By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
The funeral of Andrea Bharatt pulled at the heartstrings of a nation. There were calls for action to stop the mounting crime wave in Trinidad and Tobago. Andrea‘s death was senseless. It left many in Trinidad asking questions about themselves, as well as the political establishment, that promised security at election time, but has failed abysmally to protect its citizens.
Ashanti Riley was cited as another recent senseless murder in Trinidad, with the public calling for justice and an end to violence against women. A high crime rate is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago. There are other countries in the Caribbean in which crime is out of control, notably Guyana, and Jamaica. The majority of victims are women. They seldom have access to the criminal justice system, and as a result, suffer silently.
The United Nations estimates that 137 women are killed by a member of the family every day. The statistics show that those who seek help do so from family members, rather than from the established institutions such as the police, or health services. Many countries subscribe to free education for girls, but fail to tackle school related gender-based violence, that has become a major obstacle to their education. Violence against women is not only confined to the developing world. In Europe, one in ten women has experienced cyber-bullying with the high risk being among the 18 to 29 age group.
Women find themselves as the victims of violence in the highest levels of decision-making. Women parliamentarians, in a number of countries, report that they have experienced psychological violence that include humiliating sexual images or references to their bodies. When we take into account female genital mutilation, forced sexual contact, harassment at the workplace, early marriages and pregnancies, we find that the policies needed to protect women are long overdue.
It is this call for justice that an advocacy group known as B.R.O. or Brothers Reach Out, held a rally to lend support to the women’s cause, and to advocate for an end to all forms of gender-based violence.
The group was founded by Vijay Ramjattan, who hails originally from Trinidad and Tobago. A number of persons braved the freezing weather and turned up in Queens, New York, to make their voices heard. Chitra Singh began with a chant for peace, and this was followed by Vijay Ramjattan, who also represented the United Madrassi Association. Mr. Ramjattan said that he decided to set up the B.R.O. group so that men can join together to support women. It also gave a platform to men to discuss their problems.
A statement by Vish and Ravi condemned the deaths of Andrea Bharatt and Ashanti Riley and a call was made for an end to all forms of gender-based violence. A Citation was presented by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar to the group. She said that, ‘those who commit violence against women should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.’ She will continue to advocate for support services for women. She asked for people to channel their ‘shakti’ and slay the inner demons so that women could be treated with respect.
Aminta Kilawan Narine from South Queens Women’s March said that we should hold men accountable. ‘We are exhausted attending vigils. Enough is Enough. We need men to respect women. We need gender-based violence to stop.’ Imam Safraz Bacchus, from the Masjid-al-Abidin, said that women’s voices should be backed up by men, and he quoted verses from the Quran to show that women are exalted. Shivana Jorawar, from Jahaji Sisters, said everyone should speak out. Victims Donna Dojoy, Stacy Singh, and others, left a legacy that would not be forgotten, and it was the duty of the community to keep up the fight and advocate for change.
Mohamed Q. Amin from Caribbean Equality Project said, ‘Caribbean LGBTQ immigrants have always been essential. We are not disposable members of the Caribbean communities. We deserve to co-exist and access services without fear of violence and discrimination. We deserve solidarity and not performativity and tokenization. We deserve love and family support. We deserve to live. We deserve justice. We deserve equity and liberation.’
The final speaker was educator Dr. Dhanpaul Narine of Queens Book Fair Inc. He thanked the B.R.O group for its initiative. He also highlighted the role of Rohan Narine who made it possible, in this pandemic, for more than a million masks to be given out to every community in the City, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Rohan was described as the ‘million mask man’ a job that he takes seriously, on behalf of the Mayor of New York City.
Dr. Narine also framed a resolution calling on the governments of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and India, in the first instance, to uphold the rights of women and to respect gender equality.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.