The Responsibility of Intellectuals

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 16, 2014

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeLast Saturday I attended the launch of Sat Maharaj: Hindu Civil Rights Leader of Trinidad and Tobago, a biography written by Kumar Mahabir. Although I did not read the book (it was not available at the time) I could see the enthusiasm and joy that emanated from an audience that had come to embrace Sat as their personal hero. I attended the function to congratulate Sat for having placed, via Mahabir, a partial account of his life.

Over the years Sat and I have become friends. I have grown to admire what Sat stands for and his advocacy for his group. Although Sat has been identified much too narrowly with his group, the Hindus, there ought to be more just appreciation of Sat, as a Trinidadian, who has worked arduously to have Indo-Trinidadians included in the social and national space.

I appreciate his religious concerns and convictions in more ways than one. I also admire his ability to speak out forcible about the things in which he believes and a desire to make the society more welcoming to all. It may be an unconscious desire but it certainly exists within the same person: perhaps, two virtues occupying the same space.

To argue for Sat’s unique contribution to our society is not necessarily to accept everything Sat says or to condone the outrageous statements he has made (and continues to make) on national matters. There will be ample time to speak about our disagreements but Saturday was Sat’s day and it is sufficient to congratulate him on the production of what promises to be the first installment of a longer discussion of his life.

As much as I enjoyed the occasion, I was disturbed by aspects of Ramesh Deosaran and Fizal Ali, Provost of UTT, contributions. It goes without saying that Desoaran and Ali, as members (and sometimes intellectual leaders) of the society, ought to be careful about what they say and should refrain from indulging in a kind of triumphalism that tends to increases ethnic separation rather than to promote ethnic cohesion.

Both speakers, in complimenting the achievements of Indo-Trinidadian students and the Maha Sabha quoted from a report by Patrick Joseph Keenan, the chief inspector of Schools of Ireland, who Governor Sir Arthur Gordon appointed in 1869 “to make a diligent and full enquiry into the state of public education… in the island.” As was to be expected, the Keenan Report contained all the racial biases Europeans of that time possessed.

Keenan said negative things about Indo-Trinidadians. He also said negative things about Afro-Trinidadians as well. He noted, that for Afro-Trinidadians, “society was only a chaos. In it they could recognize neither design, nor purpose, nor symmetry.” But to hear Dr. Deosaran and Ali tell it, Keenan was only picking on the Indians. After over one hundred and fifty years, Indo-Trinidadians can now celebrate their triumphs more-or-less at the expense of those African students who, God Forbid, are incapable of learning.

As racist as Keenan was, Indo-Trinidadians possessed their own biases too. He noted Indo-Trinidadians “deliberately and persistently kept their children away from the Ward Schools.” He also noted that Indo-Trinidadian “is proud of his ancient lineage, is influenced by the prejudice of his caste, and declines to associate with intimately with, or to bring up his children in the same school, with Creoles of the African race.” This, too, is a part of the story.

Keenan also felt that Africans were guilty of an enormous sin against civilization, not only because they were born in Africa and possessed black skins, but because blackness itself was encoded as a fact of inferiority and backwardness. In depicting Africans as “degenerate” and barbaric Keenan was picking up on similar statements that were made by L. A. A. de Verteuil, William Gamble and Edward Bean Underhill.

It took the work of J. J. Thomas, Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar, published the same year as Keenan’s work, to counter Keenan’s discourse. Thomas was the son of a freed slave. In the face of attempts to anglicize the society, Thomas wrote to preserve the linguistic integrity of Creole, an African-based-language that was meant to maintain the integrity of a newly-freed population and to express their emerging national identity.

In his address to his audience Sat reminded us that to educate a people is to free a people. However, to provide partial information is another way to alienate a group from the other members of society and to perpetuate a sense of victimhood. It is a way of preserving an “us” against “them” mentality and that is not good for our society.

The task of the intellectual is always to tell all part of the story and to present give us a balanced view of the society, particularly as it emerged from slavery and indentureship.

