Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One woman’s struggle for a safe life

(Originally published in Guyana’s Kaieteur News on 18 May 2011)
Last year in March, a young mother was chopped to death by her reputed husband and father of her children. As she was being attacked, her mother stepped in to try and keep her daughter alive and in the process was also chopped on both arms.

The mother, whom we shall call “Donna” to protect her from further harm, survived the attack. The perpetrator of this violent act then ran away leaving his two children without a mother or father. A murder charge was filed against him and a judge issued an arrest warrant.

At first, it is believed this man was hiding in the community, but he eventually left for a neighbouring country to dodge the law. However, he recently turned up again in the same community where he killed his wife and attacked his mother-in-law.

“Donna,” the mother-in-law, feared for her life, but decided to do the brave thing and tell the police that the perpetrator had returned. She first went to the local police station to make the report. However, she was sent to another police station. She went to that station, but they did not take a formal statement, just a verbal acknowledgment of what she said. 

After a few days of the man remaining free, my colleague in women’s advocacy work, Dianne Madray, called the local commander and asked why the perpetrator had not yet been picked up. Heated words were exchanged between the two and the conversation did not end on a good note.

Feelings of frustration were mounting with each day this man remained free as Donna and her grandchildren feared for their lives. In fact, the reason I am not giving the details of the case is because of this fear. Donna feels the man, or his relatives or even those who are in cahoots with him will cause her harm for speaking out.

Moreover, many of the law enforcement officials with whom Donna spoke acted as if they did not know the case to which she referred, even though it had received a great deal of media coverage. She was also told that the law enforcement officials needed more information. This all combined to cause even further frustration. However, she was not deterred. She wanted justice for her daughter.

Donna then went to the Ministry of Human Services in Georgetown and spoke with a helpful Probation Officer [PO] who not only referred her to a specific PO in her local area, but also made an appointment for her to meet the other PO the next day. So she travelled back to her village.

She spoke with the PO in her area and they made plans to meet at the police station at a certain time. So Donna went to the police station at the predetermined time and waited, but the PO never showed. Donna felt as if she was running out of options.

Dianne Madray then contacted Khemraj Ramjattan for his assistance. Ramjattan spoke to a secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, but that did not really go anywhere. Therefore, since he was going to be in Donna’s area, he visited the police station.

Ramjattan was informed by the police officers that they could not find the perpetrator. Donna had provided the police with the perpetrator’s address, directions to the address, his photo and anything else they said they needed, but even after all of this and a great amount of effort on her part, the man still walked around her village as a free man. And Donna remained in fear.

The girl, Donna’s granddaughter, remains in fear, too. She is depressed and crying all the time. She asked if her father was coming back with a cutlass. She wants her grandmother to come back to the village, but Donna must try to do what she can to make her life and the lives of her grandchildren safe again. Otherwise, they will continue to live in fear.

I finally decided to contact the Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, to see if she could help Donna feel safe again. I wrote an email detailing Donna’s past week full of attempts to find justice for her daughter’s murder. Within minutes, I got a response saying she was looking into the situation and within an hour, I was informed on the current status of the case.

The Minister said, “The alleged perpetrator has an outstanding charge of murder against him. The police have indeed received information that he is back and was spotted even after some disguising measures in public transportation. He apparently exited that transportation in [a certain village] and hasn’t been seen since. I am assured that the police are presently conducting surveillance on places he may visit given their profile of him.”

As I read this email response to Donna, I watched as she broke down in tears from the stress of it all, as well as from the pain she still bears from the injuries she received on that fateful day. The injuries still have not completely healed and the pain makes her already complicated life even more difficult.

This is one woman’s struggle with fear. It is also the struggle of many domestic violence victims in Guyana as they fight to live a safe and happy life – a life free from violence and abuse. It is not an easy struggle, as is clearly evident from Donna’s story. In fact, most victims would have given up after the first visit to the police station.

It should not be this difficult to find justice or to live a safe life. Donna should not have to go to such great lengths to find safety for herself and her grandchildren. It is my assertion that there must be a better way to protect Guyana’s women. There must be!

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