According to Ferdie Ferreira’s convoluted and senile thinking, raising legitimate issues of racial and ethnic discrimination automatically lead to racial conflicts and atrocities. Hence, these concerns should not be ventilated and addressed simply because to do so would destroy the social peace and stability of the country.
He then accuses me (and no one else) of making unfounded allegations of institutionalized discrimination against Indo-Trinidadians by successive PNM administrations which could be dangerous, destructive and explosive and have the most dire consequence of fanning a fire which I could not put out. He does say which group will start the fire and why. It certainly would not be Indo-Trinidadians as I will elaborate on later. But it is the classic argument of apologists for the preservation of the status quo, the existing socio-political power structure and the continuing dominance of the governmental apparatus.
Let me make two preliminary points. Firstly, the vast majority of Indo-Trinidadians hold the view, and not without reason, that there is institutionalized discrimination against them perpetrated by successive PNM governments as I have illustrated in previous letters. I am merely giving expression to that sentiment and I am not instigating any protest uprising. In the instances in which individuals and organizations have sought relief from the courts on this issue of PNM Government discrimination against them, they have been overwhelmingly successful.
Secondly, I am referring to the PNM administration and not the whole Afro-Trinidadian community who may themselves wittingly or unwittingly harbour misconceptions which lead to mistrust and antagonism against Indo-Trinidadians. I have always argued that, instead of sweeping these issues under the carpet, they should be fully investigated and explored by independent and credible research to ascertain the validity or lack thereof of views held with seeming conviction.
However, it needs to be emphasized that neither the indentured workers from 1845 onwards nor their descendents to the present have unilaterally engaged in any mass organized street demonstrations, violent protests or arson, looting and destruction of property to remonstrate against their grievances and the injustices meted out to them. They have not done so against the colonial regime nor against the PNM administrations. When in an irresponsible outburst in 1961, Dr. Capildeo asked for 1,000 volunteers to come forward to destroy 1,000 voting machines, no Indo-Trinidadian volunteered. When after the 1961 General Elections, he asserted that the PNM rigged the voting machines in their favour and stole the elections from the DLP, there was no mass Indo-Trinidadian uprising. Nor was there any Indo-Trinidadian upheaval when 8,000 sugar workers were summarily retrenched in 2003 and thrown on the breadline by a PNM administration.
The point is that the vast majority of Indo-Trinidadians (excluding some businessmen and professionals) have reconciled themselves to their disadvantaged status in the society and sought to seek alternative avenues of survival. In this context therefore we ask must which group will start this potential fire of societal destruction and why. If there has been relative social peace and tranquility in this country over the years, the Indo-Trinidadian community by their restrained public behavior and their realistic outlook and aspirations, has made a substantial contribution to this outcome.
There is a historical and political dimension to the institutionalized discrimination against Indo-Trinidadians which, when examined, throws light on the bases on which such discrimination has been justified and rationalized. One was their alleged refusal to integrate into mainstream society and their questionable national loyalty and commitment which prompted their characterization as “ a hostile and recalcitrant minority” and thus not fit to participate in or receive the benefits state power. Another was the alleged generosity of the colonial administration in gifting all indentured workers land whereby their economic well-being was secured and thus their advancement could justifiably be ignored by the state.
Then the myth was propagated that Indo-Trinidadians dominated the TnT economy and, if they achieved control of government, it would be a situation fraught with danger to the stability, welfare and progress of the country and should be avoided at all costs. PNM stalwart and key officeholder J.A. Bain expressed the prevailing governmental sentiment thus-: “Should this time come when the East Indian section own most of the property and business of the country as well as control of the Government, an imbalance would develop in our society that would cause undesirable stresses and strain that would not be good for the nation.” In other words, discrimination against Indo-Trinidadians and their exclusion from Government was justified in the national interest.
Competition for political power also played its role in this discriminatory agenda. Given the ethnic and racial support base of the two major parties and the limited resources available, preferment for Afro-Trinidadians and denial of Indo-Trinidadian access to resources was seen by the PNM as an electoral necessity.
On Ferdie’s thesis of non-discrimination by PNM governments, Israel Khan wrote: – “Ferreira countered Sudama’s allegations of PNM discrimination by documenting some absurd examples of PNM’s record of non-discrimination against Indo-Trinidadians.”
Finally, Ferdie continues to peddle his half- truths, distortions and dissimulation. (1) Sir Issac Hyatali was appointed Chief Justice because in unjudicial remarks as head of the Industrial Court he publicly sympathized with and supported the PNM Government and condemned the Black Power Movement and its leaders.
(2) We are now told by Ferdie that Kamaluddin Mohammed and Errol Mahabir were by-passed for the post of Prime Minister not because of race but because of numerous allegations of corruption against them. However, despite these allegations they served as leading members of the PNM Cabinet in a long tenure.
(3) Given his steadfast and bitter opposition to the PNM for twenty years, A.N.R. Robinson could hardly have joined the PNM to form Government in 1995 without losing considerable face with his supporters especially if he was assigned a role junior in it to Manning.
(4) Patrick Manning was initially opposed to proposing Noor Hassanali for a second term in 1992 although the latter served as an exemplary President in his first term. It was only when Basdeo Panday announced that, if Mr. Hassanali was bypassed, the Opposition would propose its own candidate and expose Manning’s racially tinted motivation. In the face of this threat Manning relented.
If, by his utterances, Ferdie Ferreira proposes to clothe himself in the robes of a venerable elder statesman, all I can say is that the intended garment will be conspicuously ill fitting.