Hunger strike -is it blackmail, suicide or self-denial for a principle?

Hungry strike! Is it a blackmail or is it a noteworthy ‘standing up’ for a principle? Is it about being committed enough to sacrifice your life? Is it a misjudged suicide attempt?

Questions! Questions! Until recently, I had never thought deeply about this issue, though I lauded Indian National Congress leader, the late Mahatma Gandhi as a hero for his hunger strike protest against British rule.

But the matter became topical on my country’s agenda in recent months when Cuban-born Raul Garcia went on hunger strike at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds, Barbados.

Today, a few miles across the sea, University of the West Indies lecturer Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh is on his 13th of refusing not only food but liquids as well in protest of the construction of a multi-million dollar highway project in South Trinidad, more precisely from the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Point Fortin highway.  Two areas, the Sipara Protected forest and the Oropouche Lagoon are potentially problematic and Dr. Kublalsingh said no proper environmental assessment has been done.

I am very concerned about Dr. Kublalsingh’s health and I am afraid for him too. Trinidad’s Prime Minister of Trinidad,  Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who seems to hold the key to his taking food again says she’s appealing to: “…Wayne’s dear parents, Ray and Vilma, and his wife and brothers and sisters to take seriously their obligation for the action of their beloved son and not transfer this parental duty to the state.”

“As Prime Minister what am I expected to do? Simply give into his demands to protect his life and give up the livelihood and future of hundreds of thousands of others who want the development but choose not to protest in that fashion in favour of it?” she asked.
So yes, I don’t see the type of end to this tale, I would expect.

Of course the parliamentarian opposition does not agree with the Prime Minister. Leader, Dr. Keith Rowley said “It is now a matter transcending the objectors of Delhi-Mon Desir to one of the national conscience relating to how we deal with one another and how the might and patience of the State is exercised in service to the people, all the people, even those who may be perceived to be stubborn, unreasonable or taxing.”

Dr. Kublalsingh, an environmentalist,  has been called a ‘fool’ scoffed at by his detractors. Trinidad and Tobago’s National Security Minister Jack Warner  sees Dr. Kublalsingh’s fasting as blackmail and said: “… While it is all right to try and lobby support for your views, blackmail is wrong. You cannot threaten to kill yourself if you do not have your way. It is undemocratic and selfish. It is criminal.”

Others like him, warning that to give in to the environmentalist will encourage others to do the same. Nonsense! The world has seen hunger strikers over the years, but how many can be classified as following a pattern? How many has the will to take such action, denying their bodies of food and drink so totally, for a principle?

We ridicule Dr. Kublalsingh, yet we hail the many martyrs in our Christian history who have done the same. We call some saints like St. Catherine and St. Lucy. Why then do we see Dr. Kublalsingh’s action in a negative vein, his battle for people. This is not his first fight; a “Kublalsingh-led protests stopped the construction of the proposed Alcoa steel smelter in 2005 at Chatham, Cedros”.

Why look at this current matter wearing partisan politics hats? Why get involved with the merits and demerits of the highway, at this stage? Is there a compromise, an available alternative? Action such as his hunger strike calls attention to a cause. He has done just that. His country is very aware; the Caribbean is aware and the world is looking at Trinidad’s treatment of the issue.

In Garcia’s case, he drew attention to being in jail, months after completing his sentence. That matter isn’t settled but he is out of prison. Some may say the issue was about him and therefore felt if he wanted to commit suicide, he should have been allowed to do so. But it drew attention to the matter of being ‘stateless’ and the treatment of such persons. I saw a deeper issue, what about you?

I have concluded though that if we see hunger strike as blackmail,  we are perhaps right given the definition that blackmail involves putting pressure on someone for a reward. But then I say why not? In this case it is positive black mail. What do you think?

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