It was in 1970! What a year that was! So much turmoil was taking place in the society, that even the famous level-headed Dr. Eric Williams saw the shaking of the foundations as a cause for his introducing ‘a State of Emergency’. The Nation was very much in its infancy, as our Independence had only been achieved in 1962. The government was strapped for funds and demands were as furious and persistent as the proverbial ‘locusts’.
It was in such a milieu that the late Dr. Wahid Ali, then President of the Senate, and himself a devout Muslim, felt that the faith based communities together, had a unique part to play in pointing the way forward. He himself was a member of ASJA. Those invited were the Roman Catholic Archbishop, the Mayor of Port of Spain, Pandit Lakshmidatta. Shivaprasad, a Hindu, the Bishop of Trinidad & Tobago, the Presbyterian Church (who declined an official representative).
Dr. Ali, Archbishop Anthony Pantin, Pandit Shivaprasad and myself began work on the Constitution of what has been The Inter-Religious Organization of Trinidad & Tobago. We agreed that all decisions had to be made by unanimous vote, and that we would avoid (like the plague) any form of political interference. We also agreed that the basis for membership of all religious bodies would be ‘Belief in the Fatherhood of God and the Universal Brotherhood of Man’. Applications for membership would have to be by unanimous vote.
Our task was not to be the glue that held the society together, nor simply to re-act to situations, but to speak to the Nation on matters of social, moral and religious concern. Such a voice would take the form of marches, press conferences as well as the issue of statements. When funds were required, we raised them ourselves in the usual ways, as we were conscious of the truth ‘that he who paid the piper called the tune’.
As the years progressed the number of representatives increased, so that there were several Hindu and Muslim bodies in addition to Christian denominations.
Dr. Wahid Ali’s book does provide an important account of the IRO’s witness in Trinidad & Tobago in its formative years, and is worth reading.