T&T PM should be applauded for apologizing over sari skit

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to `PM Rowley sorry for Sari Skit’ (SN Aug 19). I applaud the T&T Prime Minister for his words of regret. Few political leaders have the courage to say “I am sorry”. Guyanese political leaders should take heed and emulate Rowley.

My studies in the social sciences reveal that politicians the world over generally find it most difficult to apologize even when they make the worst blunders (gaffes) or commit the most egregious acts like insulting people. Politicians are highly egoistic and almost never admit to mistakes even when caught red-handed. They are barefaced. They would say the objectors are at fault or are hostile to them or are pushing them to be politically correct. They tend to feel they have nothing to apologize for or that they were not wrong. And even when they apologize, their act was/is not sincere. This often results in political debacle and their eventual removal from office.

The sari skit act (of August 11) in Couva by a Tabaquite PNM support group offended a lot of people. An apology would have buried the issue. Instead it has taken on a political life of its own. Though somewhat late, and after much nudging, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has taken responsibility for the skit and tendered an unqualified apology on Friday evening in Arima for that controversial Sari skit portraying a woman being disrobed that was meant to show the growth of PNM support in a traditional heartland UNC constituency.

There is no evidence that the persons who conceived and staged the skit had any intention to dishonour or offend anyone. The PM did not have to give or withdraw approval. He saw only one message – the growth of the PNM in UNC political base.  It was meant to be funny. But offend, it did – women were offended as were Hindus, the Indian community, and others – many say it was an ugly act that doesn’t belong in the society. Indeed, based on the reaction, it seemed that it was an offensive act deep in the national psyche of most of the population.

It was clear that Dr. Rowley knew nothing about the skit prior to it being staged. And clearly he knew nothing about its religious implications as he himself admitted. The PM admitted that he did not realize the skit had relevance in a Hindu religious text. But as political leader, he must take responsibility for the act. After being told by pandits about its potential religious meaning and the hurt to so many groups, he reversed course and did right with an unconditional apology. Though unintentional wounding, it was offensive nevertheless and merited an unqualified apology. And the right thing to do in that situation was to made amends by apologizing.

In political life, apology is encouraged and praised when it is carried out with sincerity. Contrary to what many believe, political contrition is not an act of weakness but shows strong character. As I found in political studies, including in my own survey research, forgiveness tends to show the apologist in a positive light. Admitting faults disarms opponents and critics. It’s self-humbling and shows that the politician is not more powerful than an ordinary person and also that he/she acknowledges the grievance committed. The apology will help to bring healing on the issue and focus attention on violence against women – to eradicate it.

The PM’s action shows he is willing to listen when told by level heads that an error was committed. There are others in our midst in Guyana that would not even concede they made errors when they are caught red handed. The PM should now encourage his party groups to make themselves aware of the implication of their actions. Ditto politicians in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Vishnu Bisram

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