As calls mount for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Port of Spain, the political leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) said it ought to come down.
David Abdulah also suggested that it, together with other-related statues and monuments of people who did wrong, should be placed in museums to educate the nation.
“There should be several museums, not just physical ones but also virtual ones where people can learn about our history and about those who have oppressed us,” Abdulah said.
“There should be archives to ensure all of our history, cultures and experiences can be known to all of the people of TT and tourists.”
He was speaking on behalf of the party at a virtual press conference via Zoom on Sunday.
He is advocating for the creation of a commission to examine and rename streets appropriately after consultations with stakeholders.
Amid the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, there have been many calls worldwide for the removal of public images/monuments of historical figures. Calls have now been increasing for the removal of statues of Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi Village in Debe is named after him and there are statues of him at Gandhi Village, Harris Promenade in San Fernando and Gandhi Square in Port of Spain.
When asked to comment on the ongoing debate of Gandhi, Abdulah said he was not aware that he engaged in any systemic acts of racism “or anything like that.”
The MSJ leader acknowledged Gandhi’s influence on British colonialism over the independence of India.
“I don’t think we should dismiss or remove the names of the streets of every person who has written something bad or negative,” he said.
“I am referring to people who played an integral part in the system of oppression, exploitation, colonialism, brutalism and systemic racism. The images, monuments, street names of those people ought not to be part of our landscape in TT.”
Pledging MSJ’s support to the BLM movement, he said the protests have opened discussions and debates about race, class, gender, age, the institutional forms of marginalisation of sections of the society, to name a few.
Abdulah said among TT citizens there exist embedded attitudes among some who express prejudicial views. He recalled that in the 1970s, Africans and people of colour could not work in banks.
“Today we have employers who employ people of a certain ethnic group. We must have open conversations about those things. It begins with information and education.”
In terms of crime, many young African males are killed. Additionally, he said the jails are disproportionately filled with young African males.
“Is it that they alone do crimes? No. There are white-collar crimes that perhaps come from a different ethnic group,” Abdulah said.
He called for reforms in the criminal justice system and economic policies to addresses income and wealth inequalities and to change the reality of discrimination in TT.