Discrimination, doc, not ‘ethnic cleansing’

By Raffique Shah
July 26, 2009


Dr. Tim GopeesinghON the few occasions I spoke with Dr Tim Gopeesingh, I found him to be an amiable, intelligent person. He is one of the few high-profile members of Basdeo Panday’s parties who are bold enough to actually converse with me. I add this since I’m sure Panday has some unwritten clause in his party’s regulations that deems interaction with this not-so-humble writer “high treason”. But that’s another story. Today I focus on Tim’s injudicious statement about “ethnic cleansing” of Indo-Trinidadian doctors at the Port of Spain General Hospital.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this relatively new term as “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity.” Coined around 1992 during the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, yet another definition runs like this: “The systematic elimination of an ethnic group or groups from a region or society, as by deportation, forced emigration, or genocide.” And the US military sees it as “the mass expulsion or killing of members of an unwanted ethnic or religious group in a society.”

Dr Gopeesingh, scholar that he is, may not have had the time to research the various definitions of the term before he spewed it out in the heat of a debate in Parliament. Parliamentarians are notorious for speaking before they think. One needs only to go back a few weeks earlier, in the Senate, when Gail Merhair pronounced that Independent senators should not “thwart” government’s legislative agenda-absolute hogwash. One might even delve deeper into the archives and come up with Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s infamous pronouncement that he was “the father of the nation”.

Mostly, these outrageous or comical outbursts elicit laughter from the public. Hazel Manning must still squirm every time she hears someone say “breakfasses”, and Adesh Nanan’s “para-dig-im” remains a gem decades after the MP mispronounced the word. Some of the terms used, though, demand immediate retraction the moment the persons using them realise they can be offensive in the extreme, or downright dangerous. Dr Gopeesingh’s use of “ethnic cleansing” falls in the latter category. He should have immediately withdrawn the words and apologised to the nation for introducing it in an inflammable multi-ethnic but largely bipolar society.

What the good doctor may have intended to expose was a measure of racial discrimination in the hiring and separation of professional staff not only at the Port of Spain hospital, but elsewhere in the public sector. There is ample evidence of that. Attorney Anand Ramlogan has carved a niche for himself in taking such matters all the way through the courts, and winning them.

His most recent victories finger as the culprits persons holding high office, from politicians in power to members of the Public Service Commission. The PSC’s dismissal of the perception that it acted in a discriminatory manner in the Maharaj matter fell flat when Ramlogan pointed out that the victim had previously acted in the position for several years. It’s either the PSC is grossly incompetent or it is guilty of racial discrimination.

Be that as it may, the fact that an Appeal Court comprising non-Indian judges ruled in favour of Indian appellants shows that racial discrimination will not be countenanced in this country, certainly not by members of the judiciary. Indeed, for all its weaknesses, especially in matters involving litigants who cannot afford expensive “seniors”, our judicial system is largely untainted.

I should point out, too, that while there may be a measure of racial discrimination in the public sector, no one can deny that many Indians have risen to the highest levels in their respective departments. I can easily reel out the names of Indians who have held high office, in instances the highest offices. One can also point to rank discrimination against Afro-Trinis when it comes to employment, mostly when they come from districts like Laventille, Morvant and other, similar areas “marked for exclusion”.

This must be condemned in the strongest terms, especially as so many people from these “branded” districts have proved to be as bright or as skilful as their counterparts anywhere.

But “ethnic cleansing”? Really, I want Dr Gopeesingh to read the few definitions I reproduced above and re-think what he said. Some of the “victims” he named as he stuck to his ethnic-cleansing guns have openly distanced themselves from his allegations. If he argues there is an absence of meritocracy, that’s more plausible. People of all ethnicities suffer from discrimination, bypassed for promotion because they refuse to be servants to their bosses, or, in the case of women, sleep with them.

Such acts are rampant in this Lilliputian society where every tin god straddles his fiefdom like a Gulliver with feet of clay. Ethnic cleansing is what is currently taking place in Israel and Palestine, where an entire people are being systematically eliminated, driven from their land, their houses bulldozed, condemned to facing atrocities on a daily basis. That is ethnic cleansing-at the hands of a people who suffered a similar fate under the Nazis.

Doc, we have our problems in this blessed-but-cussed country. There are racists of every hue. But we remain lucky to live side by side, with little conflict among the many races. Do the decent thing: withdraw that term and apologise to the nation.