10 thoughts on “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”

  1. I am a product of one of the SDMS Primary School along with thousands of other students who have gone on to become productive citizens. Thankful for Badhase vision and later Sat. Had it not been for that primary school, thousands would have remain uneducated and possibly delayed progress in TnT.

  2. The Presbyterian Saviours from Canada & Bhadase Sagan Maharaj prevented a HOLOCAUST similiar to Idi Amin’s & Kenyatta’s brutal ethnic cleansing!

  3. The legacy of slavery has left a lasting impression on the condition of a people, especially the poor in spirit. Yes, education is important as we all have come to accept but it can also be destructive as we have experienced. Wisdom is a key factor in understanding the knowledge and application of that knowledge, by intellectuals, such as this writer among others. Time will tell, wouldn’t it?

    1. Could not agree more and is just as applicable to the legacy of indentureship.
      3 powerful words in one sentence. Understanding (Proverbs 3(5:6), Knowledge (Proverbs 1(7) and Wisdom (Proverbs 9(10).The poor in spirit can remove themselves from being followers and develop that discernment to know what is basically, right from wrong, a wonderful blessing.

  4. I gave an honest as possible comment as I could. Good luck to Mr. Sagan Maharaj and his people. I too have Hindu relatives.

  5. The task of the intellectual is always to tell all part of the story and to present give us a balanced view of the society, particularly as it emerged from slavery and indentureship.(CUDJOE)

    I hope that in the future, Cuudjoe takes his own advice. He has been guilty of presenting a very unbalanced view of society in many of his previous writings.He must be given credit though, because as he ages he is mellowing and presenting more balanced and objective pieces.


    When that national ingrate, in VS Naipaul won his Nobel Literature prize, the first thing he did was run to India , to offer high praise to that country for somehow making him a great writer. No love for T&T, his land of birth.
    When Her Majestic Queen K, assumed power , as the region first female PM , with links to South Asia, after swearing in with her Bagwas Gita,her first move was to visit ancestral India ,with a large entourage , then proceed to prostrate on the ground , and kiss the feet of another human being, in their female President, much to the dismay of our patriotic domestic citizens .
    Now this debacle!
    Sorry President Carmona , but this legal over reaction is ‘much ado over nada.”Me think ,’this boorish comedian , would have resorted to the same escapist tactic , if heavens forbid , back in the say ,ANR’s wife Margaret , or Lady Clarke , had visited the UN , or similar august body,dressed in some outlandish African gab, as opposed to something more appropriate, in keeping with her country’s traditions.

    Speaking of authentic intellectuals,let me add ,dat some where out there , either in heaven or hell,de Founding Fathers of our Twin Island Republic nation , led by Papa Deffy Eric , our Dancing English Prez, Sir Ellis, and of course, Tobago s own , Ahhh weee Bouy ,ANR Robinson, must be turning over in their respective graves , to see what this once respected office , has degenerated to.
    Can we believe this folks? Lawsuit against an irrelevant comedian /Radio talk show host, over frivolous comments, made on one’s wife ancestral land attire.
    What a pathetic state of affairs! The Prez wife can preach to Trinis , and tell them how to enjoy their national festival called Carnival, but a media agent cannot comment on her attire.

    Go figure!
    In the great metropolis called America, media personalities for 8 years , daily poke fun at Obama wife Michelle, re her ample butt, and Jakie O wannabe fashion obsessions.
    They call that President all kinds of demeaning names , even a foreigner , and they take it in stride , in keeping with America’s democratic ideals, but not T&T, saturated with too many of these self important , over zealous lawyers.
    We miss you,President Noor Hasanalli, AG President Dr Wahid Ali, and a real independent intellectual, in Professor Richard.
    Long live de Republic of T&T!

