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Don't stop the Carnival
These words might be considered near-blasphemous by the thousands of people who take part in or benefit from the national festival.
But in recent weeks, there have been repeated calls to cancel it.
Most of these calls are the result of a quickly escalating murder rate, which seemed to spiral out of control at the beginning of the year, with 26 murders recorded by the 14th day in the new year.
But is cancelling Carnival a reasonable tactic for dealing with crime? And could cancelling a festival that hundreds of thousands of people depend on for different needs possibly cause more harm than good?
Carnival has been a part of the fabric of this country for more than 100 years, and many people believe it has united races, classes and overcome even language barriers because of its inclusivity.
In 2011, chairman of the National Carnival Commission Kenny De Silva estimated that a minimum of 120,000 people played mas. Since then dozens of new mas bands have made entries into the festival.
The only time the festival has ever been close to being cancelled was in 1972, because of a polio outbreak. The Government cancelled all public events. But the people were not having it. Cancel Carnival? Never! Instead the festival was postponed to the rainy month of May.
What would be the point of cancelling the season?
People who support calls for cancelling Carnival argue that it’s an unnecessary distraction that stops people from being conscious and sober.
Businessman Dale Ramirez posted on the social network Facebook that he would scrap Carnival if it meant getting a handle on the crime situation.
“Our armed forces should be policing the hell out of our neighbourhoods not leaning on the scaffolding at fetes. Ministers and lawmen should be too busy to head to ONE fete, two fete, three fete any fete. I welcome that!” Ramirez posted.
While Ramirez admitted in a discussion on his Facebook page that he wasn’t aware of a direct link between Carnival and murders, he argued that a “sober society” had a much better chance at pinpointing the problem and attacking it.
“I also see Carnival as the buffer that distracts the population away from the crisis we’re in. With a Carnival season always around the corner there is no chance of a revolution. No chance of our people waking up and realising we’re in the worst shape we’ve ever been; no chance for meaningful change.”
Ramirez is not the only one. Jerene Smith, a 30-year-old social worker, said she didn’t understand why criminals were being rewarded with a Carnival season.
“Don’t we have more important things to worry about than feteing? Does Government even see that people are afraid to leave their homes? Threatening to bring back hanging is clearly not a deterrent. Hit them where it hurts.”
If cancelling Carnival is a potential measure for decreasing crime, then an important question needs to be answered.
What is the current relationship between crime and Carnival?
Empirical data suggests that in recent years, serious crimes, specifically murders, decrease during the month of Carnival.
Statistics from the T&T police show that in 2008, when Carnival was held in early February, that month had the lowest number of murders for the year, and recorded less than 50 per cent of the 57 murders in July, the month with the highest recorded number of murders.
The trend repeated itself in March of 2009 after a late February Carnival, and February of 2010 and 2011 also showed decreases in murders, although the lowest months for murders in 2011 were between September and November.
Significantly, the months of September to November 2011 were during the state of emergency which Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar declared in August that year.
Both National Security Minister Gary Griffith and the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams agree there are fewer murders at this time of year.
“During Carnival we significantly increase the number of police officers on the road,” Williams said in an interview.
“We call out officers on leave, on vacation and those who are supposed to be off-duty so that they can be present on the street to deal with the large crowds.”
Williams said this was the reason crime seemed to decrease during the Carnival season, and specifically on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, which fall on March 3 and 4 this year.
Griffith said the increased security was set to increase even more this year as National Security will ensure improvements in crowd control, aerial surveillance and GPS tracking of bands and monitoring of the parade route, which is usually chosen by the National Carnival Commission after consultation with the police.
The suggestion is that more police equals less crime, and clearly there are more police officers on the road during Carnival.
While Carnival is known as a season of mas and bacchanal and organised chaos, psychiatrist Varma Deyalsingh, in an interview, posed the idea that the removal of Carnival from the calendar could lead to a completely different level of chaos.
“There are segments of society who believe Carnival is very important, and to a majority of these people Carnival represents more than just a festival,” Deyalsingh said.
“It is a form of relief for some and a time to rejuvenate for others, it is freedom from life’s monotony, and it is the ultimate stress reliever.”
Deyalsingh said after over 100 years of celebrating Carnival, citizens were socially cultured to anticipate that this was the time to “free up.”
“People spend a year building frustrations, being aggravated and irritated and gathering stress, and Carnival, to them, is that release point, to get rid of all these negative emotions. What do you think would happen if we took that away from them?”
Deyalsingh said the absence of Carnival celebrations would cause them a negative degree of distress.
“This is their way of coping. Without it, we could go down a very dangerous road.”
If the threat of bedlam isn’t enough to deter any government from even thinking of banning the festival, Deyalsingh had one more thing to say.
“It would also lead to extreme anti-government sentiments.”