Accounting for imbalances

By Raffique Shah
April 02, 2011

Raffique Shah“PA, ah joining the Regiment,” I announced, rather casually. “Whaaaaat?” my father Haniff screamed, Anil-like. “The Regiment? You mad! What you joinin’ as?” he probed. He had known something about rank because I had been a member of the Cadet Force when I attended college.

“A private, Pa!” I replied, mischief written large on my face. “Boy, don’t play the ass! I send you to college…make sacrifices…now you joinin’ de army as a private?” He beckoned my mother to come listen to the nonsense their eldest son was talking. She joined in, despondent even before discussion continued.

Haniff was right, of course. My humble parents had strived to educate their five children. My sisters and brothers still attended primary school. I had had a pretty successful run at college, graduating in December 1962 with the Cambridge School Certificate, Grade I. I did not pursue Sixth Form studies because I wanted to help my father. I held a teaching job even as I sought scholarships on offer since I could not afford to pay for tertiary education.

The opportunity to enlist in the Regiment as an officer cadet came as heaven-sent. I told my parents nothing when I was invited to appear before the Commissions Board at Camp Ogden in 1963. I was the youngest hopeful, but I was also strong, confident and physically fit. The Board looked formidable. Besides written academic tests, we aspirants delivered five-minute addresses on selected topics and underwent challenges in the use of initiative.

I was somewhat surprised when I received a letter confirming that I had been selected for training at Sandhurst. I thought the other boys, besides being more mature than me, were very impressive. Because I was under 18, I would wait for more than a year before I was summoned to Teteron and told I should prepare to leave for England where I would undergo a two-year course. Upon graduation, I would hold the rank of second lieutenant.

It was only then that I informed my parents. I eventually explained to them the nature of the cadetship: I was enlisting as an officer-in-training, not as a private soldier. My father would later learn from “ah White man” at the sugar factory that Sandhurst was considered one of the finest military academies in the world. “Your son going off to Sandhurst?” the boss had asked the labourer, almost incredulously.

Afterwards, my father’s stance towards my joining the army changed. He had envisaged his son moving into one of the more “acceptable” professions—maybe law, accounting or economics (I could not pursue medicine or engineering since I did not study the sciences). Still, my parents were apprehensive.

At the time, few Indians saw the Police Force or the Regiment as an option. Even boys who had failed to graduate from secondary schools repeated exams ad infinitum rather than join any of the services.

I hark back to that immediate post-independence period in the wake of the controversy that erupted when Nizam Mohammed made his injudicious statement about racial imbalances in the Police Service. What he said was factual. But it was not the whole truth. And that is what triggered the avalanche of condemnation that followed, especially when he added that he would seek to “redress these imbalances”.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there were very few Indians in the Regiment—maybe five per cent of all ranks. I was the first and only Indian officer. In the Coast Guard, there were more, maybe 15 per cent. And in the Police Force there was a similar ratio. I should note that among the few police cadets who were sent abroad to be trained as officers, one was Indian. His name was Samson Phillips. I know he was Indian (or mostly Indian) because he was a teacher at the college I attended and a warrant officer in the school’s cadet unit.

This imbalance in the police and the armed forces was not accidental. It was cultural. Most Indian parents, especially those who were devout Hindus or Muslims, saw their boys, should they choose to join these services, engaging in practices that violated their religious beliefs. For Muslims, the prospect that their sons would be exposed to pork (even if they did not eat it) was…well, haram. Hindus knew that beef was almost a staple in the services. That was unacceptable to their religious beliefs.

There was also the question of physical strength and fitness. Fewer Indian boys (than Africans) pursued these with passion.

I recall one Indian from San Juan (a Surajdeen, whose cousins in my village were my good friends), a muscular young man, who joined the West India Regiment in 1959 or thereabouts. Later, when I returned to the Regiment as a lieutenant, I met fitness freaks like Sergeant Boyin Ramnarine, and strongmen like Privates Isaac Ramlal and George Pran.

