“‘WHO CONTROLS the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” This is from George Orwell’s 1984, about a totalitarian state that controls its citizens through many means including the rewriting of history to suit the purposes of the Party.
Prof Theodore Lewis’ article (“Constitutional rights of black children") which started featuring online over Indian Arrival Day weekend and can be found in Tuesday’s print Newsday, offers a window into the mind of the man whom the ruling PNM has entrusted with an Orwellian level of control over our country’s past and, thus, its future, through his controlling influence in the content of future school curricula and textbooks.
And what’s in that mind? Ignorance and disconnection from reality.
Lewis has shown that he lives in a fantasy world where TT is a mini-America in which the East Indians, an underclass of field labourers for most of their history, have somehow taken the place of white Americans as the holders of unsurpassed privilege and perpetrators of institutional racism. A world, therefore, in which an aging American-based academic can write papers on TT by the cut-and-paste application of USA-centric critical racial theory to our culturally complex Caribbean island.
The African intellectual tradition in TT predates the arrival of East Indians and had grown from strength to strength from Jean-Baptiste Philip in the 1820s through Michel Maxwell Phillip, JJ Thomas, Emmanuel Mzumbo Lazare, the McShines, Henry Sylvester Williams, our first prime minister Dr Eric Williams, Prof Ken Julien and Lewis himself, to name just a few.
Through much of this period, the East Indians languished in illiteracy in the fields and barrack yards, with virtually no educational opportunities until the arrival of Dr John Morton’s Presbyterian mission in the 1860s. Even then, opportunities were limited, and it was not until the mid-20th century that the first Hindu and Muslim denominational schools came into being – yes, these included the “cowshed” schools that were ridiculed by the supercilious Williams in the 1960s.
Let us not forget the context of the alleged control and manipulation of the education system by East Indians: this country has been self-governing for 65 years and independent for 59 and has had East Indian prime ministers for a mere 11 years, a ridiculously short time to establish the pro-Indian institutional racism alleged by the professor.
The professor claims, bombastically, that black children are “excluded from the best schools,” that they “cannot get into first-choice schools” and are “locked out” and that it is “a kind of apartheid,” and that “the SEA system violates our laws.” These accusations are hurled without supporting evidence in the first half of his article. He, at one point, conflates his racial issue with class and even caste, making reference to “working class” and non-“Brahmin” Indians being disadvantaged. It escapes the professor that the SEA marking system does not include caste and wealth identifiers.
From paragraph 22, Lewis gets into the subject of the denominational schools’ 20 per cent allocation. This refers to these schools’ ability to make their own selection of just 20 per cent of their students: 80 per cent are placed by the Ministry of Education, with the schools having no control over that process. He calls it a “racket,” then goes on to complain that seven schools have 60-97 per cent of students with Indian surnames, and ominously states that these numbers “are all larger than 20 per cent” – suggesting that there should be a 20 per cent cap on Indian-surnamed (and, he assumes, Indian) students in these schools.
He then uses the “20 per cent” figure a third way, noting that Presbyterians are 2.5 per cent of the population and alleging that “they are entitled to 20 per cent of children.” A 20 per cent allocation of school places within any given denominational school by its own board has nothing to do with their overall number in the population.
We must be generous, however, and remember that he is not a professor of mathematics; we cannot demand that numeracy must be his forte.
Throughout the article, Lewis cherry-picks his evidence, decrying the excessive numbers of uppity Indians in the hallowed halls of Naparima Girls', Presentation and SAGHS but conveniently skipping out St Joseph’s Convent, Bishop's, Signal Hill, CIC, QRC, Fatima, Holy Name, Trinity and Maple Leaf. I trust that he operates in a different mode for his actual academic work.
Lewis’s misguided meanderings and conspiracy theories would only have been of concern to his close acquaintances, were it not for the fact that he is reportedly heading committees to review early childhood and primary school curricula and develop a foundation textbook on the history of TT (https://www.guardian.co.tt/article-6.2.350120.86255fcc10). East Indian children would then be presented with a rewritten history in which their indentured ancestors would stand accused of having created an apartheid system to oppress the other races of this country. This could set them up to face the undeserved anger of African, mixed, white, Arab and Chinese classmates.
I challenge the Minister of Education to confirm or refute the claims made in Lewis’s article. The SDMS is unaware of any method by which any East Indian entity is controlling her ministry and operating a stealth apartheid system therein. If the grave accusations against an entire race contained in Lewis’s article cannot be justified by the minister, she must then justify the professor’s continued control over the rewriting of our history.
Dinesh Rambally is an attorney and legal adviser to the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha