POLITICAL and social activist Bernard Yawching said he expects backlash over his book The Hidden Agenda of Race Relations in Trinidad and Tobago.
The new book accuses the United National Congress (UNC), the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), and some members of the Hindu community and the East Indian community of promoting a racist agenda. It tracks events from a 1913 speech by former Arima Mayor FEM Hosein about Africans not being as productive as Indians to more modern-day controversies such as Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar describing the Prime Minister as an "oreo."
Yawching discussed the book with Newsday in a recent telephone interview.
"Racism is the single most dangerous enemy to patriotism. Patriotism should be first before we associate with any political party. Depending on a party's performance one should choose to associate with them or not. This 'political party till we dead' mentality is a retrograde step."
He added: "Patriotism is what we can use to unite each other and find the right answers to a multitude of questions and the right solutions to a multitude of issues."
He pointed out in his book he challenges people who write articles that are degrading to Africans in TT and claim they never contribute anything to society.
"Hindu nationalists and many in the East Indian community promote the narrative that the African is dunce, not ambitious, and steals."
He cited images in UNC political party ads of Africans with bananas and references to party supporters "eating grass" as portraying Africans as "subhuman" and not entitled to anything. He said this emboldens people like Dr Avinash Sawh, who was accused of racist comments, and Naila Ramsaran, daughter of the owner of Ramsaran's Dairy Products, whose racist Facebook rant led to a product boycott and resulted in her being fired from the family company.
While Yawching's book is heavily critical of the UNC he writes that people accusing the People's National Movement of being racist in their policies as "being ludicrous, deceitful and obscene." He said the only reason he criticised the UNC is that it is the most recent incarnation of the People's Democratic Party and the Democratic Labour Party.
"They are continuing an agenda that has been here over 100 years. Nothing within the community has changed."
Yawching recalled he was a member of the activist council of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and voted for Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the People's Partnership in 2010.
"I placed her in 2010 to do better, not the nonsense she did. In January 2013 I resigned from the MSJ because the MSJ sat back and allowed social injustices. I put the nation first."
He said the PNM is imperfect and he does not agree with all the decisions but turning to the UNC and Persad-Bissessar is not the answer.
"She would lead us to civil war."
Asked why there was no criticism of the PNM in the book, Yawching said the purpose was to expose the source of racism and an entrenched agenda.
"They engineered and institutionalised it. Nowhere has any African done that. There is no school where an African attends where no one else can attend."
He claimed there was no issue of racism in the PNM in its current incarnation nor the past.
"There have been East Indian ministers in the PNM. All grants and educational programmes East Indian people have taken full advantage of and were never left out."
African as 'subhuman'
Yawching stressed there are East Indians in TT who see their neighbours as their fellow man and treat them with respect. He said, however, there is a section of "religious fanatics" within the Hindu community who continue the caste system that existed in India for thousands of years.
"They do not want unity. They see the African as subhuman and them as superior."
He added: "I am not racist. And Hinduism is one of the greatest religions. But the caste systems was introduced for the few to control the many. And what is practised in TT by most of them is because of their mentality and thinking they are superior to others. True Hinduism does not preach that."
He added that if true Hinduism was being practised there would not be racist attacks on social media and Persad-Bissessar and her party would be called to account. He also blamed the media for following "bacchanal and confusion" but allowing unaccounted monies under the People's Partnership administration to "slide by."
"Then they tell the PNM to fix it. How the hell can they fix it?"
He claimed a major proponent of the racist agenda was the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha which he added was linked politically. He cited former PNM MP Patricia McIntosh slamming the SDMS for its conduct at the Tunapuna Hindu Primary School in denying equal opportunities to pupils of different denominations, particularly black children who reside within the catchment area, and also the SDMS (together with the UNC) making calls for “proportional representation” in many areas of employment.
He said however, there were others in the Hindu community that would disagree with the SDMS. He also claimed there were people within the East Indian community who people call Christians and Muslims that still exercise racism.
"They are told to 'be Indian first.' It is ironic to know they belong to religions that preach unity among all men but then vote based on race."
He cited page 80 of the book which quoted a report from the Hindu American Foundation that there was pervasive racial tension between Indian and African communities. and that violence against Hindus and Indians was not uncommon.
"As Trinidadians, we know those accusations are malicious and just all lies."
He also cited page 98 of his book where he reported on a February 18, 2018, article in the Indian Caribbean Diaspora Newsletter titled, “Hindus must unite and fight douglarisation and conversion."
Yawching pointed out his book shows parallels of racism between Guyana and TT.
"The People's Progressive Party/Civic is just a mirror of the UNC. The same agendas, mentality and racism."
Ready for backlash
And what would be his response to accusations his book was promoting disunity?
"I expect that. But they would rather things continue how it has been going."
He added: "If one part of society is preaching racism in their community and religion then they have the right to defend themselves. They should come and discuss it and let us debate."
On the possible backlash from the book, Yawching said he has been receiving that since he led protests at the University of TT against corruption, nepotism, victimisation and racism, an issue which he also addressed in the book.
"The book is still fresh out and being marketed. I know it is being read but it has not been challenged yet. But it is difficult to challenge the truth."
He predicted people would call his book a "political book" but that would not bother him.
"It is up to people to connect dots. I expect a lot of slander. They will say 'I'm not a professor.' But many of them following books by people who do not have a degree.
"At the end of the day, my concern is for the development of TT."
The book also accuses the UNC of treasonous acts including by Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal writing to the US about a meeting between TT government officials and Venezuelan government representatives. But Yawching said he is not concerned about potential lawsuits.
"When people are in public office their actions stand to be questioned."
He added: "Come and bring it. I expect it from them."
Yawching stressed he had to face racism where it starts and be true to himself.
"I have not seen any African organization, group or religious being racist to East Indians and writing racist things against the East Indian community."
He added his activism has had a toll on his friendships and with his relatives.
"Many times when people hear the word 'race' it is easy to be dismissive. They may say I am trying to promote PNM or create more problems with racism. But it is so institutionalised there comes a point where you have to face it head-on."
"It is difficult to have great intentions for the country where people are entrenched in their religious beliefs and views."
Asked his hope for the book, Yawching said he hoped people would read it and understand it.
"It will take two generations for us to be a united people and a people with one national vision."
The book is available at all RIK bookstores.
About the author
Bernard Yawching is a social and political activist, social media blogger, poet and performer. He wrote articles for the TNT Mirror weekly newspaper between 2013 and 2017. He is a former member of the Summit of Peoples Organisation, former member of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU), chairman of the Section 34 group and member of Round Table Discussions in 2014, and pioneered waste reduction and recycling at the University of TT.