Against All Odds

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 14, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeJust about when Kamal Persad Bissessar was celebrating the achievement of Trinidad and Tobago athletes who performed at the Olympics 2012 in Great Britain, I received an email from an African sister from Brothers Road. About ten years ago she had created a small company in that remote part of the country and was trying hard to make the best of herself. She wrote:

“It’s hard to find words to express what Mr. Sharma has done to PSAEL. Hostile takeover comes to mind. My legitimate contract with PSAEL was terminated 2 ½ months ago by orders of Mr. Kalid Hassanali and Vice Presidents Mr. Bachan and Baldeosingh. I refused to perform services outside my scope of work unless a variation was added to my contract. It was given to someone who is not registered with either Petrotrin or PSAEL.

“I have obtained an excellent rating with PSAEL. But it does not matter now because we are being weeded out and replaced by party loyalists. People who have been registered without having resources or experience to service contracts are receiving [contracts] hand over fists.”

While the nation is celebrating our success at the Olympics, one of our citizens and those who depend on her are in deep distress. She has lost her livelihood to others because she is in the wrong race, the wrong color, and belongs to the wrong party. All of the officials involved in this illegal and despicable discriminatory affair are Indian men.

I do not cite this incident to pour cold water on our Olympic achievements. I only mean to highlight the destructive, contradictory behavior that is taking place within the heart of the nation by contrasting our triumph in the former mother country and what’s transpiring within our home society.

At the moment this African sister was penning her complaint; our prime minister was lavishing praises on the achievements of our athletes:

“This is a timely reminder to our nation that against all odds we can rise to achieve great heights. We also added another bronze…when our national men’s 4 x 100 meters relay team won bronze on Friday [added] to our bronze in the 400 meters before that ensuring our nation won more medals at the Olympics than ever.”

On Sunday evening she added the sterling performance of Keshorn Williams to the list of great achievers. He brought home the country’s second gold medal in thirty six years.

Trinidad and Tobago could not have made those achievements if our athletes were selected on the basis of their race, party affiliation or skin color. They were successful because they, “while their companions slept/were toiling upward [in the day and] through the night.” Their achievements and rewards were based primarily on their performance.

When one is judged by clear objective standards, size or color becomes irrelevant. One only has to watch the performance of the Jamaican athletes to realize that in fair competition they triumphed over the greatest athletic powers of the world. It has nothing to do with beating the odds as it has to do with creating a fair, open field where each is rewarded for his or her performance.

Jamaica is an older culture than Trinidad and Tobago. As such, it has congealed into a national entity quicker than T&T which has had to accommodate many cultures and religions into its nation-building enterprise. Tobago became a part of the political unit in 1889.

Trinidad is at another juncture of its development. Two years ago when I wrote Indian Time Ah Come, I suggested that T&T had reached a stage in its national development in which another ethnic tendency, albeit national, was articulating its grievances and demanding its pound of flesh. The nation is yet to come to terms with their bruising demands.

In the 1830s, Europeans were the major class in the society. If one left out the enslaved Africans, the Roman Catholics were about ninety percent of the populations. During that period the mulattos or the people of color consisted of a distinct group in the society. Today they are no more. In 1875, the major language spoken in Trinidad was French creole. Today, a majority of Trinbagonians speaks English. Societies change and re-cast themselves.

Today Indians constitute the ruling class and are moving ruthlessly to consolidate their power. Even if another party were to win the forthcoming elections, Indian dominance is so entrenched that in the foreseeable future, the contours of the society shall be different. One wishes that such a transformation be accomplished without the ruthlessness and fierce cutting down of Africans.

As we enter this new era, we should distinguish between the politics of rhetoric and the politics of reality. The former talks a good game about change while the latter hides one’s nefarious purposes beneath a blanket of words. Expect to hear more of the former over the next few days.

The PP is proceeding with its objective with determination and vengeance that aren’t good for the society. It may be true, as Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar says, “behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining. [That] for Trinidad and Tobago at this time there is a gold lining behind the dark clouds and tragedy of the floods as the 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott secured a gold medal for our nation at the Olympics.”

Yet nothing can mistake the permanent dark (one could even say black) clouds hovering over the nation’s horizon as the PP continues to deny black people the just rewards for their talents and achievements in fields that are not as easy to judge as the clean, objective result of an Olympic performance. Ethnic cleansing, no matter in what remote part of the country it takes place, does not bode well for our future.

Our future condition has little to do with “the odds.” It has more to do with reigning in ethnic biases and suppressing racist proclivities that can lead to a dark, unforgiving future.
It is something our PM should be concerned about and the main lesson she should learn from our Olympic experience.

4 thoughts on “Against All Odds”

  1. When Nizam Mohammed was chairman of the PSC his behaviour was quite clear and telling about what the objectives of this government were. He articulated that race was the telling word. They will see to it that when you look at those in police uniform you would see more Indians. The police service is the most important law enforcement agency in any civil society. What matters most of all is the enforcement of laws, being a visible defense (and defender) of preditory behaviour and wearing a uniform that represent respect for the land, not the individual, the race of the wearer of that uniform or the part of the country where the officer was from. In other words what we expect of the police officer is one who would faithfully abide by the laws of the country, give service to all regardless of race, colour or creed. Thus when one is thinking of breaking the law and the presence or focus of the police officer comes into play, the race of that officer should be of no consequence. What matters is his uniform. The uniform represents law, authority, service and protection for all citizens but Nizam’s purpose was NOT service to country. It was a vividly displayed purpose to ensure Indian authority was unmistakenly seen and heard within the ranks of the police service and society would associate that police authority with Indian ascendency. Dont forget this is coming from the man that the government has enthrusted with seeing the objectives of fairness demonstrated before an enlightened public. His utterences nevertheless, was how he viewed the numbers in uniform who represented his race. His performance was so blatant that he he broke the law by ignoring the order of a police officer on duty, he thought that it was his right to ‘do as he pleases’ by ignoring the law. This same attitude has been demonstrated, articulated and carried in almost every department of government. How does this bode for the future of society? Is race the only thing that matter?

