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Noble: Who will deliver our wretched nation from the politics of race?

The letter ‘When would real equality come?’ by Anand Beharrylal, QC—carried in the Express Monday 15  June edition—reminds me of an Aaron Levenstein quote: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”

His comments were suggestive but do not provide a full picture of the events referenced. His contribution comes in the wake of a heated discussion between Selwyn Cudjoe and Trevor Sudama about Dr Eric Williams’ ‘hostile, recalcitrant minority’ comment. It is evident from his comments that Mr Beharrylal is supportive of the position held by Mr Sudama.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s first prime minister the late Dr Eric Williams (far left, foreground) and long-standing Cabinet members, the late Kamaluddin Mohammed (far right, foreground) and Errol Mahabir (second from right) stare into the distance.

This debate, as I noted in an earlier comment, is straight out of the pages of Bridget Brereton’s ‘Contesting the past: Narratives of Trinidad and Tobago History’. The pitched battle is between the Afro-centric and the Indo-centric narratives and with each iteration the tenor becomes more extremist.

My earlier position—“The debate is necessary, but we have to be careful that in the midst of that fight we do not lose sight of our mutual interests”—remains since I hold the view that the larger and more important battle is that of the excesses of capitalism and the injustices of our class structure. We ignore that battle to focus on each other to our collective detriment.

Essentially, we lack a theoretical framework to understand our issues and consequently we chase passing cars instead of devising our own path.

Mr Beharrylal employed a dated Bhadase Sagan Maraj quote, to establish discrimination against the Indo-Caribbean community, which is not a contemporary reflection of the public service. It omits that both parties played that ethnic game but that today the picture is more balanced.

Some would even argue, based on anecdotal evidence, that the pendulum in the public sector has been over-corrected. But his comment about the public sector and the police service ignores the historical trajectory of participation in the development of both sectors.

Photo: Anand Beharrylal, QC.

Mr Beharrylal, like some other voices, question the lack of senior Indian police officers. History tells us that Commissioner of Police GT Carr faced the same challenge about East Indians entering the Force from a Commonwealth Commission inquiry and responded that the selection board had been trying everything possible to increase the number of East Indians in the Force, because he was of the opinion that the Force should be the representative of the population (Daily Mirror, 1964).

The problem is not new and is rooted in the history of that institution. The colonial history of that institution is that it was essentially peopled by non-nationals. One should not forget that the Police Force, which was essentially an army, was not intended to serve and protect people but was engaged in the suppression of public opinion in the interest of the planter elite.

I cite here the history of the Cannes Brulées, the Hosay Massacre and the Arouca riots. The first African Police Commissioner, Eustace Bernard, was appointed in 1970.

Mr Beharrylal rightly identifies, albeit in an abridged form, Dr William’s 1958 quote about the ‘hostile and recalcitrant minority’ but wrongly paints Dr Williams as a uni-dimensional character in the mould of Enoch Powell.

The 1958 election was intensely racially tinged (Ryan, 2009). Mr Beharrylal sidesteps Williams’ 1957 defence of the Indian community when the colonial opinion was that local politics made Port of Spain a risky choice for the Federation’s capital.

Photo: Eustace Bernard was appointed police commissioner in 1970. He was the person of African descent to get the job in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Catholic News (March 1957) approbation of Williams’ turning down a demand for a statue of himself—“It is a sign of true greatness when a leader does not lose sight of his mission… even at the expense of himself”—escapes his view.

He forgets that a major argument in the Federal Elections by the DLP was that victory would mean that the first prime minister of the West Indies would be an Indian, Ashford Sinanan. He does not acknowledge the infamous ‘My Dear Indian brother’ letter issued in the elections battle.

Mr Beharrylal appears oblivious to the Colonial Office’s assessment of Sri Nanda—‘the spearhead of Indian imperialism… with a bad effect of setting up an East Indian sense of separateness’—oddly perpetuating the racial divide created by the planters.

One historian, Kusha Haracksingh, holds the plausible view that Dr Williams misinterpreted the concept of ‘nation’ expressed in the letter since it meant no more than ‘tribe’ or ‘kin group’. He pointed out that it had been used in the prelude to the Hosay ‘riots’. It should also be noted that Sri Nanda was removed quietly soon afterwards.

Did Williams know before about the Colonial Office’s view of Sri Nanda? What prompted Williams’ repetition of the outburst in San Fernando the next day?

Photo: Late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams.

Williams’ response to the elections loss, was intemperate and hostile, betraying his ‘gross emotional instability’ (Mahabir, 1978). The pain of the Indian community was communicated by Messrs Mahabir, Montano, Mohammed and Mosaheb to Williams (Ryan, 2009, Mahabir, 1978).

Williams later explained, in the Legislature, that he had not intended to inflame racial passions. Lionel Seukeran withdrew his motion of no-confidence against Williams, remarking ‘he suddenly gone racial’ (Ryan, 2009). It was an ill-advised speech for the chief minister.

Dr Keith Rowley’s recent use of the loaded phrase was cringe-worthy and unnecessary.

The assertion that Nizam Mohammed was sacked for the fact that there was an ethnic imbalance in the Police Service is wrong.

BC Pires, an astute observer of local events, remarked: “Trinidad’s unerring instinct to do the wrong thing at the wrong time continues in spades. Instead of Nizam Mohammed being made to see the error of his ways, he has now been made a martyr.”

Michael Harris, an Express columnist, opined under the rubric ‘Red Herring’ on 4 April 2020: “… what Nizam was advocating is some principle of ethnic numerical parity, a point of view that is indeed, essentially, racist. It was inappropriate because he was in no position to speak on behalf of the Parliament of the land…why he would consider that he could invoke the Parliament as a partner in whatever scheme he might have had to redress this…”

Photo: Former Police Service Commission chairman Nizam Mohammed.

Dr Rowley on 20 April 2011, in Parliament, said: “…the Chairman of the commission made a very factual statement, or I should say, a number of factual statements, which, on their own, would have caused no untoward reaction in the country, because they were statements of facts… 

“He interpreted the situation of fact as being the result of racial bias in the system, resulting in this over-representation of police officers of Afro origin based on racial discrimination…that these officers who today are in charge of the executive of the police service are there by virtue of racial discrimination, is a reckless statement…

“The current law makes no provision for the Police Service Commission to treat with the matter that the chairman purported to want to treat with.” (Hansard)

It is telling that the debate meandered into nothingness. Mr Israel Khan, who represented Mr Mohammed, instructively had remarked: “The People’s Partnership realise they cannot win an election without African support and the Opposition realise they have to pull back their African base from the Partnership… and have thrown the ball in the court of the president.”

Oh wretched nation of ours! Who will deliver us from this deadly poison?

We fight for scraps and leave the weightier issues unchallenged.

Photo: Trinidadians party at the Notting Hill Carnival in London.

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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