad Maharaj, the leader of the IRO: “Last week, the IRO took the unanimous decision not to support the legalisation of abortion, setting prisoners free on the basis of mercy, or any amendment of the Marriage Act with regard to the permissible age of marriage.”
These IRO officials must be exceptionally quick thinkers to consider not one but three weighty topics at a monthly meeting at which presumably they conduct the more routine business of their organisation.
Another amazing feature of the IRO’s discussion was the reported unanimity of the decisions. It is hard to believe that no one in the meeting would have any reservation on three such weighty topics beyond the one reported regarding possibly allowing abortion following rape.
However, the report gives a clue as to why such an incredible “unanimity” might be engineered. The decisions, as Maharaj was quoted in the media, were taken during the IRO’s monthly meeting, at which 17 members were present.
It was then revealed: “Maharaj said members who were not present contacted the IRO afterwards expressing support for the decisions.”
That process suggests a caucus position rather than a free flow of ideas according to individual conscience, a process that would certainly not be in the public interest if the Independent Senators persist along such a line.
The statement of course gave the public the impression that representatives who were not present nevertheless subscribed to the decision, but a question struck me immediately regarding the reported unanimity.
Did the Roman Catholic Church, a member of the IRO, really agree without qualification that prisoners should not be set free on the basis of mercy?
This seemed strange given that Archbishop Harris, the head of the Roman Catholic church, initiated the heartfelt proposal that the State should set free prisoners on remand whose time on remand had exceeded the maximum sentence for the offence for which they were awaiting trial.
Not surprisingly, Archbishop Harris himself promptly repudiated the inference that the Roman Catholic Church was part of the allegedly unanimous decision. He said that they were not part of the meeting, were not called afterward and did not support child marriage.
Other churches also subsequently repudiated the alleged unanimity. Harrypersad now looks like a hyping Harry.
I do not understand the IRO’s reported reasoning in support of child marriages.
How do problems of child abuse, high murder rates, or the breakdown of marriages have any bearing on the re-consideration of the issue in light of the re-definition of the roles of men and women, which has freed many women from being assigned a role sub-ordinate to men?
With regard to the remand problem, I was also shocked by the indifference reflected in the dismissal of the years spent in jail awaiting trial in a system which presumes innocence, as “an administrative problem.” The administration of criminal justice has been failing to deliver for decades.
It is no answer to the Archbishop’s proposal to speak emotionally of the victims of crimes when the alleged perpetrator has already served the equivalent or more of a maximum sentence. Those prisoners on remand have paid the full price they were due to pay if they were found guilty.
It is to be emphasised that they were held without trial. I disagree that they should be kept inside longer to preserve an opportunity for the alleged victims to receive monetary compensation.
It is also harsh not to revisit reform of the law for possession of small quantities of ganja (marijuana). This type of ganja possession has probably penalised the lower economic classes disproportionately to others guilty of the same thing.
Those on remand for years profiled for only a spliff or two should also be released. If bail is on offer how will they pay it?
I venture respectfully to suggest that mercy is an inter-religious concept. It has been indicated to me that the Bhagavad Gita acknowledges that villains who receive the mercy of the devotees of Lord Krishna “by that potency may have a change of heart.”
In the two circumstances of endless remand for which mercy is proposed what has more value: mercy or victims’ compensation?