(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 10 October 2010)
I could not have been more elated when I read a letter in the October 8 Guyana Chronicle entitled, “Guyana Pandits’ Council condemns brutal murder of Ms. Neesa Gopaul.” Religious leaders are starting to condemn domestic violence, which means those who inflict abuse will be robbed of any spiritual moral license they might believe they have to inflict physical, mental and/or emotional abuse.
The letter said, “Hinduism speaks voluminously about how fortunate it is to have this human form. It was only through our sacred karma in our previous births we were gifted the human body. It is the perfect vehicle that can be used for the unification with the supreme Lord. No one has the right to inflict bodily harm or shower abuse of any kind on anyone.” I love that last line.
However, it was when I read this part that I wanted to dance around the room with joy, “When such heinous crimes are perpetuated on our females, our scriptures abundantly show that destruction of our society is lurking around the corner.” With the support of these admirable religious leaders, the tide just might be turning. I am hoping more religious leaders take such a strong stance.
Other big news this past week is that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, headed by Minister Priya Manickchand, admitted to dropping the ball in the case of the gruesome murder of young Neesa Gopaul. It is rare to see any government admit to a failing, but I truly thought I would see pigs fly before I would see the government of Guyana make such an admittance.
Furthermore, there is talk of accountability for those responsible for dropping the ball. Manickchand said, “I strongly believe that much more could have and should have been done to protect this girl, by all of the authorities, sectors and persons who were aware of the complaints of this young girl.” The minister also said that in the future, disciplinary action will be taken against officers who fail to act and conduct their work in accordance with the written protocols of the Child Protection Act.
An admittance of failure and a demand for accountability – all in one week?
Law enforcement officials also botched the Neesa Gopaul case and the Ministry of Home Affairs responded to that failure with this statement, “While police ranks are not all specially trained welfare and probation officers, the training which they undergo and the experience they gain in dealing with the public was enough to alert them that the issues surrounding the deceased needed special attention by them. In fact, Police Standing Order No. 63 mandates that all allegations of crime, whether indictable or summary, must be entered in the crime book. Therefore, even if the complainant withdrew the allegations, the records at the station would remain. This should alert the supervisors that more attention was needed to be paid to the matter, involving the deceased.”
It would seem this week has indeed seen tremendous progress on the domestic violence front. Sadly, that progress comes at a high price – the brutal slaying of a 16-year-old girl. All of these responses are reactionary at best and the tough positions against systematic complacency concerning abuse should have happened long ago. It would seem Neesa Gopaul’s vicious murder has caused the country to take notice and finally do something about domestic violence.
Though, apparently not everyone in the country wanted to take notice. The Queen’s College headmistress hid her head in the sand and hoped the events of this past week would just go away, but that is not how domestic violence situations work. Slaps, punches, hits, cruel words and murder – none of it can be taken back once it is inflicted on someone. Hiding from domestic violence does not make it go away. The headmistress should have instead used these horrible circumstances to help her students better prepare for the next time a fellow student is being abused.
In fact, hiding just makes the situation even worse. Exposing domestic violence is the only way to make sure it stops. This is another statement from the government, “The Ministry of Home Affairs is once again calling on the general public to report any matter that requires the attention of the police, faithfully and promptly, to the Guyana Police Force. The untimely passing of young Neesa Lalita Gopaul should be a wake-up call for all. For members of the public to say that they do not want to get involved, when they know of the commission of a crime, is abdication of their civic responsibility.”
It really does look as if social tolerance of domestic violence is finally waning. Religious leaders are speaking out against it, there are murmurs of accountability within the government and I believe the outcry this week from the public signifies that we have finally reached the “enough is enough” point. Good.
It is kind of ironic that this is happening during October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But this awakening of sorts – that it is wrong to be physically, mentally or emotionally abusive – is only the beginning. There are more Neesa’s out there right now who need someone to stand up for them against the violence and brutality. They need someone to be their voice because they cannot find their own voice amidst the cruelty and degradation.
There also needs to be support groups (maybe you should start one), professional counselling – both for the abused and the abuser, and safe places for those who need to escape the abuse. Yes, this is only the very beginning and it is going to be a very long road because it has taken decades of beatings and death to get to this point.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Don’t turn a blind eye to the wickedness of domestic violence. Speak up and save a woman’s life.