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Raffique Shah


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National Service to Redress Imbalances

By Raffique Shah
April 10, 2011

The race-ratios in the Protective Services I mentioned last week would have changed significantly since my generation broke barriers back in the 1960s. In fact, even as I write, an Indian officer, Colonel Kenrick Maraj, is set to take office as the nationís next Chief of Defence Staff. He will become the first Indian to hold the highest command position in the Defence Force.

When that happens, there will hardly be a ripple in the ranks. I am sure there are members of the TTDF who harbour racial sentiments. But they are always in the extreme minority. Indeed, from way back there have been cliques or cabals in the armed forces. But generally, among brothers-in-arms, race is never a factor. Soldiering is about putting oneís life in the hands of all troops you go into action with. You cannot ask for more confidence in "the other" than that.

I should add that in the relatively small corps of female officers in the Regiment, there is one Indian officer. There are many Indian corporals, sergeants and warrant officers. Iím sure, though, that if we "count heads", as Nizam Mohammed did for the Police Service, the ratio of Indians to Africans will not reflect the race profile of the nation. Last week, I outlined some reasons for this disparity. From what I see on the ground, I sense Indians in the Police Service comprise 33 per cent or more of the unitís overall strength.

Regarding Indians moving into the upper ranks of the Police, it should be noted that Dennis Ramdwar had moved to Deputy Commissioner (I believe) in the latter 1970s. Ramdwar was the officer who was in overall command of the police sent to San Fernando to stop the "Bloody Tuesday" march, staged by the fledgling ULF, on March 18, 1975. He gave the order to fire tear gas on what was a peaceful demonstration. The police proceeded to bludgeon frontline leaders like George Weekes, John Humphrey and Vernon Jamadar (among many others). Basdeo Panday and I escaped, thanks to our agility and the protection our supporters gave us.

Ramdwar also had the police rip the religious banners borne aloft by some pundits, imams and clergymen (to get around the law prohibiting marches, we had deemed it a religious procession). The officers bludgeoned the holy men, journalists and innocent civilians who happened to be on Coffee Street at the time.

So there we had the first senior Indian officer in the Police Service giving the order to inflict maximum violence on marchers, more than half of whom were Indians. In contrast, in the 1970 Black Power revolt, this Indian officer refused to be used to bludgeon mainly African demonstrators who defied the State of Emergency.

Instead, I led a mutiny, defied the high command and the political directorate, and paid the price for it. I need add that during the ten days of the mutiny, I led more than 300 men, 95 per cent of whom were Afro-Trinidadians. They were all heavily armed. They could have killed me (and Rex Lassalle) anytime they chose to, if they were so inclined. But they did not. Instead, they protected us for the duration of that revolt.

What I have illustrated is that any race balance in the Police Service or other arms of the Protective Services guarantees Indians no better treatment. Indeed, I know too many Indians who have had nasty encounters with police officers of their own race. The same can be said of treatment meted out to Afro-Trinidadians by officers of their own kind. Almost every week, there are protests against the use of excessive force, even allegations of murder, in the above context.

In any event, how does one redress this race imbalance? Let me add another pepper to the pot: why do we have so many Indians playing cricket, in contrast to the numbers who play football at the highest levels? We return to the issues of choice, of cultureónot race.

The only mechanism I know of to redress imbalances in the Protective Services is national service. This would entail having young persons who fail to progress up the academic ladder, or who refuse to adopt some form of training to enhance himself or herself, conscripted for at least one year. The conscripts are brought under military-type discipline, and besides comportment and drill, they ought to graduate as potential recruits for the services. As a bonus, the nationís fast-expanding criminal enterprises would be denied recruits.

Whenever this option surfaced in the past, it was shot down by the likes of Sat Maharaj. He swears that its sole purpose would be to "douglarise" the populationÖas if that is not happening without national service. If you want to have more Indians join the Protective Services, you have to make it attractive to them. And national service can do that.

I was among the officers and men in the Regiment who cleared the bush, literally, to make way for the first Chaguaramas Youth Camp. We then trained the boys not so much for military pursuits, but preparing them to face life. Of course, drill, comportment and discipline were pivotal to their development. Every so often, I would meet some of them who would thank me for what members of the Regiment did for them in their formative years.

Those who clamour for "affirmative action", for redressing imbalances, are they prepared to accept national service as an instrument towards achieving their goals?

Part I

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