Saturday, July 30, 2011

What was learnt from the Neesa Gopaul case?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 23 July 2011)

Question 6:
Tell me, what were your feelings when you first realised the full scope of the Neesa Gopaul case?

AFC candidate Khemraj Ramjattan
(Sections of this interview were edited)

It was shocking. I just couldn’t believe it. You get a sense of what our society has come to.
The proof now of one instance like this means that there are [others]. As to how many, I am hoping to God they are not very many. We have to ensure that they are [brought] to a halt.

And that is why community life must come back. I find that we have become individualistic now. Whereas in times before — like where I came from Number 47 Village, everybody knew everybody else’s business. Today nobody wants you to be prying into their affairs, but it is necessary. There needs to be a state of being where we are informed about what our neighbours are doing… .

[We need to] get that kind of culture back… . [There are issues] of privacy, rights and all of that, but I believe, know, that we have to get back to that culture whereby we are going to look after the children. It takes a village to raise a child and I would like to see that happening even in the city whereby the street will know what is happening to the child.

And we must be a little more perceptive. When we see a child distraught and dishevelled and whatever, we [should] ask the parents, ‘Why is the child like that?’ And if the parents are hesitant in their answers, we then ask the child. Some of us don’t even want to touch that child or the parents with a 40-foot pole, but that is what causes these things to happen. Because everybody is in their little units in isolation… . But if they know that the society is making some inquiries—‘Why is that girl not going to school? Why is that girl putting on lipstick at 11? What is that?’—we then, give them something to think about. It is a collegial community life that we want to bring back. I think that will help.

APNU candidate David Granger
(Sections of this interview were edited)

I was upset that the system let her down. I tried to understand the emotions of the persons involved. But I think there was no system at the law enforcement and at the governmental level… because there were indications. These things hardly evolve suddenly.

Domestic violence is not sudden. Domestic violence is not the result of alcoholism as some people seem to believe. It doesn’t happen because a man goes home drunk. There were antecedents. There were things that were happening, which predisposed the assailant to be violent. Alcohol is probably just the trigger.

So in [the Gopaul] case, what I’ve read about it in the newspapers, there were clear indications that there was abuse long before the girl died. It meant that the signals were not acted on by persons who should have done so; both at the level of the police and at the level of the government – the ministry.

It is quite unfortunate that blame seems to have been shifted to the school although there is some indication that the school teachers realised something was going wrong and they did respond. I think that was a question of trying to shift the blame; it was a question of passing the buck. That was my reaction when I read the newspaper reports.

PPP/C candidate Donald Ramotar
(Sections of this interview were edited)

…I think I was numb. I was shocked by what had happened. I couldn’t believe something like that was happening in our country; that kind of an insensitive attitude generally across the board, because it seems that many of our institutions actually failed Gopaul.

But I think that we must not allow her life to be just wasted and to be snuffed out at such an early stage – that we should take lessons from what happened there to ensure that something like that does not happen to another young girl in our society.

We need to try to put measures in place to ensure that those things do not happen so that her life would not have been in vain. That is how I see it.

My response:
The Neesa Gopaul case was especially difficult for me because of the physical, mental and emotional abuse I suffered as a child by my mother. Moreover, I know there are still so many children who are beaten and tortured everyday by their parents while neighbours do absolutely nothing to stop it. I was sick to my stomach when I realised the full scope of Neesa’s case and asked Guyana’s presidential candidates this question to understand how they felt about it.

There is no wrong answer to this question. However, Granger’s response of the government’s failure – though absolutely correct – was also predictable. Ramotar’s answer, on the other hand, conceding institutional failure across the board, was not at all expected. I have to say that it gives me a good feeling that a senior member of the ruling party can admit that the government has messed up. The good feeling is not a gloating feeling, but comes because it seldom happens; even when that fault is glaring.

Ramjattan’s answer was by far the most interesting. In suggesting more community involvement, he does walk a tightrope on privacy issues. However, I know full well how many neighbours, family members and church members looked the other way when I was being abused as a child.

There had to be literally over 100 people who knew full well of the pain I suffered and did nothing. As such, Ramjattan’s suggestion is spot on.

If those in the community, the ones closest to the abusers and the victims, turn a blind eye and do nothing to stop the violence, where does that leave the community in 20 years when that abused child is living with physical and psychological scars? If those in the community do not help the abused child today, that community will suffer for years to come.

Ramotar is right. We must use the Neesa Gopaul case to find ways to make sure something so horrible does not happen again.

Ratings:  Ramjattan – 3; Ramotar – 2; Granger – 1

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