Sunday, December 05, 2010

My promise to Cheryl, Radica and Champa

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 05 December 2010)

Let me tell you a story, or rather three stories, about young women killed by violence and the crusade of each of their mothers to seek justice for their daughters. Each of these tragic individual cases may seem familiar since the mothers’ work diligently to keep their daughters’ cases at the forefront of our thoughts. However, when taken as a whole, these stories speak of a very disturbing trend.

Story #1: In March of this year, Leeloutie ‘Pinky’ Seeram, a mother of two, was killed when chopped to the back of her head. She also had three fingers on her left hand severed. Her husband did this after he came home drunk one night. It is said that he often abused Pinky, so she lived no easy life. And in the end, her own husband took her life in a drunken rage.

He also chopped Pinky’s mother, Lata ‘Cheryl’ Inderdeo, 52, to her right shoulder and left palm as she tried to help her daughter. Cheryl survived the attack, but has a long scar down her right arm and across her left hand. The children from the marriage, who grew up seeing their father beat their mother, now have no mother at all. The husband is on the run.

Story #2: On September 10, a young Sheema Mangar, 21 years old, was just getting off work at Demerara Bank Ltd. when she was robbed of her BlackBerry phone around 18:40 hrs, while awaiting transportation near Camp Street and North Road. According to a Kaieteur News report, an eyewitness said the thief got into a car and “Mangar ran towards the car while shouting ‘thief, thief.’ She reportedly then stood in front of the car while demanding that the thief return the phone. But according to the eyewitness, the occupant of the car responded by running over Mangar and dragging her to Church Street.”

Sheema’s mother, Radica Thakoor, said when she arrived at the hospital, her daughter was “hollering in pain,” but appeared to recognise their voices. She recalled that there was a large hole near Radica’s left temple. At least one of her arms was broken and her face and limbs were badly bruised. Sheema died the next morning because a thief stole her Blackberry. The robbers, again, remain at large.

Story #3: The night of the Diwali motorcade, 28-year-old Babita Sarjou, the mother of a four-year-old-boy, disappeared after leaving her workplace. She was to take her son to the motorcade with her estranged husband. This same man had allegedly posted nude photos of Babita around her place of work and was due to appear in court over the matter. Another matter in court is the custody of the son. Despite the husband’s vile treatment of Babita that would make him a prime suspect in her disappearance, he is still at large and has custody of the child.

All three of these stories have common threads to tie them together. For example, these stories are of real women who suffered violence – two are dead and the last one has been missing for a month. However, another notable common thread is that all three of these young women have mothers who are willing to continue to fight for justice for their daughters. I have spoken with each of these mothers, Cheryl Inderdeo (Pinky’s mom), Radica Thakoor (Sheema’s mom) and Champa Seonarine (Babita’s mom) and I am struck by how the system has utterly failed each of them.

If women can be discarded so easily by men; if they can be beaten, murdered and kidnapped and then forgotten by those who are supposed to protect them – then the laws and the constitution are of no use whatsoever for women. If justice is a right afforded to all citizens, both male and female, then why are these mothers still fighting for justice when it should have been a simple matter of fact in the first place?

These are just the cases I know about personally from talking with the mothers. There are other cases, too – like that of Victorine Ifill. According to a November 28 Stabroek News report, on September 11, 2009, Ifill’s Sophia two-storey concrete house was totally destroyed by fire when Ifill’s ex-husband “had allegedly kicked down the door to the house and set it on fire, using cooking gas and kerosene. In a matter of minutes, the house and all of Ifill’s possessions were gone…Stanley Griffith also called Denis Griffith was in hiding for over a year since allegedly setting fire to Ifill’s Sophia home in September 2009. Police managed to apprehend him earlier this month, but they released him on bail saying that further advice was needed.”

How many more women are victimised by violence and subsequently victimised by the justice system? How much longer until women are regarded as essential citizens instead of trivial cases that can be tossed aside and forgotten about? To say this situation is untenable is paltry. In fact, it is actually an affront to all women.

I do not know if Babita is still alive, but I do know that if she cannot show at her court dates because she has been kidnapped, the case against her husband for posting nude photos of her will be dismissed. I also know Pinky’s murderer is walking around free to enjoy his life after he brutally murdered his wife and assaulted his mother-in-law. And I know that the man who ran over and dragged Sheema Mangar’s body down the street is walking around scot-free.

In speaking with these mothers, I have no doubt they will not rest until justice has been served. As a mother myself, I can identify and know I would do exactly the same. As such, I stand with these mothers and vow the same commitment to see justice for their daughters. That is a promise.

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