About that Imbalance

By Corey Gilkes
April 08, 2011

PoliceSo finally the President revoked Nizam Mohammed’s appointment. About bloody time as far as I’m concerned since he should have been sent packing the minute he crossed swords with those two police officers. So we clear one time me eh have no sympathy for he.

But then there is this:

Now (of course) there has been a huge hue and cry over the remarks he made regarding the imbalance in the upper echelons of the Police Service. But (of course) much of what has been said in response was as emotive and reactionary as Nizam’s statements were and almost as devoid of proper historical context.

It’s not that what he said was wrong — he was right. There is a numerical imbalance. Further, looking at the Darby Report and the Ryan/La Guerre Report one does see indications of deliberate attempts to exclude in the past. But there also remains not so quietly whispered comments that during the Williams era children and family members of trade union and Black Power activists were also excluded. The fact remains this is a very complex and multi-dimensional topic and he, nevertheless, remains the wrong person who said the right thing in the wrong manner. Given the way our society is and the complexity of this issue, there is no way such a statement could have been made without also laying out very clearly the historical context in which the imbalance — in this and many other professions — became a reality. How could he have not mentioned the fact that at particular periods, not only did Indi-Trinbagonians opt not to join, but many Afri-Trinbagonians as well. The Police Force during the colonial period was reviled as the oppressive arm of the colonial authorities and upon Independence became the repressive arm of the State. So there were many on both sides who spurned the uniform of the Constabulary. Further, how could he have not pointed out that many Indian fathers forbade their children from enlisting, insisting that they follow them into whatever businesses they were running? And we can go on and on.

What would have been great, however, is if we used this as an opportunity to properly deal with the issues of race, class and the insecurities in both that have been exploited by our political, business and educated elite. Issues that have been swept under the carpet for far too long. There have been some attempts in the past but I do not think those reached out to enough people and I don’t think the really awkward questions were asked. When it comes to living in denial, we as a people really have it down to a science. The oft-heard claim that “all ah we is one” is a really nice, lovely ideal but in reality stands on very fragile ground. And that has a lot to do with encouraged ignorance as well as insecurities based on real and perceived differences among the various ethnic groups that were well exploited by the colonial authorities and remained largely untouched after they (supposedly) departed after 1962.

Practically everybody you hear calling into radio talk shows pleading to get away from “dis race talk” have the best of intentions. But this is one of those issues in which the best way to get past it is to go straight through it and ask and answer by ourselves, for ourselves the bitter, unpleasant truths about how racial/ethnic relations came to be what they are. But let’s not start with Dr. Williams in the way Dr. Job loves to do it — although he does have a lot to answer for so to speak. Let’s first look at what the British — who no one seems too willing to indict — did. Make no mistake, the seeds of the poison in our minds today were actively cultivated by the British. Don’t want to believe me? Cool, but look at their legacy in Palestine and their hand in the conflict between Jews and Muslims there; in India and the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan; in Iraq — a state they actually created by forcibly fusing together the ethnic groups living more or less autonomously there. Indeed, look right in our backyard in Guyana and the way their “civilising” of the natives and peoples brought together resulted in so much loss of life since the 1950s. Am I to understand and accept that ALL of these ethnic groups were senselessly fighting and killing one another all this time until the Brits showed up? Allyuh still accepting that narrative after all this time?

What about the concept of Othering which was particularly strong in Western worldview, how did that play a part in how we looked at each other? Let’s lift that carpet and throw light on the role of religion in that aspect. How did such metaphorical concepts as the Light=good/Darkness=evil dichotomy inform the way we kept each other at a distance? Already on another level we are seeing it beginning to rear its ugly head again as the Ministry of Education is seeking to re-examine religious education — for me an oxymoron, but I’ll look past it just this once — in schools. Almost as soon as the Minister of Education made that announcement, reactions from largely Christians showed just how much ignorance and imbalance is by no means limited to the Police Service.

In other words, let’s stop leaving these things to chance, hoping that it goes away. Let’s really make an effort to confront them and hopefully get somewhere for a change.

21 thoughts on “About that Imbalance”

  1. About that imbalance, a personal perspective.
    1978. Court ordered desegregation in the State of Delaware,the result of a lawsuit filed to show that separate but equal was separate and unequal. Twenty percent of my previously almost all white high school, is now minority students, because Judge Schwartz redrew the school district boundaries. We hold our annual election for Homecoming Queen, one for each of four grade levels. The predictable results- an all white court of 16 people, queens, runners up, and Ms. Football Princess.

