I write regarding the letter captioned “Hicken should seek assistance from Hindu organisations in recruiting and retaining Hindus in the police force” by Malcolm Harripaul, Kaieteur News, April 9, 2022.
In the letter Harripaul writes “Post 1992 Hindus were actively discouraged by both PPP and Hindu leaders from enlisting in the Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force”. Previously, in an article titled The PPP and Guyanese Indians in 1999 and revised in 2003, Mr Harripaul wrote “Since regaining office the PPP, has repeatedly demonstrated that it remains anti-Indian in nature. It has failed to balance the Armed Forces…”. And, while being interviewed on May 5, 2015 by Dr Rudy Jadoopat on ITV in New York, he stated that immediately after the 1992 elections Dr Jagan told him that he (Jagan) was not going to implement any change to address the imbalance in the police force or the army.
In my view, considering the politicization of the army and the police by the previous administration and the fact that in 1992 they voted almost entirely for the previous administration, it may have been a wise decision by Dr Jagan not to attempt any rebalancing immediately after assuming power in 1992. However, it is inexcusable that in its twenty-three years in office the PPP made no attempt to address this matter. In any case, not addressing the imbalance is not the same as actively discouraging Hindus from enlisting. I am not aware of any evidence that supports Mr Harripaul’s latest view that the PPP and Hindu leaders actively discouraged Hindus from enlisting in the security forces.
Mr Harripaul continues “Over the past 6 years whenever I addressed Hindus and urged them to serve in the Police and Army I was met with resentment from Hindu mothers …. Just over one year ago the GDF held recruitment drives in Indian areas all over Guyana and only succeeded in recruiting one Indian who was Christian…”
In the preceding, Harripaul focuses on Hindu mothers and purports to present their views. Did he speak to the Indian mothers who are Christians or those who are Muslims? Do their views differ from those of the Hindu mothers? Why single out Hindu mothers? Interestingly, he informs us also that only one individual, a Christian, responded to the GDF’s recruitment drive. Based on figures from Wikipedia, the religious breakdown of Indo-Guyanese is as follows: Hindus 24.8%, Muslims 6.8%, Christians 8.23%. If we accept Harripaul’s assertion that Hindu mothers and Hindu leaders actively discourage Hindus from joining the GDF and the police force, what discouraged the Christians and the Muslims so that only one person, a Christian, responded to the GDF’s recruitment effort? After all, Christians and Muslims at 15% (6.8+8.2) comprise slightly less than half the Indo-Guyanese population.
Over the years the myth that Indians do not want to join the security forces or the civil service developed and is now accepted as truth. The fact is that during the latter half of the Burnham presidency, these areas of public service were unwelcome, even hostile, to Indians. Indians were generally bypassed during recruitment and the few who gained admission had their career advancement blocked. In the army, many Indian senior officers quit when they were subjected to political indoctrination and one West Point graduate together with his Afro-Guyanese fellow West Point compatriot was refused commissioning. Consequently, the younger generations of Indians developed negative perceptions of these organizations, hence their reluctance to enlist.
For the record, when the SSU, forerunner of the GDF, was established prior to Guyana’s independence, the Head and several of the senior officers were Indians. Also, in 1961 when the Ministry of Home Affairs was first created and Mr Balram Singh Rai was appointed Minister of Home Affairs in the PPP government with responsibility for the police force, he proceeded to address the problem of racial imbalance in the police force. In early 1965, a Commission of Inquiry into Racial Problems in the Public Service was conducted by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) upon the invitation of then Premier LFS Burnham. In its report of October 1965, the ICJ states “In 1961, a more positive effort was made on the direction of the then Minister of Home Affairs to improve the percentage of racial groups other than African, and it was decided that all recruitment into the Force, would be on the basis of 50% Africans and 50% other racial groups. This policy has been maintained to date, and since November 1, 1961, out of a total of 294 recruits entering the Force 142 have been of racial origin other than African”. It is noteworthy that this result was achieved under the existing rules without any change to the admission requirements of height and chest size.
What is even more significant is that the key recommendation of the ICJ remains outstanding to this day. In its report the ICJ stated “we recognize that the present position, which is the result of a combination of factors, is not satisfactory and is one that calls for special treatment. For this reason, we recommend that in each year for a period of 5 years, whenever the number of qualified applicants at Constable or Cadet Officer levels permits, 75% of the applicants accepted should be Indian, and 25% from other races”. The ICJ report would be a good starting for Acting Commissioner of Police, Mr Clifton Hicken.
Undoubtedly, the task of Mr Hicken to address the racial imbalance in the Police Force will be difficult. He, his administrative team, and the Minister of Home Affairs will have to overcome scepticism and mistrust in the Indian community. More importantly, they will have to do battle within the police organization itself to make it more accommodating to change. However, if then PPP Minister of Home Affairs Mr Balram Singh Rai could have achieved a high degree of success in 1961, there is no reason why a committed PPP government cannot effect change now. President Ali and his ministers, not Hindu leaders or Hindu priests, have a responsibility to lead the effort and ensure its success.