But we were more the exception than the rule. Generally, young Indian boys who were bright opted to pursue academic careers or join the civil or teaching service. Some went straight into their parents’ businesses, which they would help build and eventually inherit. Those who failed to get past primary education, opted to become mechanics, work in the sugar or oil industries, or engage in farming or vending.

Given these ingrained imbalances, how Nizam expects to reverse them defies logic. If the race-profile of the Defence Force or the Police Service is skewed not through discrimination, but by people’s choices, how do you redress that other than by naked racism?

—To be concluded


Pres: Nizam to know fate by Wednesday
Police Service Commission chairman Nizam Mohammed will know his fate in the next two to three days. Responding to questions at the University of the West Indies 50th Alumni Awards ceremony yesterday, President George Maxwell Richards said: “I am going to issue a press release in the next day or two; maybe by Wednesday.” The President met with Mohammed during a 90-minute meeting to discuss the controversial issue on Friday.

The truth about race talk
I SHALL declare my interest immediately. I am of mixed race: one parent African and the other Indian. Many in this country are mixed-race. This is a fact of life. And it is not something that I think is unworthy of discussion.

UWI study: Ethnic imbalance in Police Service spans decades

ECA supports merit over race at workplace

1992 report suggested: Disband Promotions and Advisory Board
Perceptions of discrimination exist

Report points to racial bias, not racism

For end to impasse, PSC chair must go

Jack: He will be temperate in future
Jack Warner, who also spoke on the matter involving Nizam Mohammed, chairman of the Police Service Commission, following controversial statements by Mohammed about racial inequality in the Police Service, said the matter had been ventilated and the public had “expressed its disgust” at Mohammed’s comments.

Selwyn Ryan: Nizam’s misstep – Kamla’s bonus
Let me frontload this column by congratulating the Prime Minister and her advisers for the categorical way in which they responded to the positions articulated by Nizam Mohammed in respect of the ethnic imbalances which exist at the senior level of the Police Service. It was a brilliant shot. Not to have played it would have been to make a politically fatal error which could well have started a “run” on the People’s Partnership’s political bank.

Lennox Grant: Messenger Mohammed as suicide bomber

The Great Race Debate
Port of Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing believes statements made by chairman of the Police Service Commission Nizam Mohammed, on the ethnic imbalance within the Police Service, have divided the country.

Learn from Williams’ teachings
Port-of-Spain Mayor Louis Lee Sing is convinced that if there was ever a time that this country needed the guidance of the late prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, it is now.

13 thoughts on “Accounting for imbalances”

  1. Thanks, Raf, for this personal perspective, from the inside s it were.(The Indian Mutiny was about pork grease, did you know?) It explains the absence of Indian girls on the national netball team, women’s soccer and other sports. I said the same thing in a previous commentary, on the original topic, but we could mandate proportional representation in all businesses and services in Trinidad, but I would recommend that we go back and read some of Naipaul’s comments on the service he left to go to England on a government scholarship. I see his contempt for us, as being typically “Hindu”.You create a fake Braminical class for yourself, so you could treat others as chamar.
    I am not sure of this, but it well may be that the PP people do not trust African policemen around Kamla,(they might want to get too close when she is inebriated, or may give private information to the press about how many times she vomited in the official car, going home from a trip or a function. I’d watch that liquor girl, your liver might defeat you recent victory.), so they began looking around to fill her security detail with rapid promotions, since they were less likely to go on strike over wages. This whole business of imbalance, could have sprung from the legitimate grievance of members of the police service, in terms of wages. More in the mortar…
    Look at the unrelenting pressure they have been under: summary firings of ranked officers with no hearing,and a month’s wages,findings of “spying”, then revising the spy agency and appointing a nincompoop with boobs and fake qualifications to the highest position on that board, and Nizam’s run in with two police officers, then his looking into “imbalance”.
    This has the makings of a plot for movie called “Destroy Trinidad and Tobago in 18 months or less.” with spin offs as video games and so on.
    Tell me when we should organize a funeral mass for the passing of all that was beautiful about my country.

