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Raffique Shah


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Sledgehammer for a sandfly

By Raffique Shah
January 28, 2007

The comical though heavy-handed manner in which the police handled the Inshan Ishmael issue makes one want to laugh till you cry. Here's a man who decided to mount a crusade against the evils that bedevil the society. In the still of the night, on the eve of his planned shutdown of the country, tonnes (yeah, tonnes!) of cops swoop down on his home and drag him away from his family much the way kidnappers do. They cart him off to Police HQ, hold him for most of the day. They then charge him with publishing a pamphlet without identifying the publisher-one of the most trivial, archaic laws in our statute books!

Really, are we dealing with Keystone Cops here? Or Commissioner Clousseau? I refuse to believe that any politician had a hand in Inshan's arrest, simply because I do not think they are that stupid. But one never knows. Still, but for exceptional circumstances in which the Attorney General has the powers to intervene, I do not know that the political directorate...well, directs the police.

One assumes, therefore, that senior officers will have monitored Inshan's activities and statements before sanctioning the arrest. If, as there was speculation, the activist was being probed for "terrorist" activities, how come after 12 hours all he was charged with was being a paper tiger, quite literally?

I don't know how Commissioner Trevor Paul and his officers can justify this. It can be compared with some madman using a sledgehammer to kill a sandfly. I must confess that I have never tuned in to Ishmael's television station since I am neither a television "peong" nor a religious zealot.

In fact, although I respect people's beliefs, I reserve the right to not believe. I heard more than enough "azans", "kuthbahs" and preachers promising fire and brimstone to scare me off the "righteous" path from as far back as when I was in my early 20s. So I have no idea if, other than calling on people to shut down the country for two days, Inshan incited people to commit violence, used slanderous statements, or worse.

Whatever his sins, why was there a need to arrest him on the night before his threatened action? In the event Commissioner Paul does not understand it, that stupid action prompted more people who might have been otherwise inclined, to join in the shutdown and protest. On the day before his arrest, Inshan could be compared to a sandfly. By the time he appeared in court he was a hero of sorts.

Had the police ignored Inshan he might have remained a voice of protest, and support for his shut-down might not have been as widespread as it was-certainly on Thursday. People felt threatened by "police boots", and they hit back the only way they could.

This kind of irrational action on the part of the police is not new. But one would think that over the years they would have learned that targeting people only because they oppose the government of the day, or because they protest the ills plaguing society does not make them public enemies.

Nor, for that matter, does it make them criminals. With the country inundated with crime of a heinous nature, people question why the police should use its scarce resources to pursue petty offenders. Why send armed contingents to badger squatters, beat up on "pipers", lock up young men with "ah joint", or arrest Inshan? Why not a show of force where criminal acts are omnipresent? Why not more armed policemen on the beat to give law-abiding people a sense of security?

Besides the police comedy of errors, though, there were some sideshows to Inshan's shutdown that were even more comical. On the day before, the media had interviewed OWTU president-general Errol McLeod, who said electricity workers would not join in any shutdown. That night, on a radio programme that is known for its UNC fanaticism, hosts and callers savaged "Mac" in the vilest, most slanderous manner. He was dubbed "ah PNM dog" and worse. In fact, trade unionists generally were castigated and "branded".

Later that night the UNC made an official release that it "would not be dictated to" on any such protest, hence it was not in support of Inshan's shutdown. I waited in vain for rabid UNC supporters who had cussed "Mac" to now brand Kamla "ah PNM mongrel". No such luck of course. Different strokes for different folks. Politics clouds just about every issue in this cussed country. Inshan, who openly said he had supported the PNM in the last general elections, had later switched to the UNC, and won rave reviews for "taking the scales" off his eyes. A few months ago he again switched allegiance, now to Winston Dookeran's COP, so for UNC diehards he had become "ah neemakharam".

I hope that the activist will not let the response to his shutdown call go to his head. Inshan will soon learn that today's hero can be tomorrow's villain in this land of shifting allegiances and jamette politics.