    I am bothered by this, because the minority students, economic barriers included, would feel that they were not wanted. They didn’t have a chance.As Associate Principal,I propose to the Principal thatwe have a special bye-election to select minority reps. “How would that work?’he grumbled.I explained. Only African and Hispanic young ladies could be nominated and from the pool of four at each grade level, all the students in that grade could vote for one. The students with the most votes would be added to the existing court. He bought into it, and we announced that there will be a special bye election.
    There was so much racial animus that many white students were hearing that “that woman” planned to undo the homecoming court to make sure a black won. Across the district, phone lines lit up. By the next morning the principal’s phone was ringing off the hook. Board members wanted to fire me, one in particular said, “tell me which idiot proposed this so that I could fire her” her exact words, as attested to by other board members. My principal, as strong minded as I was, said that nothing happens in his school without his prior approval, so they should fire him. Ms.Laura backed down. The election went on as planned and we added one Hispanic and three African-Americans to the existing court. It was important that those girls know they were beautiful also.
    Within three years of that event, the entire student body elected an african American homecoming queen. No one fired me, judge Schwartz would have been in my corner, but we needed that bye-election to jump start the process.

    It is possible to use a similar method to add Indian, Chinese Douglas and Women to the police service. Recruit in those areas for specific numbers, providing that they meet the qualifications, including taking an oath of loyalty to Trinidad and Tobago. This would be a good opportunity for the government to show how it could be done, then demand that private sector businesses, follow suit- Banks,Private school staffs, the Chanber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and so on.Coast Guard, Fire Services and the regiment could follow the same guidelines. After basic training and recruitment, all new officers will be part of the regular ranks. No special privileges, but merit would be the basis of promotion.

    We could also go for compulsory national service for all people of a certain age.More drastic, but possible.

  2. Your personal perspective is right on. Many of us in our generation would not have gone anywhere if we feared the repercussions. The generation that included the likes of Malcolm X, Stokley Carmichael, Huey P Newton, TUB Butler, Marcus Garvey etc., that preceded us led us to take definite stands. We did what we though was logical and we were willing to take the consequences since we knew they were logical.
    I am happy to see more people taking logical positions and hopeful that some mud will stick on the walls of time. The sacrifice is well worth it.

  3. Tread carefully Corey, you are dangerously close to prohibited zones (third-to-last p’graph) i.e. if you belong to one of the persecuted classes of people.

  4. A Shower of Mercy:
    When the heart is hard and parched up,
    come to me wih a shower of mercy;
    When grace is lost from life, come to me with a burst of song.
    When tumultous work raises its din on all sides, shutting me out from beyond, Come to me, my Lord of silence, with thy peace and rest.
    When my beggarly heart sits crouched, shut up in a corner, break open the door my king, and come with the ceremony of a king. When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O Thou Holy One, thou wakeful, come with thy light, and thy thunder.
    Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941)

    Earth to Gold
    O You who change earth into gold,
    and out of other earth made the father of mankind,
    Change my mistakes and forgetfulness into knowledge
    Jalil al-Din Rumi(1207-1273)

    I saw a stranger today, I put food for him in the eating place,
    and drink in the drinking place, and music in the listening place. In the Holy Name of the Trinity, he blessed my house, my goods and my family.And the lark said in her whistle:
    Often, often often, comes Christ in the strangers guise, O often, often, often, goes Christ in the starngers guise. Traditional Celtic prayer.

    For A Newborn
    I lift this newborn child to you.
    You brought it to birth, you gave it life.
    This child is the fresh bud from an ancient tree,
    A new member from an old family.
    May this fresh bud blossom.
    MAy this child grown strong and righteous.

    Song of the Kalahari Bushmen, Southwest Africa

    From these four traditions have we come to a small set of two islands, in the southern Caribbean to fight each other tooth and claw. What if we had really made an effort to learn tolerance of the “Isness” of others from the beginning, how much better off would we be as people? with which of these statements can the Afro-Trini and the Indo-Trini, retreated to his corner, and glaring bellicosely, with which can he disagree?

  5. But even before the British went to India, the society had already been stratified along the lines of color. This is not to vitiate against the arguments advanced about the British’s role in creating divisions. But one the key features the British looked to captialize on in their selection of replacement labor for the sugar plantations in the Caribbean after emancipation, and after the formerly enslaved Africans began arguments for living wages and civilized treatment from their bosses, was cultural and religious practices that in some way mirrored their view of black people. In other words, they wanted people whould not become natural allies of the formerly enslaved, and thus form a phalanx of non white opposition to their rule and practises. And I would argue that they chose well.