    1. I am not surprised to hear this. Unfortunately my grandmother told us years ago that the Indian plan was to have blacks in their kitchens. Looks that I could believe that now.

      Hopefully the Prime Minister took a vow to administer fairness to all Trinidadians and would eliminate corruption wherever it shows its ugly head. We all know that Trinidad and Tobago is a paradise and hopefully we all work to keep it that way.

  2. Nevertheless the regime’s behaviour will remain on the nations radar even so the euphoria will be distinguish among the citizenry. Soon things will come to:we eh taking dat so! The fact is,even our national elite athletes were victimised and had their pittance revoke on grounds that they were aligned to a PARTY.This Gov never recognised our athletes outside of ethnic and Party considerations. Prove me wrong! Where is Andre Cabera our most successful Rugby player/Captain of Trinidad & Tobago & West Indies Rugby team? In GB perhaps grovelling just to further his education.

  3. Tony Fraser
    from the Guardian speaks

    Today, Indo-Trinis dominate the professions of law and medicine, and perhaps others which do not have as high a profile and so are not as easily visible. They have joined the old French-Creole business elite in big business and commerce, and with amazing enterprise and vigour, Indo-Trinis have spread the small and medium-sized business enterprise to all parts of the country in which they predominate.

    As outlined in the previous column, in this series of articles analysing how the different ethnic, gender and geographical groups of people have advanced during the 50-year period of independence, Indo-Trinis, although having had a late start compared to the Afro-Trini population, have outstripped all others in group advance. Previous sugar-cane areas such as Cunupia, parts of Chaguanas, Princes Town, in Couva, Tunapuna and elsewhere along the east-west corridor, and in dozens of smaller towns such as Rio Claro, Indo-Trinis have established thriving commercial business operations.

    Middle-class residential areas in Chaguanas, in a canefield settlement of the 1950s and 1960s; Palmyra, along the Manahambre Road, in upscale St Joseph Village and in Gulf City, the upper middle class and elite of the Indo-Trinidad community in business and at the top of the professions have built foundations of permanence.

    Question is: what are a few of the major factors which account for this transformation of the human condition of Indo-Trinis, who came out of indentureship relatively late (1917) and long after the Afro-Trini population? The acquisition of land through purchase and in exchange for passage back to India gave the former indentured worker a start as small farmers, and this in contrast to the emancipated Africans who were prevented from small landholdings, as the colonial government sought to force them back to the sugar estates to provide labour for the French Creole planters.

    That apart, a human culture of acquisitiveness; driving ambition and sacrifice; strong family life, which extends to community living; industry and commerce with a keen sense for business possibilities; the pursuit of independent operations outside of the state sector (Indos did not depend in their early development on the State to provide them with jobs and careers); a reliance on education as a means of personal development; the retention of elements of their ancestral culture; the growth of a strong institutional base, inclusive of religious and educational structures, and the emergence of political awareness, which has lead to the acquisition of political power, are central amongst the factors which have driven the enormous advance of Indo-Trinidad during the first 50 years of political independence.

    Political consciousness took root in the 1940s through a number of groups, associations and a few publications to assert the Indo-Trini sense of selfhood—HP Singh and others from the Indian middle class were involved. By the 1930s, Muslim organisations, the largest and most influential being the Anjuman Sunnat-ul- Jamaat Association (1936), began putting organisational structure to Islam in religion and education.

    In a similar vein a decade and a half later, Bhadase Marajformed the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and along with the likes of Simboonath Capildeo began establishing schools for Hindu children to receive a primary education while promoting the Hindu religion.

    As indicated last week, the Canadian Mission (Presbyterian Church) and to a lesser extent the Catholic and Anglican Churches began providing educational opportunities and Christianity in the 19th century. Today, apart from the significant Indo-Presbyterian congregation, Naparima Boys’ and Girls’ Colleges, St Augustine Girls, Hillview College, Presentation College and St Joseph’s Convent are the major institutions for educational achievement by Indos at the secondary-school level.

    ASJA and the Hindu primary schools provide the educational base, with ASJA’s secondary schools achieving quite a measure of success at the secondary level. At the local tertiary level, Indo-Trini students outnumber other ethnic groups at the St Augustine campus of UWI. Undoubtedly, Indian music, now Indian radio stations, and Indian films played a very significant role in cultural retention and pride. The acquisition of political power by the UNC has also given greater confidence to the Indo-Trini culture to become more self-assured and assertive. Basdeo Panday is the standout in this regard.

    In addition to which, as has been the case with the Afro-Trini (and at times Tobago) party, when in power, the UNC by itself or in alliance has been able to water its community with contracts from the State, predominance on state boards and other positions of prominence which have all contributed to the ascendant status of Indo-Trinidad. While it would be impossible to disentangle any one of the above factors and more from the mix, strong family life, kinship ties, community and culture would be the foundation blocks upon which all else have been built.

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