By Joannah Bharose October 4, 2000

Rajkumar's a bitter man

Dougnath Rajkumar
Dougnath Rajkumar

THIS man claims he has been rewarded with pain and bitterness for his loyal service of 32 years. Dougnath Rajkumar has the record for the lowest ranking longest serving prison officer in Trinidad and Tobago. And he has the Public Service Commission (PSC) to thank for that.

Rajkumar claims that one superior officer, who entered the prison service at the same time as he, openly told him as long as he was in charge Rajkumar would never climb the ranks.

Rajkumar said: "I have been acting in the same position of Prison Officer II for the past 20 years. I guess he is a man of his word."

Rajkumar admitted after the first few years in service had passed he realised that something was wrong but was afraid to challenge the system.

"I knew there was nothing that could be done because of the ouster clause that barred anyone interfering with the PSC," he said.

Rajkumar said the open victimisation started in the mid-1980's after he refused to take a personal bag to Carrera Island as a favour for a senior officer.

He said: "If I was asked nicely or told it was part of my duties I would have. But those days you never stood up to senior officers unless you wanted trouble."

"After that I was called into the office and told by the officer, to whom the bag belonged, that he will do all in his power to ensure that a 'coolie' like me was never promoted."

The 52-year-old officer said: "I have made several reports about this matter and other such encounters to my superiors, including the former Commissioner of Prisons and I have never been told and do not know if it was dealt with."

Against all the odds Rajkumar went to write every available internal and external exam to aid his career. "I'm now more qualified than most of my seniors in here yet I remain in the lowest rank," said the father of four who lives in Sangre Grande.

Among the courses completed by Rajkumar are a Diploma in Industrial Relations from the Cipriani Labour College, certificates in Business Management, Social Work and Welfare for prison officers from the UWI School of Continuing Studies and GCE O'Levels.

He also said he has been to four interviews for the position of Prison Officer 2 in a ten-year span. He has never been confirmed in the position in which he continues to act.

Rajkumar fears that when he retires, since he has already served 32 years, that he will never enjoy the pensions and gratuities of a higher ranking officers which most of his peers have gone on to secure.

"It will make all the difference to my standard of living when I retire. Right now I just barely manage to provide for my family and educate my children under my present salary."

He admits he has been forced to find extra work as a taxi driver and farmer to supplement his income.

"This is what I get for my loyalty," he said with the confidence that justice will prevail even though it may come three decades too late.

Rajkumar recently enjoyed a court victory for discrimination when Justice Anthony Lucky, sitting in the San Fernando High Court, ordered the PSC and Prisons Commissioner to supply Rajkumar with the reason why he was not promoted for three decades and to promote the man to the rank of Prison Officer II immediately.

Lucky said: "The secretive approach of the PSC cries out for justice!" That decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has granted leave to Rajkumar to appeal the decision of the local Court of Appeal which dismissed his allegation of discrimination.

Rajkumar said it has cost him thousands of dollars and most of his savings to follow it to the end and he is hopeful that the Privy Council would bring justice to the hundreds like him who suffer "at the hands of the corrupt and powerful".

Rajkumar says he has not been able to remain untouched by the racism around him. "I don't think I was racist before this but now I am. I cannot help it as the bitterness I feel for the wrong I have suffered."


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