    After the indigenous peoples were deemed unfit for slavery through the intervention of a Catholic Priest, they were used to track down escaped slaves. They knew the rain forest, lived there, and were apt to the task. They also did not find any abstract relationship or empathy with those who were brought in to replace them. That they still refer to themselves as Amerindian today, a construction to mean American Indian, even while objecting to the hubristic notion that Columbus had discovered them, is an indication of the confusion that infects the prism which some examine history. Because there is something oxymoronic in the rejection of an interpretation of history while holding strongly to a particular result of such interpretation.

  6. Ms Edwards
    Practically every single time I read one of your responses I learn something now and hold renewed respect. Thank you for sharing those experiences.

    Regarding the recruiting of more Indians and Chinese and then promoting everyone on the basis of merit, as far as I know that is already being followed for the most part. There is a see-saw between merit and seniority but by and large promotion on merit is already being done. There aren’t a lot of Chinese and Syrians but, like the Indians in years before, that was mostly because they were simply not interested.

    What angered me about Nizam’s statement was that while he ID’d there weren’t many Indi-Trinis in the upper echelons, he didn’t speak about those at the lower levels who are coming up. For that imbalance to be addressed one would have to go back in time to when those Indians who currently are in the First Division first enlisted and press-gang more Indians into “de work” and ensure they don’t leave. Because you sure can’t be going about just fast-tracking promotions — it’s not just about passing exams, it’s about operational experience which only comes from one way.

  7. I have some deep reservations about the compulsory national service. It is a good idea on the face and is not merely restricted to armed service. However, in my view you can’t have any meaningful compulsory national service unless first you address how the people themselves view the “nation” and the idea of a nation. Most Trinis consciously or unconsciously see here as just a stopover point on the way to greener pastures in the north. Unlike, say Haitians or Jamaicans or even Bajans, they do not see here as belonging to *them*

    Further, any idea of a compulsory service is going to be very stoutly resisted in this society given the very long history of authoritarian rule.

    @Mr Williams
    You touch on a very important thing: the extent to which certain ancestral ideas and beliefs informed the way Indians saw African people and how that would have been exploited by the British.

    And it may very well be that that worldview emanated from the same source of European racism. Merlin Stone in “When God Was a Woman” speculates that the Indo-Aryan religious idea of good light and evil darkness which passed onto Zorosatrianism and from there Judaism. Runoko Rashidi is but one scholar who argues that much of Hindu philosophy can be traced back to the same militaristic Indo-Aryans who it is believed invaded India circa 4000 BCE.

  8. “Tread carefully Corey, you are dangerously close to prohibited zones (third-to-last p’graph”

    Come now Umar, by now you should know that I LOVE to not just tread but jump into prohibited zones

  9. Racism and Colorism, a correction.

    Again, its the priviledge of an old woman to gie an example to extrapolate on an issue.
    I am driving to run errands, and listening to my favorite CD- permamentl implanted, as it were in my car’s steroe. It is Chants from the Benedictine monks at Keur Moussa, in Senegal. Tune #8: “I am Back and Beautiful, Oh ye daughters of Jerusalem”, and that is why the King chose me.
    There must have been lost of whispering in the harem consisting of the 300 wives and 700 concubines of King Solomon, an someone must have thought and stated “What did he see in Her?” Thus the reply, from the Song of Solomon. It also helps to prove my point that the exotic is fascinating. Thus, Trinidad is no stranger to ethnic mixing. Its the old people, glaring in their corners, who have a problem. Those interested in the music can download the tune without buying the CD, but the entire thing is available from Amazon.com. It is sung in the Wolof language, with translations on the back of the packet. This CAtholic monastery has existed in a Muslim country for nearly fity years.

  10. Wanted: Plurality in the Police Service (2007)

    The arbitrary and selective conduct of the police in responding to recent popular protest movements raises fundamental questions on this response and its linkage with the composition of the protective services in plural Trinidad and Tobago. In cosmopolitan societies but more so in a multicultural but in an ethnically polarised T&T our cosmopolitan people must be provided with every basis to identify with the police. The police must never be perceived or be used as a mechanism for political repression or constitute a potential threat to any democratically elected government or act as an arm of the Executive as it is being perceived today in T&T.