  2. Mr Shah, sir, I have been waiting all week for your “take” on this stupid situation. I insticntively knew you would inject common sense and reality into what is becomming an unnecessary malignancy in Trinidad’s public life.

  3. Threat assessment

    By Martin Daly
    April 2, 2011

    There are many aspects to the Nizam Mohammed affair beyond the race talk. I identify below the deplorable elements of the race talk, but the affair is a case study of much else that is wrong with the conduct of politics and public office.

    It all starts with the poor judgment of the People’s Partnership in its severely partisan choices of persons to occupy certain sensitive positions. Cynics will insist that these placements are not merely poor judgment but are in fact deliberate choices calculated to deliver political control of certain public bodies so that decision-making in them matches the politicians’ desire to realign the distribution of goods, services, directorships and jobs in favour of the party faithful and financiers.

    Poor choices are also a manifestation of the entrenched reward system which is in sync with the reluctance of political activists to give a thought to country as well as party (and for “party” in many cases read “race”). One youngish professional complained to me: “Chief, I work so hard for de party and I eh get nuttin.” His perspective did not include any idea that one would choose to work for a political party because its policies and programmes might make the country better for all.

    The conduct of the PNM when in power has been little different so it has become a defence of naked patronage in public office for the zealots of either party to point out that the other party did it too and we like it so.

    One result of the conglomeration of pliable minds and ambitious pockets of zeal in public life is immediate intolerance of public scrutiny, let alone criticism. Mr Mohammed, Chairman of the Police Service Commission, almost from the outset of his involvement in a road traffic incident with two policemen on duty in Port of Spain, seemed to feel that critical public comment and insult is the same thing.

    Mr Mohammed then fell easily into the error of believing that “the guns were trained on him” because of his race. That is one of the elements of his race talk that was deplorable and completely unjustifiable by reference to any statistics about who was what in the police service. The same applies to his slur that Indo-Trinidadians would be reluctant to give information to Afro-Trinidadian policemen. It is worrying that there are members of Cabinet who apparently did not appreciate the gravity of these remarks. The Prime Minister must be much more watchful of their loose lips.

    Beset with that fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities and burdens of public office Mr Mohammed went to troubling lengths to try and stifle criticism of his road traffic incident.

    The stifle steps which we already know about was the attempt to have the Police Service Commissioners write the President expressing full confidence in Mr Mohammed’s leadership, apparently in the context of quelling media treatment of the road traffic matter and the procuring of the office of the Commissioner of Police to have the Special Branch visit the main critics of Mr Mohammed to conduct a threat assessment of their campaign for accountability in that matter.

    I am appalled that the Special Branch should pay a visit to persons exercising freedom of speech and expression, or engaging in peaceful political action. This use of the Special Branch to conduct a so-called threat assessment because of public criticism has only served to compromise the office of the Commissioner of Police.

    The credibility of the Government has also been severely damaged because we do not know how many members of Cabinet share Mr Mohammed’s outlook, particularly as there is widespread concern that State enterprises may be asked to conduct ethnic balance assessments.

    Returning to the attempts to stifle public scrutiny of the road traffic matter, I can reveal that Mr Mohammed had his lawyers write a letter to the Law Association. I will not reveal the Law Association’s business, but in the course of the lawyer’s letter, it was alleged against me personally that my column of December 12, 2010 under the headline “Dukes, Nizams and other rulers” was defamatory and inappropriate. The column was no such thing and I have had independent legal advice to that effect. The column was simply characteristic of my robust but fair comment.

    Another commissioner reportedly told the Joint Select Committee of Parliament that “we have taken the decision not to let this be a roadblock to the work that we have been appointed to do. That has been our approach and I think it has been the most sensible and level-headed approach in these circumstances”.

