Not the route to take

When Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh announced his second hunger strike I, like most people, began to wonder whether he would surpass his previous 21-day record. For most Trinidadians the thought of 21 days without food or water is almost unthinkable.

As he entered day 25 on Saturday without changing course, I thought we should put the Guinness Book of World Records on standby as Trinidad may soon have another claim to fame. It turns out that based on the current record of a 94-day hunger strike in Ireland, Dr Kublalsingh has a long way to go. While the Irish like to eat almost as much as we do, those hunger strikers in Ireland may not have gone without water and that might make Dr. Kublalsingh a medical miracle.

The internet states the average person can survive two weeks without water, but a 28-year-old Haitian man survived without food or water for 27 days trapped in rubble after the devastating 2010 earthquake. He lost 14kg and no one knows how he survived that long.

From all appearances Dr. Kublal-singh is faring much better this time around than his last fast in 2012. He attributes this to time spent sitting in his wife’s garden. Perhaps if we all learned that technique we would put bottled water companies out of business. Fewer plastic bottles going into landfill would no doubt please Dr. Kublalsingh.

Many prominent citizens including the heads of the Catholic and Anglican faiths and masman Peter Minshall have come forward to encourage a resolution between the government and Dr. Kublalsingh. It is quite telling, however, that they have focused on applauding the strength of Dr. Kublalsingh’s conviction and preserving his life, as opposed to the underlying issue of whether the highway is in the best interest of the country.

With even legal luminaries such as Martin Daly advocating that both parties seek to expedite the appeal at the Privy Council, it comes as a surprise that Dr. Kublalsingh and his movement are yet to file any such appeal. I would have expected that if Dr. Kublalsingh is as convinced as he claims that the highway is not the way to go, he would have moved swiftly to bring the matter before the impartial lords in England.

Perhaps that says something about the objective strength of his case. It seems that he is instead relying on public sympathy for his own health as his only bargaining tool, even in the face of calls from within his own camp to abandon the strike.

Any decent human being would share the concerns of Bishop Berkley and Archbishop Harris to try to find a way to preserve Dr. Kublalsingh’s life. In the face of his vow not to relent however, their only solution seems to be the government must be the one to bend.

How can we speak of preserving the soul of a nation while at the same time encouraging Dr. Kublalsingh to blackmail the government with the threat of his own demise?

I wonder though if they have given any thought to the lives of the tens of thousands of commuters who are stuck in traffic every day from the southern reaches on mornings and late evenings. How many hours of their lives have they sacrificed by leaving home at 5:00 a.m. to get to work for 8:00 a.m. and taking a further three to four hours to get home at night? What is the impact on their children and family life?

I do not envy the prime minister’s position. How do you balance the demands of a few who are prepared to physically harm themselves to have their way, against the needs of the many? This may be a case of “damned if you do; damned if you don’t.”

Last week, she asked the IRO to seek a meeting with Dr. Kublalsingh, to implore him to give up his hunger strike. We all know that Dr Kublalsingh advised the IRO to return to the prime minister and tell her mediation was the only answer to the impasse.

I realise it would be pointless to call the Guinness Book of World Records as they “have never encouraged actively claims for the longest time to voluntarily go without solid food for very clear and obvious reasons.”

We would also do well not to encourage such behavior, especially when there are other avenues that are wide open to Dr. Kublalsingh and his movement.

Perhaps this is something that we all need to digest, Dr. Kublalsingh included.

Published in the TRINIDAD EXPRESS, Monday, Oct, 13, 2014

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