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8 thoughts on “Discrimination, doc, not ‘ethnic cleansing’”

  1. There is brilliance in Raf’s summation of the “gopiesingh’s affair”. The article is balanced and has a high degree of substance in the naration but since the person in question is one belonging to the “educated” class in a small country we should not assume what he means. He is capable of speaking for himself and has had many opportunities to make the correction of a term which we saw in the recent past occurying in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Palestine to name a few. He has used the term in and out of parliament, so he very well knows what he wanted to say. A mere retraction will be considered an insult to the good people of T&T. With all it’s fault, there is a high degree of togetherness here in T&T. Discrimination is NOT a word in which aspirants to power has a monopoly over,just look at the people of Laventille, Morvant and La Horqueta?

  2. Raffique,I does read your coluumn every monday morning. I also have a friend in common with you. Bates. anyway, I think Tim know exactly what he was saying when he made the remarks. I think he should do the right think and apologize to the nation. that and a green monkey we will never see. he knows he have parliamentary privillege so he use it to rally up his base. it’s very sad when politician have to go so low to stir up their base. he remind me of the republicians. “barack Obama is not an american, he was born in Kenya. that’s to stir up their base. I know of plenty Afro Trinidadians who have encountered racism from members of the Indian community, especially in the ministry of health, since that ministry is 90% Indians. they never said it was ethnic cleasing though. nobody ever take them serious. The president never wanted to meet with them. racism should not be condone by nobody in trinidad and tobago.

  3. Expecting that this Gopeesingh joker ,or similar loud mouth , opportunistic ,rabble rouser should apologize for any of the nonsense they utter , is like expecting the Bengal Tiger Panday to voluntary give up power to Ramesh or Jack Warner , then report to any of our prisons and request to serve the rest of his days behind bars , which in the process would save our country with it’s overburdened justice system millions ,via a continued useless drawn out trial for his past corruption deeds while in office. It ain’t happening , as this is not in their DNA.

  4. I cant understand how an educated and learned could give such derogatory outburst without the facts. But then again I am not surprise, because politics brings out the worst in us especially when we are pandering to our base.The data are there for everyone to see, the medical profession(especially doctors) are made up of 80% Indian well if that is not some form of ethnic social engineering going on I rest my case.

  5. the doctor should be ashamed of himself he is acting as though africans are responsible for anything bad in this country indians own everything and came here not as slaves like us what do indians want black people to do there is no racial devide in this country the politians are encouraging this nonsense please stop the madness and deal with the real issues like crime and poverty shame on you doc shame shame shame you do not know what the phrase ethnic cleansing means apologize now .

  6. Ahhh, the politics are intruging…Dr. Tim speaks of ethnic cleansing to rally the UNC masses and the PM speaks of a plot to assasinate him to rally the PNM masses…..I see it clearly.

  7. JB forgive me if I disagree, but are you saying that globalization is alive and well between Sweet T&T aka Rainbow Country ,to the extent that our sophisticated Trini voters are emulating the stupidity ,and dumb down behaviors of their great Northern counterparts in America?
    There as you might be aware, in some cases illiterate , poor, often unemployed gun nuts, and skinheads racist sympathizers would support a Conservative party leadership that would encourage the desperate to send their kids to pointless wars ,and remain without proper health care, due to the fact that they think that a Mexican or some other immigrant, would cross the border to flood their hospitals and demand welfare benefits like the millions of indigenous folks .
    On the other hand ,the pretensive Democratic party leaders would project themselves as eternal saviors of perennially neglected African Americans masses, and other confused minorities , but would support closely every Republican policy that works against their interest from Immigration, to employment, education, and skewed Foreign policy linked to wars , terrorism, and job flights to the cheap labor, and sub par Human Rights Asian continent ,all the while pointing to a few token face saving leaders within ,as some sign of inclusiveness and progressiveness.
    Never thought the day would come when I’ll have to contemplate whether a UNC voter that would have voted for Panday and camp anyway, would now decide to really vote for him because Tim Gopeesingh claim that indians are forced to revert to third class citizenry – just one step above Africans.
    What a pathetic joke!Perhaps I am the fool for not recognizing that my country and it’s inhabitants are destined to remain a backward dung heap of a Third world State with no future hope in sight.
    Just kidding.

  8. I am of the same view and was dissappointed by the doc. This cleary shows where parliamentarians take the people business for a joke, no one does any serious research and just oppose and make imature comments with to no regards for the people of our country.

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