    While I respect such a point of view, my own view is that lack of proper accountability will usually be a roadblock to competent work in public office. The threat assessment we really need to make is what is the extent of existing roadblocks to accountability in public office?

  4. Mr. Mohammed did not consult with people like you because you would then enligten him and possibly stop his crusade.

  5. The crusade to depopulate the economic and power sphere of T&T of Africans is a pattern you will find in every society with the political demography of T&T. Again, this cannot be a coincidence. When Governments that are ethnically similar, with societal demographics that are similar embark on the same policies and machinations, one has to become cognizant that there os something rotten in the state of denmark so to speak.

    The rottenness is the hubristic moves to cleanse Africans from positions of economic power and relegate them to greater poverty conditions as a means of controlling them with legal tools like jail and execution. We need to raise our voices in crescendo, because we know that this was coming the moment that coalition came into power.

    We know it was coming from the moment we saw the positioning of certain persons in certain areas. We knew it was coming the moment we witnessed the triumphalism that inundated the posts and assertions of the sycophants on these blogs. We need to cease acommodating these crass expressions of prejudice that were bottled up waiting to explode as soon as the repositories saw their own kind occupying the political halls of power. We saw the same development when Panday first came into power, why do some of us believe that it would be different this time? Because they said so? Give me a break! Don’t be persuaded by their instructions that you should believe them rather than your lying eyes.

  6. My neighbour joined the police force back in the 70’s his father was not please about it because police work is dog work. But times have change and it is for the better with more Indians joining the military and police service. All people want is fairness is that too much to ask for…

  7. I commend for including Mr. Daly’s comments on this blog. Now there are people who stand up for Trinidad and Tobago, they are not for or against any group. They want good government. Mr. Daly is one of those. Raf is another. I humbly suggest that I am in that bunch but a whole lot of people will disagree.They want you to pick a side. I would not pick any side except the good governance of my country of birth.
    I criticise the country of my residence also, left, right and center, and to my knowledge, I have not been “investigated”in the US for anything I have written; but there is a climate of fear in TnT, that did not arise with the PeePee government. It may well be a leftover from colonial times, that if you open your mouth, look out for your job. no wuk for you. That is why so many people comment on this blog and in the Express, anonymously.( I am proud to use my name on anything I say).Its a climate of fear as to who is the enemy.
    When I lived in TnT, I wrote a piece , cynical in nature, commenting on Chambers in the Conoco scandal called “Gentlemen Prefer Blonde” published in the Express. I was branded as a sympathiser of the opposition, though I forgot what party they were calling themselves then. When I criticized some aspects of the new NAR after the votequake, I was branded a PNM supporter, and fired from a state enterprise because some of the top dogs there, corrupt as the day was long, felt that I was a PNM plant.
    I watch from abroad, in derision, amusement, cynicism and real fear for my country, as various government officials stumble forward, race being the big thing on their mind. Mr. Dookeran’s remarks made on the NAR platform to my friend, quoted elsewhwere, Mr. Mohammed’s idiotic comments made more than once, the fact that the opposition to the PNM, under the aegis of Sat MAharaj had demanded a head count of EVERY government institution and office as to how many Indians worked there- Nalis, for example, and even the St.Mary’s Children’s home, and the whispered concern with which Afro-trinis spoke of it; while realizing that the Indo-trinis have their temples and other meetings in which they speak in their own language; and could be plotting God Knows what. The fact that outstanding commenters like David Bratt, Martin Daly and Julian Kenny are all scrutinized to see if their commentaries are pro or anti any party, rather than for good government, makes me even more concerned, because these Euro-trinis are grouped with the Afros and percieved as being against the Indians.
    We have woven a tangled mess. I worry about friends I know on both sides of the political divide, former students, who chose the side they thought would best suit the country, and are now alienated from former friends, just for running.

