A racist Facebook comment about the outcome of Monday’s General Election has led to a series of repercussions and a boycott for local food manufacturer Ramsaran’s Dairy Products.
The post by Naila Ramsaran, daughter of the company’s owner, Joffre Ramsaran, sparked outrage online and brought a flood of angry responses from members of the public. This backlash, in turn, prompted several supermarket chains to pull their products from shelves and a call for a boycott from the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
In her post on the outcome of the election on Monday, Ramsaran wrote: “I hope Rowley starts putting contraceptives in their water supply yes because these cockroaches keep populating and the only thing they know how to do is vote.”
Ramsaran later apologised, claiming the posts were in “response to years of racial discrimination and criminal acts against myself and my family in the last few years.” However, the damage had already been done.
In a statement yesterday afternoon, Massy Stores was one of the first supermarket chains to respond with action. It said as a responsible retailer, it makes every effort to align with partners who hold similar values.
“We have listened to our customers and have taken a decision to remove Ramsaran products from our shelves at this time and temporarily suspend ordering of this product,” the company said.
Supermarket Association of T&T (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee then called on his members to boycott Ramsaran’s.
“We are advising all our members that a boycott of all Ramsaran’s Dairy Products is to be undertaken immediately. This will stay in place until such time that the company seeks the appropriate remedial action in a consistent and satisfactory manner,” Diptee said in a statement.
Xtra Foods, West Bees, Persad’s D’ Food King and the JT Allum Group of Companies were among other retailers who removed Ramsaran’s products from their shelves yesterday. Guardian Media understands other companies were also discussing similar action.
In response to the backlash, Ramsaran’s issued a statement late yesterday denouncing their family member’s comments and insisting that they were “not in any way whatsoever reflective of the views and beliefs of our small business.”
The statement added: “Given these unfortunate developments, we have taken urgent and active steps to part ways with the employee and author of the subject comments and statements, the content of which cannot and will not be tolerated by us.
“Ramsaran’s Dairy Products has been in operation serving the people of Trinidad and Tobago for over 70 years without incident. We started our operations as a humble business and over time, only with the cherished support of our loyal customer base, have our products been able to become a staple in many homes across the nation.
“Throughout this time, we have built, developed and maintained a bond with countless employees, suppliers, customers and the public at large. While the said employee cannot speak on our behalf, even by association, we must unreservedly extend our apologies nationwide and to all those who have been impacted by the statements which were utterly unacceptable and reprehensible.”
The Ramsaran’s race controversy was one of several that have flared up since Monday night’s 22-19 victory for the People’s National Movement’s (PNM) over the United National Congress (UNC).
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, in his first interview since the election, yesterday told CNC3 The Morning Brew host Natalee Legore that seeds of discord were being sown in the country. He accused the UNC of fueling racism by telling the East Indian population they had been cheated of the election. Dr Rowley said there was “a huge undercurrent of racism” in the aftermath of the election. (See Page 7)
An investigation is taking place into social media comments made by a Sixth Form teacher at Bishop Anstey High School and Trinity College East (BATCE).
In one post, Kamel Ali wrote: “They actually celebrating that the PNM won? Oh right! Half of them only eat bread and KFC so the price of groceries wouldn’t matter to them.”
Another comment noted: “This is what happens when you give the uneducated masses the right to vote… they make a mess of things.”
However, in a wave of criticism that followed, one of the teacher’s former students wrote: “To think that you were one of the few teachers I looked up to at Bishops! Seeing your views about ‘the blank PNM supporters who only eat bread and KFC’ doesn’t surprise me or make me upset! … Because of you and your teaching, a lot of us ‘Blank folk’ are in positions now, where we can walk into schools and take your place. Therefore, I believe seeing that it has all these qualified people who are capable of teaching the future generation without hate, disgust and malice in their hearts, I believe people like you should not be teaching and if you still are a teacher, I would make it my business to make sure that you are not allowed to walk onto any school compound in any part of Trinidad or Tobago ever again.”
Ali too subsequently apologised, saying his comments were not directed at anyone in particular and that he was not racist.
Parents and even the teacher’s colleagues took him to task over the comment, with many making their feeling known to the schools’ management. Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago Claude Berkley has also spoken out against the statement, noting the pain and hurt it had caused. The schools are run by the Anglican Church.
BATCE director Jennifer Doyle said officials of the school had taken note of the allegations and noted the matter was under investigation.
The T&T Defence Force is also investigating some other social media posts, allegedly made by one of its members.
It issued the following statement: “The TTDF, in all endeavours seeks to underscore the value of equality in our culturally diverse society as expressed in our National Anthem which states that “Every Creed and Race Find and Equal Place.” Therefore, the TTDF does not endorse the statements made and strongly condemns any such utterances that seek to divide our countrymen.”