Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Can See Clearly Now: The Case of the Former First Lady

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 18 August 2010)

As I read through the various articles on my chosen topic, I was so upset that I was physically trembling. The anger, frustration and sense of betrayal on behalf of another were overwhelming. It was difficult to get a firm grasp on the depth of the ramifications of what I was reading.

Since I started writing this column again, Freddie Kissoon has made several inferences in his column about the treatment of the former First Lady, Varshnie Singh, by her husband and President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo. So I decided to sit down and do some research of my own into this subject.

During the time when the former First Lady was basically put out of her home, I was at my worst health. In fact, just two weeks after Varshnie Singh went to the press about her situation, I was in an emergency room with a collapsed lung. Shortly after that, the doctors told me I was allergic to wheat, gluten, dairy and eggs – among other foods – as well as environmental allergies. Needless to say, I was not in touch with even my own little world right around me, much less what was going on in Guyana.

Once I had my wits about me again, I heard about the situation between the president and his wife from here and there, but I never really sat down to research the circumstances in full. It was only because Freddie dutifully and consistently brought this revolting situation to light that my inquisitiveness got the best of me and I decided to find out for myself what really happened.

When I read about the sad life the First Lady lived while married to the President, my heart hurt and my stomach lurched. Her day-to-day life was hell and it went from bad to worse.

I read phrases like, “Singh went public yesterday, a day after she was barred from entering State House, the official residence of the President. She told reporters at the mid-morning news conference that she had no clothing apart from what she was wearing at the time.” And the First Lady continued, “This is the first country I have heard of where the First Lady is proactive, doing good for the nation but gets penalised because her husband is President and finds her work to help the same people he swore to defend and represent ‘showing up the inadequacies of his government’ and therefore made me his enemy.”

But it was this statement by the former First Lady that had me shaking as I read it, “It is shameful at this stage of my life to regress to having my parents support me,” she said. “It is funny and sad to hear the politicians talk about the campaign against domestic violence, investing millions to stamp it out etc., when what I am experiencing is hi-tech domestic violence and persecution. Our president is using his office and state resources including Ministers unprofessionally to disadvantage a woman.”

After reading this, everything clicked in my head. I now know the reason there was not more excitement in general about the passage of the Sexual Offences legislation earlier this year – because it was a mockery. It was something to laugh at because the very man who signed the legislation into law, from all appearances, did not esteem one word of it.

It became very clear to me in just a matter of seconds why the women of Guyana suffer at the hands of the men. I finally understood why no amount of laws or police involvement would ever bring change to the situation of women in this country. It is because the ultimate example of leadership a nation can have, provided a blueprint of disdain and contempt toward his wife – and subsequently every single woman in the nation.

I can see clearly now and it all makes sense when I see young Guyanese men, who otherwise seem like decent people, post a status on Facebook that says, “come on ladys i can smell you curry aah bun pon de stove, get off pon de dam facebook before de curry burn and you all man put you out from de kiss me ass house….ha ha ha ha.” [sic]

After all, if the President of the country can treat his own wife with so little respect and put her out “from de kiss me ass house” then why shouldn’t all the men in the whole country be able to do the same?

I now understand why the headlines of women being beaten and murdered continue to fill the pages of the newspapers every single day. I now see why that legislation signed by the President has done nothing to keep the women of Guyana safe and alive.

A few years back when I realised what religions have done to women in the name of their gods, I turned my back on all religions and all gods. If no god is deserving of my praise because of the ill treatment of women, then certainly no mere man will ever get my praise when he mistreats a woman.

Whatever respect I had for Jagdeo and the good things he may have done for Guyana during his time in office is now exhausted. I cannot ever respect a man who does not respect women. Moreover, I will now rethink everything on this issue, starting with whether women have been tormented more under the Jagdeo regime than previous administrations.

There is so much more I would like to say on this subject, but I fear my editor would not be too happy with the words I would use. It is suffice to say that I see clearly now. I understand.

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