    A friend of mine wants to come to TnT so badly with me. I fear for her, because whatever she is, would be the wrong colour, the wrong side, just wrong, and she is my friend. I fear for nieces and nephews here, who as cousins, could go walking together and alienate both sets of people because
    of their ethnic mixture.
    People seem sharpening their mental knives,ready to carve up. How long before these mental acts become real knives, real guns?
    I continue to pray for my country daily. I light a candle for TnT, and will not give up.I am the change I hope to see in others, at least, I try to be. Its enervating.

  8. It is not fairness to seek to balance one occupational economic niche that has a majority of one segment of the population while ignoring others that have majorities of another segment. That equation is not balanced, and the fact that it is not seen by you and others speaks to your predispositon to see T&T only from the point of view that benefits your clan. The ethnic distributions in these centers of economic activity are consequences of choice. What you are saying in effect is to change the make up one side without considerations for the imbalances on other sides, and thus increase numbers for your side and to hell with the consequences.

    That you call that fair corroborates every point I have made heretofore. That you lack the capacity to see the world through anything other than an etnic prism that is advantagous to your group. And that is why Afro T&T citizens must keenly follow and pay attention this pattern of reasoning that unmasks the patent deceit and power grabbing motives that influences it.

  9. So, Khem, if I get this right, it is dog work for all these years since Full Internal Self Government in 1956, through the departure of Tony May, the last English Chief of Police, until now, when the PeePee people take over, suddenly it is a job worth having, and the party will trample on every process, to put in “sufficient” Indians in the force/service? I hope they will act differently from that Tota-Maharaj guy, who, when given some instructions on how to get out of a situation where he was lost in Pt. Fortin, turned around and short the nineteen year old who spoke to him, and was later spirited out of the country. High profice case eh, showing great temperament for policing a country where African originated people are half the population? More to come?What of the officer who shot Cons. Guerra, son of my childhood friend Venice Guerra of Cumuto, in a “gun cleaning accident”. Sufficent technique on using weapons, to be able to provide outstanding service, not so?

  10. Did Nizam misbehave?
    Constitutional experts assist President on thorny PSC issue

    Race claims add to police woes
    …Fierce debate over ethnic imbalance

    Gibbs, Khan, Nizam talking for months on imbalance
    Concerns over the ethnic composition of the T&T Police Service have been ongoing since last year. In fact, correspondence between Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs, attorney Israel Khan, SC, and Police Service Commission chairman Nizam Mohammed was exchanged outlining the concerns of ethnic imbalance within the Police Service.

    Plot against me, says PSC’s George
    Attendance records are being manipulated and used to undermine commissioners, member of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Martin George, says. George, together with some of the other commissioners of the PSC, will hold a press conference at the Mariott hotel at Invader’s Bay, Mucurapo, from 1 p.m. today to discuss this, as well statements made by PSC chairman Nizam Mohammed against them.

    Rowley: Fire Nizam now
    Opposition Leader to file motion in Parliament…

    Opposition to file motion against Mohammed
    The Opposition People’s National Movement is expected to file a motion in Parliament condemning the actions of chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Nizam Mohammed, which will also call on the President to revoke his appointment immediately.

    Basdeo comes to Nizam’s defence
    Former prime minister Basdeo Panday has come to the defence of embattled chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC) Nizam Mohammed.