    The level of force used by the police to deal with legitimate social protests undertaken by residents in areas such as Barrackpore, Fyzabad and Chatham differs considerably from the response to that initiated in Point Fortin, Morvant and other urban areas. The lack of and skewed responsiveness of the police to Indians victims of the crimes of kidnappings, burglary and banditry as revealed by the articles written by attorney-at-law Anand Ramlogan is a cause for great concern and outrage for the entire national community.

    The action of the police in treating with the peaceful protest against crime instigated by Mr. Inshan Ishmael reeks of political victimisation, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention and personal humiliation that cannot find justification in any existing law in T&T. Is this ample evidence of a creeping dictatorship aided by a “mongoose gang” that seems to be motivated by and acting to justify their covert political patronage? The salary of the lowest rank of the Police Officers (constable) .is above $8,000 per month.

    In T&T the right not only to join political parties but more importantly to express political views constitutes a fundamental right from which no derogation is permitted except by due process of law passed in accordance with the criteria for constitution-amending legislation. The Anti Terrorism Act did not fulfill this requirement.

    These events underscore the urgent need to ensure that the composition of our protective services does not pose a threat to the very people who they are precepted to protect and serve. The only way that this growing threat can be reduced and the attitude of the police response to people’s protests can be uniform, transparent and consistent is by the achievement of ethnic and geographic balance in the service. There is no excuse for 90% of the Police Service being recruited from the East-West Corridor. Perhaps this is why an African-dominated Police Service/Government has “no compunctions visitings of nature” with the predominantly Indian victims of kidnappings. Rumour has it that the rogue element of the police is in league the kidnapping mafia. Only with an ethnically balanced service can the policed co-operate with, identify with and feel protected by an even-handed the police. This is essential for our future peace, justice and stability.

    Lord Scarman justified the adoption of a strategy of positive discrimination after the 1981 Brixton riots to make the London Metropolitan Police more reflective of the diversity of London’s ethnic minorities. We do not have to invoke the principles of positive discrimination in T&T to realise ethnic balance in the Police Service. There are enough Indian applicants from recent press information on the list of applicants. In T&T the largest minority that are prime victims of non-gang related crimes needs to know that the police can be trusted. That it will protect and serve them as well.

    From my experience only accelerated Indo-T&T recruitment to achieve equity, widespread intelligence gathering and balance in the Police Service is the way forward for realising an effective service.

    1. Stephen Kangal, your examples to try to defend your accusations of Blacks being oppressors of Indians come from a reference point that has no example in T&T, and in history.

      Where and when has there been a “Brixton” incident in T&T?

      Yet, you keep citing examples which have not occurred in T&T.

      However, worse than a “Brixton” has occurred (and ccontinues to occur) in places where Indians were able to dominate Black people. Go on the internet and read any issue of DALIT VOICE on what is done to “UNTOUCHABLES” in India; where the government recently passed a law under pressure from Britain, Canada and the US for upper caste Hindus not to force Dalits “to eat noxious substances (sh*t)”.

      Closer to home, consider what the Guyana Human Rights Committee has had to say about the extra-judicial killings of Black youth by Guyanese Police (more than 200 in one particular year).


      The issue of “balance” is an issue that raised its head because of the following:

      a) an atavistic reaction by Indians wherever they live among Blacks to see them as lower forms of life. Partly from a varna religious culture, and a deep-seated need to be more white than Black.

      For example, even the great Mahatma, a man ahead of his time regarding non-violence as a tool of oppressed peoples against their oppressors, was a man very much of his racist times.

      During the two decades he spent in Apartheid South Africa (a place where like many other white people he went for lucrative employment when he couldn’t do better elsewhere) he only associated with Indians and formed only Indian organizations to defend the rights of Indians.

      In fact, not only did he call the Black people “raw kaffirs” in his writings, but he also took sides with the white Boers against the Black Zulus.

      In 1899 when the “Boer War” took place, Gandhi organized and supervised an ambulance corps of Indians to support the white racists against the Black Zulu “animals”. He received a military medal for his efforts. In 1906 he again helped the government when the “Zulu Rebellion” occurred.


      b) Indians unlike Africans have always been the ones to migrate to areas in which Black people have been indigenous: Fiji, Uganda, India (the Ganges is named after an Ethiopian); and been indentured to areas cultivated by Blacks, South Africa, T&T, etc.

      c) A fear of being dominated by Blacks that allows Indians to consider being colonized by Whites as preferable to living in Independence with Black majorities. Thus, Nazim’s statements of “we … (Indians needing protection)” is based from this deep-seated “fear”; a fear that has no political, military, or cultural record in history.

      d) Such characterizations might be to anticipate and destroy any possibility of Black people being in any time or place to govern Indians; a condition that might hark back to conflicts in Hindu myths like the Ramayana; a myth from which the derogatory term describing Blacks, “rawan” might have come.

