Raymond Ramcharitar

Raymond Ramcharitar

If you make comments with offensive racial overtones, you can be forcefully summoned by the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), tried and committed to prison for contempt.

The EOC also has the power to grant an injunction preventing people from using racial language.

And it’s all free.

The offended party does not have to pay for a lawyer. All they have to do is visit the EOC’s Ramsaran Street, Chaguanas, office and make a complaint.

Madam Justice Donna Prowell-Raphael, sole judge of the EOC, reminded citizens there was redress available for racism, during a national virtual symposium on Sunday on race relations in Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by the Faculty of Law, at The University of the West Indies, and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice.

Noting “we’re beginning to see some offensive language on social media”, Prowell-Raphael said this can result in racial hatred.

Newspaper columnist Raymond Ramcharitar, another panellist, like several others at the symposium, traced the recurring race factor in Trinidad and Tobago to politics.

“The State and social systems were designed to create racial strife for political purposes,” he said, “Anti-Indian racism is built into the State and has been from the 19th century.

“Indians have been treated as outsiders and faced a stream of racist rhetoric from the press, the leading citizens of creole Trinidad and other institutions.”

On the controversial topic of Ramsaran’s Dairy Products, he said: “A relative of the owners write a racial post on social media. People go in a frenzy and Ramsaran’s products are pulled off the shelves.”

He said, on the other hand, a stream of anti-Indian comments and articles were treated with significantly less outrage. Ramcharitar claimed the present racial circumstances are significantly driven by the international Black Lives Matter movement, which has found its way into T&T. However, the core of that movement, that blacks are racially victimised by whites, is inapplicable to Trinidad, he said.

“How can a group that has been in power for 48 or 58 years be racially disadvantaged?”

Ramcharitar said it’s because Indians are available to be painted as the oppressors in Trinidad. At the same time, he disembodied the notion that Indians in Trinidad are a disempowered minority. He said the reason the People’s National Movement (PNM) has been in power the longest was because of the absence of a viable opposition.

He quoted from the 1974 Hugh Wooding Commission.

“The opposition spent the pre- and post-Independence periods fighting itself, leaving the PNM to take and colonise the State.”

Ramcharitar said United National Congress (UNC) political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar showed no compunction in sacrificing the national interest in favour of losing the August 10 general election to retain personal status. He said all her predecessors did it.

“Indeed, the Indian parties are characterised by insiders who, when rejected, return to destroy the party.”

Several testimonials from people who said they were victims of racism were read out at the symposium.

One Afro-Trinidad woman said after a general election which the UNC won, an Indian man told her and her family: “Is we time now to spit on n----r.”

She said, ironically, she and her family had voted and campaigned for the UNC.

Many others of mixed ancestry, particularly of Amerindian ethnicity, said they were victims of verbal racial abuse by both Indo and Afro-Trinidadians.

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“Nothing has changed. We are still waiting for justice.”

This in essence is how residents feel eight months after they were promised action when they protested the police killings of three men as well as other social and economic issues.

In June 2020 when protests erupted in Port of Spain and environs following the police killings of three men in Morvant, the Morvant community and the surrounding areas of Beetham Gardens, Sea Lots, John John and other areas in East Port of Spain found themselves under the national spotlight.

For days, protesters held the country’s attention as they called for justice for Joel Jacob, Noel Diamond and Israel Moses Clinton who were shot and killed by police on June 27.

Protests alone do not bring about lasting change, says Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds.

He, however, noted there has indeed been peace in the communities since the protests.

“Change comes from thinking and planning and changes in behaviours and attitudes and approaches by all stakeholders—Government, NGOs, places of worship, families, communities, individuals, etc. So protests don’t change anything, it is work and action and shifts in attitudes and cultures,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday.