National Service to Redress Imbalances

By Raffique Shah
April 10, 2011

Raffique ShahTHE race-ratios in the Protective Services I mentioned last week would have changed significantly since my generation broke barriers back in the 1960s. In fact, even as I write, an Indian officer, Colonel Kenrick Maraj, is set to take office as the nation’s next Chief of Defence Staff. He will become the first Indian to hold the highest command position in the Defence Force.

When that happens, there will hardly be a ripple in the ranks. I am sure there are members of the TTDF who harbour racial sentiments. But they are always in the extreme minority. Indeed, from way back there have been cliques or cabals in the armed forces. But generally, among brothers-in-arms, race is never a factor. Soldiering is about putting one’s life in the hands of all troops you go into action with. You cannot ask for more confidence in “the other” than that.

I should add that in the relatively small corps of female officers in the Regiment, there is one Indian officer. There are many Indian corporals, sergeants and warrant officers. I’m sure, though, that if we “count heads”, as Nizam Mohammed did for the Police Service, the ratio of Indians to Africans will not reflect the race profile of the nation. Last week, I outlined some reasons for this disparity. From what I see on the ground, I sense Indians in the Police Service comprise 33 per cent or more of the unit’s overall strength.

Regarding Indians moving into the upper ranks of the Police, it should be noted that Dennis Ramdwar had moved to Deputy Commissioner (I believe) in the latter 1970s. Ramdwar was the officer who was in overall command of the police sent to San Fernando to stop the “Bloody Tuesday” march, staged by the fledgling ULF, on March 18, 1975. He gave the order to fire tear gas on what was a peaceful demonstration. The police proceeded to bludgeon frontline leaders like George Weekes, John Humphrey and Vernon Jamadar (among many others). Basdeo Panday and I escaped, thanks to our agility and the protection our supporters gave us.

Ramdwar also had the police rip the religious banners borne aloft by some pundits, imams and clergymen (to get around the law prohibiting marches, we had deemed it a religious procession). The officers bludgeoned the holy men, journalists and innocent civilians who happened to be on Coffee Street at the time.

So there we had the first senior Indian officer in the Police Service giving the order to inflict maximum violence on marchers, more than half of whom were Indians. In contrast, in the 1970 Black Power revolt, this Indian officer refused to be used to bludgeon mainly African demonstrators who defied the State of Emergency.

Instead, I led a mutiny, defied the high command and the political directorate, and paid the price for it. I need add that during the ten days of the mutiny, I led more than 300 men, 95 per cent of whom were Afro-Trinidadians. They were all heavily armed. They could have killed me (and Rex Lassalle) anytime they chose to, if they were so inclined. But they did not. Instead, they protected us for the duration of that revolt.

What I have illustrated is that any race balance in the Police Service or other arms of the Protective Services guarantees Indians no better treatment. Indeed, I know too many Indians who have had nasty encounters with police officers of their own race. The same can be said of treatment meted out to Afro-Trinidadians by officers of their own kind. Almost every week, there are protests against the use of excessive force, even allegations of murder, in the above context.

In any event, how does one redress this race imbalance? Let me add another pepper to the pot: why do we have so many Indians playing cricket, in contrast to the numbers who play football at the highest levels? We return to the issues of choice, of culture—not race.

The only mechanism I know of to redress imbalances in the Protective Services is national service. This would entail having young persons who fail to progress up the academic ladder, or who refuse to adopt some form of training to enhance himself or herself, conscripted for at least one year. The conscripts are brought under military-type discipline, and besides comportment and drill, they ought to graduate as potential recruits for the services. As a bonus, the nation’s fast-expanding criminal enterprises would be denied recruits.

Whenever this option surfaced in the past, it was shot down by the likes of Sat Maharaj. He swears that its sole purpose would be to “douglarise” the population…as if that is not happening without national service. If you want to have more Indians join the Protective Services, you have to make it attractive to them. And national service can do that.

I was among the officers and men in the Regiment who cleared the bush, literally, to make way for the first Chaguaramas Youth Camp. We then trained the boys not so much for military pursuits, but preparing them to face life. Of course, drill, comportment and discipline were pivotal to their development. Every so often, I would meet some of them who would thank me for what members of the Regiment did for them in their formative years.

Those who clamour for “affirmative action”, for redressing imbalances, are they prepared to accept national service as an instrument towards achieving their goals?

6 thoughts on “National Service to Redress Imbalances”

  1. Mr. Shah, there are many imbalances in our country that need to be corrected. Let’s see if this debate will allow a correction of those imbalances or is just old talk. Off corse, there is strong need for a National Service but we shall see because the status quo doesn’t want it.

  2. Shah you are from the ole school. Your days and that generation days gone forever. It is time for change and change is not bad in fact the country need change due to the high rate of crime. Sometimes only murder is reported and highlighted in the media but it goes far deeper than that…And yes it is not a matter of how one is treated, it is really perception. Perception unfortunately is reality. Indians perceptly think that they would be better off having an officer who drank dhal the same day as they did..Wouldn’t you. Besides unfortunately, policing is tied to the politics of the nation. If Rowley gets in tomorrow, the criminals will say “we govament in charge” and resume kidnappings.

  3. Mr. Shah, I applaud your column on the issue which has been the hot topic over the past weeks. I am in agreement with your suggestion of national service (Conscript). It will be of some benefit to the nation in the majority, I hope! Like the police service, army and othere arms of the protective services, I am sure there will be the average delinquents, but it is, and has been part of the makeup of any society. I have been a product of Chaguaramas Youth Camp and a former member of the police service. I have moved on to greener pastures as a result of the knowledge which I gained through both of these institutions. I still ask myself why have they disbanded the youth camps. It was a platform for many young men, and to a lesser extent young women, who went on to become members of the police service, army, coast guard, prisons service and fire services. But then again, it might have been the price we paid for progress.

  4. Mr shah, always a pleasure to read your column. I look forward to it every monday. good job on this article. you call it the way it is and not the way you want to see it.

    friend of leroy bates.

  5. Perhaps we need “Race Redress” in all other aspects of life : cricket, soccer, medicine etc. Why stop at race, extend it to gender, geography, religion, height,weight & birth-month.
    What is needed is equal opportunity where people as individuals can pursue their dreams without fear of discrimination, which may suggest independent inquiry into any accused body, case by case.

    Arbitrarily changing the entire cricket, police or medical team to achieve proportional representation along any of the above lines is logistically impossible. Moreover attempts at it involves the evil of categorizing people by race & only perpetuates racism. Further it undermines the quality of employees by effectively abolishing merit based systems.

    The only practical & moral “means” and “end” we should seek is equal opportunity, which involves : 1) universal free access to tertiary education 2) scholarships for economically disadvantaged kids at all levels of the education system 3)case by case investigations into allegations of discrimination.

  6. You make a lot of sense J’Rome,but I feel that compulsory national service for one year after high school and before university, for all young people to contribute to nation building is necessary. We cannot continue to have some parents regard the police service as “dog work”, then complain a generation later that they are not repreented(Although I note that only Indian policemen were involved in arresting the Indian cop charged with little Guerra’s murder.)
    Of the compulsory national service six months should be spent in training- for police, coast guard, fire services and military. The other six could be split into hands on engineering projects, human service delivery, hospital work and school tutoring at lower grades/classes. This will give all young people a sense that this is their country and they should help build it up. No onw should be execpt,no even the physically handicapped in wheelchairs. If they are mentally challenged, leave them out.

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