  7. When all is said and done, after their prolonged presence in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, where are the leaders,the warriors who fight selflessly for the cause and advancement of the Afro-Trinbagonian? Until there is in place institutions that addresses the spesific needs of the children of Africa used, abused and abandoned in this nation, every word uttered from so-called intellectuals about the state of affairs of the disenfranchised Africans in this nation is tantamount to treason. To claim to have reached the zenet of intellectual prowess and not feel the need to return to your community to be a change agent is to have been educated but not been emotionally or socially matured as to be moved by the needs of your own.

    1. Emille, I am glad to see you mention this point and would preface my point of view with a quote from Dr. Eric Williams book “Capitalism and Slavery” before making my statement -“In spite of its origins in slavery, the “colored middle class” treated the black masses with contempt and was far more distant from them than the English middle class from the English proletariat.” This statement not only described the black man during or after slavery but is the way it still is, even under Manning. Let me call a few names, Ellis Clarke, Hugh Wooding, Karl Hudson-Phillips, Patrick Manning, EVER heard, read or even known any quotation in which any of them ever acknowledged themselves as black, African, Afro-Trinidadian, Creole or any name suggesting that they belong to the black race?. The point here is this, the Indian cries “discrimination” and these Afro-Saxons are too busy trying to prove that they are ‘not guilty’. Throughout it’s many years of governance, the PNM expected it’s support from the Afro Trinibagonian community, who never asked for anything in return. Laventille, Morvant, Carenage, Diego, Arima, East-West corridor burned and there were no understanding of how to make their lives better from the admnistrations of the PNM, they never even suggested that they were the recipient of their support, far more offer some solutions to the woes of the blighted communities of color. Kamla came into power with the help of these same people and what did she do? forget them, the same way the PNM did and now we are all crying “fowl”. The black man must ask for accountability if he wants to be noticed. We must let those who seek our votes know that we too, have needs, wants and accomplishments that we want seek for our future. If we ask for nothing, we get nothing in return. This election we must let those who seek higher office know that we are willing to break the cycle of contempt for us. It was us who fought for everything that Trinidad has gained and yet we are still at the back of the line to receive any of the rewards we are deserving of. If the PNM are to be victorious, we must let them know that we are not going to sit idly by and allow them to forget us the way everyone else did ANYMORE! We need to look at those who look like us but work against our interests, like Jack who put Kamla into office, Andy Johnson using his back-office position to keep us in contempt, Rodney Charles works for the interest of others but have no concerns for us, Gary Griffith would have us believe that our enemies are the Jamaicans, Barbadians, Grenadians, and Africans, Gypsy Peters does not know which way is up, Alloes forgot how he got where he was, Griffith and Lass were ungratefuls, DeCoteau, Wade Mark, Douglas, who ignore what they look like and show us contempt. We must let these people know that we shall not continue being shadows of our history. We fought to make this country what it is today and are not willing to stand idly by and allow everyone else to enjoy it while we watch the riches of this island go to the shores of far away lands. So, for the coming election we must vow to fight with the spirit and vigor of TUB Butler, the intelligence of CLR James, the wisdom of Dr. Eric Williams, the cunning, patriotism and vision of ANR Robinson. Use the leverage that these visionaries left by way of history for us to pursue and regain our rightful places in the annals of the history of Trinidad and Tobago. If we stand idly by, this land of the hummingbird will be lost to foreigners and mercenaries. So yes, we must now be the warriors, leaders and visionaries for the younger generation. We cannot afford to let the “colored middle class” continue to treat us with contempt and ignore us anymore.

  8. Trinis have developed the mental ability to focus on th effects of the problem rather than the solution of the actual cause. Rather than expose trinis to afro centric thinking particularly those who are financially and nutritionally destitute and are therefore unable to educate themselves past certain globally set standards, those in authority should actually focus oncertain aspects like inventions, improvements, patents and trademarks, currency trading to replace playwhe, royalties etc….
    How many trinis know who invented the automatic transmission? How many trinis know they could get paid for patents?
    simple thing that…… but the focus on afro and indo history might only be best for those who have the time and resources as a luxury in this consumer priority economy…..

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