    Michael Harris: Nizam’s rotten red herring

  11. It is unfortunate that Mr. Mohammad (by name, possible a Muslim) sought to inflame racial hatred in a nation that was becoming less polarized by its emerging explosion of mixed races. In fact, such inflamed statement from religious fanatics who believe in fear mongering because of their strict laws of religious or class separation, may not have been so troubling, and may have been taking for just what it is. But, from a Muslim whose religious doctrine on the brotherhood of man, transcend racial separation, is totally unacceptable. Mr. Shaw in his article on this subject has touched a central nerve of this debate and has enlightened this nation on the cause for racial disparity in the Police Service and perhaps in most other government services. I think both government and opposition have done a tremendous job in their condemnation of Mr. Mohammed statement and in their call for his removal, as representative of the people, whom Mr. Mohammed pretends to be the voice of. In the period 1969-1970 I had a wonderful discussion with one of the most honest men I have met by the name of Deo Narrinesing. He was openly frank in explaining the cause for the situation that we are now debating. It shows that it was not a calculated effort on any government in the past or present to promote racial disparity in the Services, but it was the result of an ethnic culture. He explained like Mr. Shaw, another man of East Indian descent, the expressed pride of his parents, who then being laborers coming from the cane fields and the rice swamp, sacrificing with limited financial resource to have their children become highly educated and professional, and that they become independently self-sufficient through a structured system that would afford them economic and financial power. That their children should never be subjugated to the hardship they had faced, or to whims and fancies of government political favoritism. He explained the cultural differences between the Trinidadians of African descent with few exceptions, whose parents pride themselves in their children having the security of a government job (police, civil service, nursing, etc.) replicating their former colonial bosses, but unlike their counterpart were seldom agitated to build a competitive professional and financial system of self-sufficiency for their future generations. It was by choice that the Indo-Afro Trinidadians numbers in the government services are as they are today. The good that might come out of this national debate, is the fact that this once culturally separated system of national service may demand of us as nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, a serious look with a sense of pride, at serving in the Public Service, not necessary for financial gain which is limited, but as a sacrificial duty on our part to the prosperity and security of our nation in its national governance.

  12. When the British were seeking people to educate, to eventually hand over the country to, the people of East Indian descent had openly refused to go to school alongside the African children.(Check the Moyne Commision report.) The Mixed race bag that was Trinidad and Tobago, generally excluded the East Indians unless they lived in the city. When the St. Augustine Girls High School was founded, almost every student there was Indian, although my youngest sister went there. The Indian population of TnT CHOSE to keep to themselves, and did not participate in the tradition of the Civil Service- that is working to better your country, as well as yourself.They were involved in the Ministry of Agriculture, and if a total investigation is conducted into accountability for government lands, well some people would go to jail! Even when men like Noor Hasanali participated in the Public Service, and Chinese men like Sir Solomon Hochoy participated, few Indian women participated. As for African’s in business, well I know two from way back, because they are related to me, or were in the places where I lived. Mr. Nelson in Arima was a druggist/pharmacist, and owned Nelson’s Drug Store on Broadway in Arima. The Hon. Robert Wallace, Labour Minister under the first PNM government, owned two drug stores, one in Barataria and one in Woodbrook. His sister and brother in law, owned Lenwayne Industries, this is about fifty years ago. I know these because the Wallaces were my mother’s cousins. I am sure there were others in other families.For people who were poor, the Civil Service was a way up, but many served because it was our country, and we wanted to make it better. Unfortunately, I do not think that people of direct Indian descent, regardless of where they live, think that that place is their country. India is. They are in for profit rather than service industries, because they tell themselves that they could pack up and go anytime. In many parts of Africa where Indians live, they segregate thenmselves in separate litte schools, and never register to vote.They tend not to become citizens unless that s a requirement to do business with the government.
    We in Trinidad should begin to correct imbalances by actively patronizing businesses on a head count basis. Walk into the store, look around, if none of your people working there, do not buy there , unless its a cure for cancer, or something else equally drastic. There are few nurses who are Indians, know why? Nurses have to clean up sick people, regardless of race. Look arounfd you people. This has been going on for 150 years now.Nizam just discovered imbaance? Did he ever bvisit Kirpalani’s in the old days?

  13. Thank God that we have a level headed President and he is of the mixed race category. We can now breathe a sigh of relief and move on.
    Trinbagonians are funloving and coexist peacefully.We certainly dont need racial tensions.

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