  11. Based on Today’s headline in Newsday, mixed race children in Indian families in TnT need protection like that which the police officers are giving to one of their own arrested for the Guerra child’s murder. Now, they need to go get Grannie. She sent the boy out to meet his death after keeping him home for a head injury that no doctor found during the autopsy. Again, check cellphone records please. I will not join the bacchanal omments of the Express bloggers, so I speak here of what needs to be done. It is these small things hat add up.We who have mixed race nieces and nephews, fear tha unreasoning wrath of second relationships, where our children could be victims.

  12. @ neverdirty
    I and all want to know where this Mr Kangal going with this. I particularly want him to quantify certain statements from the news article:

    “The level of force used by the police to deal with legitimate social protests undertaken by residents in areas such as Barrackpore, Fyzabad and Chatham differs considerably from the response to that initiated in Point Fortin, Morvant and other urban areas.”

    “Rumour has it that the rogue element of the police is in league the kidnapping mafia. Only with an ethnically balanced service can the policed co-operate with, identify with and feel protected by an even-handed the police.”
    (I’m not arguing the first part, but I’m particularly interested in learning what is he implying in the last part of the statement)

    “From my experience only accelerated Indo-T&T recruitment to achieve equity, widespread intelligence gathering and balance in the Police Service is the way forward for realising an effective service.”
    And what experience would that be?

    1. My difficulty is not merely with Mr. Kangal making these outrageous claims, but that it is now obvious that this type of approach, that of making untrue statements and hoping that constant repetition, without opposing voices raised against them will by default make these lies, “true”. In fact, it appears that Mr. Kangal and his UNC colleagues not only brew the koolaid, but are also the most thirsty drinkers of it.

  13. The experience of seeing the world thru an Ethnic Prism. The same experience that caused Guyana to become one of the majot transhipment export points for illegal narcotics.

    If these guys did not exist the world would have had to invent them, even if just to demonstrate the kind of literal production that can be produced from unfettered hubris and arrogance

  14. The world is not without examples. What is ironic is the fact these oppressed peoples flee Indian ruled nations like Guyana for African majoritarian little islands like Barbados, Antigua and others. What a bunch of unadulterated crap.

  15. “I don’t want them staying here, getting a toehold. They already mess up Trinidad and Guyana”. The late V.C. Bird, Prime Minister of Antigua, in 1988 when he required all Indian doctors who had come from India to leave for another island, temporarily, and re-apply for a visa to re-enter nad continue working. I was living and working i Antigua at the time, and I thought that was a bit harsh. I think they were all let back in, but his vision for Atigua’s future, did not include them on permaent basis. Cricom’s free movemet policy changed that. In 1988 there were no white owned businesses in antigua except for one Syrian family. There were no Indian owed busibnesses either, except the imported doctore. Every business was in the hands of the people who had worked the sugar lands and freed the country from British rule. It would be iteresting to see what antiua looks like now. When people say that “Blck people cannot run a busiess”. I tell them about Antigua, and families like the Benjami an the RAmseys who are wealthy beyond belief, and of the women who own shipping companies-All Black, African originated people.

  16. Poor Nizam Mohammed!

    By Marion O’Callaghan
    April 18 2011 – newsday.co.tt

    Nizam Mohammed must be perplexed. He, like the rest of us, had heard the chorus: Indians were under-represented in the Public Service. If they did manage to get a job in the service, they were certain to be by-passed when it came to promotion. This was part of ethnic dogma.

    “Not under my watch”, Nizam Mohammed may have said to himself when he read of the composition of the upper levels of the Police Service: not an Indian in the top ranks. And promotions were now on the horizon. This would be a case dear to the heart of the present Attorney General, of that Nizam Mohammed could be certain.

    How could Nizam Mohammed guess that he was speaking out of turn? That was before elections. This was after a victorious election when straw had been turned into gold, “races” had become cultures and we were — at last — a multicultural, happy, rainbow country.
    Full Article : newsday.co.tt

Comments are closed.