THE EDITOR: Politicians in Trinidad and Tobago have always used cultural (ethnic) differences among our people to gain office, power and wealth. This ethnic baiting strategy is most notable at election time and goes back to colonial times.
The exploitation of the differences between former African slaves and Indentured labourers from India was one of the major methods by which British colonialism exploited the Trinbago economy and was able to implement minority rule. This is a historical truism that most Trinbagonians are aware of. Unfortunately, this divide and rule policy was adopted by our politicians and as recent pronouncements indicate, is alive and kicking in all areas of our public affairs.
Mr. Nizam Mohammed has been a politician since 1976. He has thirty-five years in public service as a Member of Parliament, Speaker of the House, Leader of the NAR, Senior Member of the COP and Chairman of the Police Service Commission among other positions. Yet, this seasoned politician seems not to be aware of the history of the Police Service and the historical reason why Afro-Trinbagonians are the majority police officers. Jack Warner in my view gave the answer by referring briefly to the history of policing in T&T.
Up to the 1940’s the majority of police officers were expatriate British Officers with Barbadian and Tobagonian secondary leadership in the lower ranks. This foreign composition and domination of the Police Service, with the exception of Tobago, was a colonial security strategy. Trinidadians were not trusted to be the instruments of oppression of their own people on behalf of a colonial ruler. TUB Butler and Krishna Deonarine (Cola Rienzi) many times spoke out against the domination of the police service by foreigners.
It was only during the 1950’s of Home Rule that Trinidadians were encouraged to become police officers. During the Independence and Post-Independence period of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Officer Corps was still dominated by British, Barbadians and Tobagonians. One is extremely surprised that Nizam Mohammed seems not to be aware of that history.
The end of African Slavery in T&T in 1838 saw the beginning of Indian Indenture. So that in terms of assimilation into T&T mainstream Creole Culture, Afro-Trinbagonians were ahead by many years. Similarly, it was the end of Indenture that the process of Indo-Trinbagonian creolisation into T&T mainstream Creole/Euro culture began. So that just as in the trades, the public and police service, the professions and other mainstream activities, Afro-Trinbagonians were half a century ahead of Indo Trinbagonians. However, with the passage of time, Indo-Trinbagonians have been able to catch up and surpass Afro-Trinbagonians in many areas.
On the other hand, because of historical factors and not because of any ethnic favourability factor, Afro-Trinbagonians still constitute the majority in some areas of the economy. It is also true that because of the different post-slavery/post-indenture compensation treatment, both groups were attracted to and entered into different areas of the economy. It is a fact that not many Afro-Trinbagonians were given lands while many Indo-Trinbagonians were given lands as compensation for their indentureship.
So that it was natural for one group to go into business while another group sought hired jobs. It is natural in that circumstance for Afro-Trinbagonians to enter into the police service in large numbers and Indo-Trinbagonians to enter into business in large numbers. So that with historical fact Nizam and some of his Minister colleagues in the PP would see that there was and is no grand conspiracy for the current composition of the police service. It is surprising though that Nizam and his few PP colleagues do not object to the return to the colonial practice of foreign leadership of the T&T police but instead seek to highlight the high percentage of Afro-Trinbagonians in the police service as if they have done wrong by choosing to serve in what is certainly a most dangerous and low-paying job with very long hours.
Our society is very young and still evolving. Many cross-cultural developments are taking place and we are seeing signs of a unique Trinbago culture emerging. However, there are many negative factors in our evolution. Earlier on, I referred to the politicians and their dangerous political ploy of using ethnic differences for political power and economic gain. This has spread to what appears to be a significant portion of the society.
Talk shows are aloud with ethnic bashing, we heard Cro Cro’s song this year and others in previous years chastising Afro-Trinbagonians for voting for an Indo-Trinbagonian party. Sat Maharaj has made a name for himself by bashing Afro-youths and stereotyping a few deviant non-performing Afro-youths as the module for Afro-Trinbagonian morals, behaviour and culture, while praising the high performance of Indo-Trinbagonians as if such performance is related to ethnicity. Sat gets a National Award for bashing Afro-Trinbagonian Youth and Morgan Job ceaselessly attacks young Afro-Trinbagonians as lazy non-performing and illegitimate child-producing drain on taxpayers.
Morgan lectures to the new PP government at their retreat in Tobago. Syrian/Lebanese-Trinbagonians see Indo-Trinbagonians as a Business threat. Euro-Trinbagonians are scared of the emerging Indo-Trinbagonian business class. Workers and managers who in many cases don’t belong to any party are displaced and punished when a new party takes power. Because of their ethnicity they are perceived to belong to one or the other party. One understands the political appointments. But to punish people lower down the ladder is to interfere with people’s civil rights under the Constitution.
Generalisation is practice for us. We brand the entire ethnic group for the negatives of one person of that group. So that in a small, wealthy and highly diverse society of one and a half million people with inequitable distribution of the wealth and under the control of wealthy politicians and business people, the fires of ethnic differences is a major issue to create diversions, while the wealth of the society is plundered by a few of all ethnicities. There are no ethnic contradictions or antagonisms among the ruling class. Division and strife is left for the lower classes while the major issue of the equitable distribution of the country’s wealth is a non-issue.
Are we being led down the road of ethnic strife and conflict by our corrupted short-sighted politicians? Remember Fiji, Rwanda and Bosnia… the creation of Pakistan? Or can we as progressive Calypsonians do, sing “Sufferers don’t care about Race” or T&T is where “The Ganges meet the Nile?”
For years we have developed a high level of double personalities to counter ethnic differences and sensitive ethnic issues. It has become a fine art to many of us who have friends and family of the two major groups. We just don’t discuss the issues. We don’t care for the historical reasons for why we are here? What are the reasons for our social, economic and political construct?
Nizam, Cro Cro, Sharma and Moonilal seem not to know our history. It is sad that Abdulah at the joint select committee did not give Nizam a short lecture on the History of Afro and Indo-Trinbagonians and the police service instead of telling him he is going down a dangerous road and killing the debate. It is a shame that McLeod’s response to Nizam’s statement is that Nizam and Cro Cro should be put in the same cell. He could have instead used the opportunity to deal with the contradictions and antagonisms among Trinbagonians of varied ethnic origins and the need for respect for all cultures.
We are running away from the issue and hoping it will die. But it will not! It is deep-seated because the division has become a political, economic and social chauvinistic tool of class exploitation. One day a fire could be lit that will abort the evolutionary development and it may take hundreds of years to heal. Nizam’s dismissal while appropriate is not the answer. The Ethnic Genie Has Been Let Out Of The Bottle. It may spread like a contagious disease and infect more and more of our population, particularly our children. We need to debate this issue fair, square and without fear or favour. We need to know how we developed. Why our Social Construct is the way it is and, most Important, what are the things we must do to correct the cancer eating away at our society? We need to forge a method that will cultivate Respect for our Diversity and an Understanding that we cannot develop our Society in an environment of disrespect and ethnic antagonism.