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Raffique Shah


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Judicial process proves racists wrong

March 06, 2005
By Raffique Shah

CAN any of those who were demanding the immediate release of Dr Vijay Naraynsingh tell me now what is so wrong about the judicial process, where is its political or racially-motivated bias? Last Friday Magistrate Mark Wellington dismissed the murder charge against Naraynsingh. However, presumably on the basis of the evidence before him, he has deferred a decision on the two co-accused. The good doctor's name has been cleared, but a shadow still hangs over his current wife and businessman Elton Ramasir. They, too, will have their day in court, hopefully sooner rather than later.

For those who may argue that he ought not to have been arrested in the first place, they need to bear in mind the large number of people who, over the years, have faced similar fates. Naraynsingh was lucky that, by some stroke of good fortune, his matter was fast-tracked and he was in-and-out of jail in a virtual flash. There are people who have stewed in that Remand Yard for months, years, before having their day in the lower court. Then in instances where they are committed to stand trial, they spend many more months or years awaiting their day in court. At the end of it all, many of them walk free, but scarred by years of their lives wasted away in hell-hole cells in our notorious prisons.

This latter reality, glimpses of which Naraynsingh will have seen while he was incarcerated (bear in mind he was not in a cell but in the prison infirmary), could break one's heart. Readers who have never been inside a jail will hardly understand what I write of. One needs to have experienced the trauma that is prison to really come to grips with what it does to people, more so those who are innocent but are made to suffer. I am sure that even the short time he spent there, and notwithstanding his "superior" accommodation, the good doctor will tell you "jail is jail".

The moment that massive gate is slammed behind you, you feel helpless, hopeless. You never know if or when you'll see the outside world again. You stay in the Port of Spain prison with city-paced activities all around you but you see and hear nothing. And if you happen to end up in Carrera, well, you are in a world away and apart from civilisation, not just the society to which you belong. The poor are particularly vulnerable in this respect, especially those who are "framed" by malicious or incompetent police officers. They don't have the money to hire good attorneys, many do not know what their rights are, and even if they do, unscrupulous officers in jail can violate those rights with impunity.

For Naraynsingh it must have been a traumatic experience. But, as I maintain, he was not the first to have suffered such a fate, nor will he be the last. I recall during the 1970 State of Emergency when, among the many political detainees arrested and jailed without being charged for any offence, was aging attorney Jack Kelshall. Jack must have been in his 70s when the police picked him up and dumped him in jail. He spent several months, and it was only after much agitation and lobbying that he was eventually released. Several UWI lecturers-Pat Emmanuel, Bill Riviere, to name two-were dragged from their classrooms into prison.

So Naraynsingh's case, and his fate, was in no way exceptional. I note his leading counsel, Karl Hudson-Phillips, making a submission for the doc's release, said that based on the evidence before the court, he ought never to have been charged in the first place. I wonder if Karl, when he was Attorney General back in 1970, and part of a Cabinet that approved the lengthy list of detainees, ever spared a thought for Kelshall, or for any of the other proud sons of this country whose only crime was to have spoken out against the then PNM Government? Did it ever bother him that more than half of those detained never committed any criminal offence? But, I suppose, times change, and with it men and men's hearts.

In Naraynsingh's matter, clearly, some person or persons involved in determining his arrest bungled the matter. Maybe Karl is right: he ought never to have been arrested. But those who sought to tarnish the whole judicial system must have egg on their faces now. Because he was taken before a non-Indian magistrate, his chief counsel was Afro-Trini, the Prisons Commissioner who allowed him the relative sanctuary of the jail-infirmary was also Afro. So where is the race element? Where is the evidence that he was targeted because he is "ah high profile Indian"?

None! Yet, left, right and centre, there were those who were crying race. Will the rabid racists understand now that once a matter like this comes before the courts, they ought to leave it to the judicial process? I doubt it. In this regard I think we are doomed to a few people injecting race into everything, and then condemning people like Archbishop Gilbert for noting as much.