Race Talk is for Africans, not Indians

Race Talk is for Africans, not Indians

Photo : House Speaker Brigid Annisette George

Race talk in Trinidad and Tobago is for Africans, not Indians. Barry Padarath, Member of Parliament for Prince Town, should have known that and not attempt to engage in any debate with the likes of Camille Robinson-Regis and Dr Keith Rowley and to compound it, with Brigid Annisette George as Speaker.  

Reginald Dumas can dedicate his column (Newsday Monday 26 June, 2017) to write about race relations in the USA and the plight of African Americans where “Black people have never been accepted.” Personally I commend Dumas for writing on such a topic. However when Padarath spoke in Parliament that “the Prime Minister  has a disdain for the people in south Trinidad because they believe that they are UNC (United National Congress) people,” he has to be branded a racist by the Leader of Government Business and then endorsed by the Prime Minister. The responses of the Prime Minister and Robinson-Regis are consistent with many Africans who frequently play the race card as an escape route to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or inaction.

“Race talk” is a beautiful way for public officials, politicians and a Prime Minister to mask their inefficiency and incompetence.  Trevor Sudama, in his column “No cult of prevent” (Newsday dated   26-06-17) makes worthwhile reading. Sudama questioned the role of the Drainage Division of the Minister of Works when he observed that “widespread flooding occurs even when there is moderate rainfall and of course there is absolute disaster and chaos in periods of torrential rainfalls.” He wrote:  “If there is one grossly non-functional department in the whole of the government, it must be the Drainage Division.”

“The Saga of Ganga Singh -Flight to Debe” should be captured in literature to highlight the debacle that parades for a politician. It would certainly make for comic relief, if not flood relief. After flooding in 2014, Sudama invited Ganga Singh, Minister of Water Resources to Debe and he chose a helicopter for the trip.  Sudama wrote: “This goodly minister came by helicopter to tour from the air, not to assess the problem from the ground.”

It was self-evident that Ganga Singh was not interested in drains and clogged ravines but was in it for the ride. He wrote, “After the helicopter departed, it was the last I saw of or heard from Ganga Singh. There was absolutely no follow up action.”

Again, the relentless Sudama went to Fitz Hinds, the then Minister of Works, in 2015 and again, no response.  Sudama wrote:  “Again there was a deafening silence and no response despite repeated requests.”

Hinds is on record as the most incompetent minister of government in the history of the country. It is said that public servants come together and pray to God that he does not become their minister. But Fitzy has an appetite for race talk. He is always ready to paint others as racists and coming from “murky lagoons” while his constituents don’t have a regular supply of pipe-borne water though WASA falls within his ministerial portfolio.  More than that is his coinage of the word “lagoon” has become part of the lexicon of the PNM in Parliament as was demonstrated in the presentation by Chrichlow-Cockburn who damned the people of Debe for “building their houses in the ‘lagoon’ and not expecting to be flooded out.”

Sudama continued: “…I contacted the councillor for Debe West in the Debe Penal Regional Corporation, the chairman of the PDRC and a supervisor in the corporation.  For the past three days no one from the PDRC has visited let alone organised any clean-up operations.” But that is the nature of politicians. We just don’t care but it is very easy to shout “racist” rather than take a broom and help to clean-up the home of a family affected by flood water.

It appears that education has made us imperial and imperious. Certainly we have become rude, obnoxious and unproductive. We have allowed the philosophy of individualism to take precedent over family, community and nation. It is now “I, me and mine…what in it for me and full your pocket.”

Our grandparents survived rains, storms and floods and have brought us this far because they had a sense of community. They were not educated in the western sense and so had an abundance of common sense to put to work for them. Bhadase Sagan Maraj and Chanka Maharaj, with barely a primary level education, are still revered for their contribution to the nation. They were not only pioneers in education and social and cultural organization but also in politics.  Both leaders organized the Maha Sabha and mobilized the people resulting in the construction of 34 primary schools in less than four years. That feat was accomplished because their feet were on the ground, not in the air.

Research is revealing that the bulk of the GDP of India is not generated by the so called graduates of its prestigious universities but by the traditional craft industries. It is the traditional dairy farmers, rice growers, weavers, goldsmiths and thousands of other caste professions that are responsible for its all-round development.

 It is a sense of community and duty toward fellow men that is the crux of that economic and cultural renaissance. People are not living for themselves. They live for their families and their communities. This is unlike our public officials who see their role in government as flying in a helicopter, shouting charges of racism at each other in parliament and with little or no interest in whose houses were flooded out and furniture and appliances damaged.

I must commend Kamla Persad- Bissessar who has her pair of tall boots to walk among the people. She is so unlike many politicians and I am not talking about MPs and ministers only but also the petty councillors and chairmen of corporations  who are the grossest manifestation of “don’t care a dam” attitude.

Such “alien behaviour” pattern is not confined to our politicians. It is also to be seen in our businessmen. They are certainly “imperial and imperious” in their attitude.  They have no sense of corporate social responsibility and so contribute nothing towards sporting and cultural activities in the communities that patronize them.  Their attitude is that of other business houses that parasite on the society.

We are witnessing the idle boast of a section of this nation ‘that we are in control.’ And if so, how was it achieved? Is it not by corrupting government officials for favoured contracts? The recent bail out of a telecommunication company is a prime example of “we control.” And as Sat Maharaj said: “You are in control but you did not distribute a few bottles of waters or packs of cricks to citizens marooned in flood waters.”

And yes, they are in control. They don’t have to produce a Nobel Laureate like a V.S. Naipaul, a Dr Vijay Narinesingh, a Brian Lara or a Basdeo Panday. They are adept at promoting fetes, keeping a nation in a state of stupor while their sobriety keeps them behind the steering. No sane or sober society would leave such people in charge!

Imperialism and colonialism have succeeded in making fools of us. We are so much in love with glamour and glitter of the west but lack the discipline for hard work and accountability. Yes, accountability! Many of us are afraid of groups because we have to account for our actions. So much so that we laud the sole trader business arrangement where the owner sweeps the floor, clean the urinal, take the garbage out, pack the shelves and attend to customers’ needs. We definitely not imperial…I think we are imperious…rude, poor and obnoxious.

With all the display of aloofness and stinginess, our business community are in for a rough ride. They have failed to make the people part of their business empire. Now that recession has hit, they are drowning. My heart goes out to them. In happier days they never bothered to understand that the imperial world is run by joint stock companies. The Europeans expanded their colonies through joint stock companies and the most successful of them was the East India Company that arrived in India as traders and departed as rulers.

Except that we wish to remain toilet cleaners, we need to abandon this culture of individualism and work for the community. We must emulate the life of Bhadase Sagan Maharaj and Chanka Maharaj who left a legacy of schools and mandirs rather than some politicians and public officials who die like dogs.

Barry Padarath and the Opposition should never fall for the race talk. That is the domain of the PNM. They have a monopoly on race relation in this country. They can easily invoke three hundred years of slavery and appeal for reparation. I think that instead of going to Parliament the UNC should have visited families in Debe and assist them with their clean up.

As for the PNM they can only talk race.  They can sound alarm of “Calcutta ship coming “but cannot operate a reliable ferry service between Trinidad and Tobago. They can do nothing except barking empty rhetoric. They are not bothered with flood waters and families appliances being destroyed. “We are in charge!”