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Raffique Shah


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Dragging every issue into the 'race pit'

February 20, 2005
By Raffique Shah

QMY attorney friend, who could pass for Indian in this callaloo society of ours, said to me in a very serious manner: We are fast approaching the point where, once you are an Indian, you can get away with anything, crime included. All you need to do, he added, is "bawl race" and you could steal, murder, do whatever, and if the police dare touch you, cry out "Race! Is because ah is ah Indian!" I later reflected on what he had said to me and realised that it might be perception, but in our daily lives, as in politics, perception becomes the truth.

It has taken some time for us to reach this sorry pass, but let's be honest. It is true. It began many moons ago, maybe from as far back as when we were under colonial rule. But it started galloping in 1987 when, having joined with ANR Robinson's DAC and Karl Hudson-Phillips' ONR to form the NAR, Basdeo Panday and most of his ULF colleagues withdrew from the government, citing racial discrimination as their reason.

For those with short memories, let me remind them that the few Indians who remained with Robinson-Winston Dookeran, Bhoe Tewarie, Sahadeo Basdeo, Suruj Rambachan-were branded "neemakharams" and castigated in the vilest manner by Bas and his boys.

Since that time, the polarisation of the races intensified. Panday, recognising that Indians, as a voting block, could possibly propel him to power, played the race card beautifully. For those who don't know the man, let me tell them how he operates. He goes into an all-Indian community (in our day districts like Woodland and Biche) and preaches pure race. Then he appears on a platform in San Juan or Port of Spain and delivers the finest speeches calling for racial unity. And just as he embraced George Weekes, Joe Young, James Millette and other non-Indians in 1975 (when the ULF was born... and Kelvin Ramnath was nowhere around!), now he embraces the likes of Gerald Yetming, Jack Warner, Wade Mark and others.

The former, along with Indians like me, were spat out of the party because we were branded "communists". He in fact wanted to jettison anyone who would stand up to his dictatorial tendencies. Most of all, he wanted to be the Indian leader. Because if we were communists, what were people like Wade Mark, Michael Als and Vincent Cabrera? They belonged to the only "communist" party within recent times, the People's Popular Party (PPP). They were hard line "Moscow-vites". Panday himself started out in politics in the "communist" Workers and Farmers Party (WFP) back in 1966.

I thought it necessary to jog this society's 24-hour memory in the light of what's happening today, when one needs only to shout "race" as a proper, and it seems, legal defence. I need to tread very carefully since there are certain matters that are before the courts, and I know only too well about being chucked in jail for contempt of court. In the Vijay Naraynsingh preliminary enquiry, there's a public (read Indian) outcry against the use of evidence from known criminals against the accused. Who were the main State witnesses against Dole Chadee and his gang? And who was in government then? So was it right to use underworld characters then, but not now? Also, in the Abu Bakr trial, there is a similar situation regarding the main witnesses. Should the State withdraw these "criminal" witnesses there too, with all the implications that flow therefrom?

But the most important issue of the day surrounds investigations into alleged wrongdoings by Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma. The opposition has introduced race into the matter, suggesting that Sharma is being persecuted because he's Indian. Have people forgotten the running battle between the UNC government and then Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide? Was the UNC after "Delab" because he was a French Creole? Was that not a battle over the separation of powers? "Delab", as I recall it, sought to have the judiciary removed from the purview of the Attorney General (then Ramesh Maharaj), to have its own budget to ensure its independence from the political directorate. Did the UNC government give in to those requests? They did not! So why now blame the sitting AG or for that matter the government, for "interfering with the judiciary"?

The bottom line here is that the CJ, while he is expected to be independent and to exercise his independence, is not above the law. No one is, not the President, not the Prime Minister, not me. Sharma is not being targeted because he is Indian, but because of certain other issues that have a bearing on the quality of justice being meted out. Instead of allowing the matter to take its natural course, which is what Prime Minister Patrick Manning is doing, Panday and many others in this country are "bawling race". Race my foot! It is time Indians-and other ethnic groups-wake up and smell the race pit we are being dragged into, by our own.