By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
On the night of Friday, November 8th, 27-year-old Donna Dojoy (Rehanna) was stabbed to death by her husband Dinhwar Budhidat in Ozone Park. Budhidat subsequently committed suicide, hanging himself on a tree at Spring Creek Park of Jamaica Bay in Howard Beach, Queens.
The incident almost directly mirrors the tragedy of Stacy Singh, who was murdered by her husband before he too committed suicide by hanging. Singh’s death was the first homicide in New York City in 2018. In recent years, several other Indo-Caribbean women in New York City were murdered by those who should have loved them. Rajwantie Baldeo, Natasha Ramen, Guiatree Hardat, and Amarita Khan are among them. Many others still suffer in silence.
Domestic violence has no face. It can impact people across the socioeconomic spectrum and is not relegated to any one group of people. Yet there is no denying a pattern of behavior among Indo-Caribbean domestic violence incidents. Newspaper articles from the Caribbean feature articles of brutal murder/suicides primarily happening in Guyana and Trinidad, but this phenomenon occurs in New York City also, primarily among those who recently migrated to the United States. It is fair to say that the root causes of domestic violence in our community transcend across migrations and generations.
The most brutal of the domestic violence cases the NYC Indo-Caribbean community has seen happened to working class women. Dojoy was a bartender at Gemini Ultra Lounge on Liberty Avenue and 107th Street in Richmond Hill. In December 2017, Rajwantie Baldeo, who worked at The Oasis restaurant on Liberty Avenue and 123rd Street, was practically decapitated by her husband. The women also shared similar immigration patterns. Both were not U.S. citizens. Bother were killed around the holiday season.
It feels like with at least every passing year, we lose another Indo-Caribbean woman at the hands of violence. Many more women are being abused day after day. Their stories often are not heard. They often do not know where to turn. What can we do as a community to stop the violence once and for all?
WE NEED TO RAISE SONS WHO WILL RESPECT WOMEN AND DAUGHTERS WHO CAN SPOT ABUSIVE BEHAVIORS EARLY ON. THIS ALSO MEANS SHOWING WIVES THE SAME LEVEL OF RESPECT THAT WE SHOW OUR DAUGHTERS. Gender norms and behaviors trickle down generation after generation. We need to do better at teaching our sons and daughters what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Additionally, we need to apply the same standards to our own relationships. We raise our daughters to chase after their dreams, to pursue careers, to be who they want to be. Yet, the standards are often different for wives. This is hypocritical and it perpetuates a patriarchy that continues to plague our people. When our children see this culture continue, they think it’s okay to also be in an abusive relationship. This must stop.
WRAP-AROUND SERVICES FOR SURVIVORS ARE SORELY NEEDED. One of the reasons women stay in abusive situations is because they’re afraid of what the alternative could look like. Would leaving mean they have to uproot their lives and their children’s lives? Would it mean they have to live in a homeless shelter? Would it mean their abuser will try to get them deported? How will they pay their bills? Will their names be permanently scarred? These are real questions that survivors of domestic violence ask themselves. There are too few culturally-appropriate places that cater to these questions, too few supports in place to give survivors an assuring path to safety. We need to work with existing infrastructure provided by the City to develop these paths for Indo-Caribbean survivors.
VICTIM BLAMING IS UNACCEPTABLE, NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE. We make excuses for abusers, even those who commit murder. A Daily News article quoted a cousin of Budhidat stating, “he’s the coolest, calmest, funniest guy.” Some have said that Budhidat should have known what to expect because his wife was a bartender. A New York Post article implied that Budhidat murdered his wife because she had a crush on Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan.
The sensationalizing of this incident distracts from the bottom line. There is never an excuse for any kind of violence. There was nothing wrong with choosing bartending as a profession. In Stacy Singh’s case, there was nothing wrong with having red hair. Yet, this is what we hear after women in our community are murdered. Demonizing victims/survivors and humanizing abusers is common. This is appalling.
ABUSERS NEED TO LEARN WHY THEIR BEHAVIOR IS WRONG. We know the statistics. It takes approximately seven attempts until a survivor is able to successfully leave her abuser. There are possible ways to intervene during that time before it’s too late. Many abusers, for example, have already had run-ins with the law. This was not Budhidat’s first offense against Dojoy. He was previously arrested for strangulation, just last August, one month after he and Dojoy wed. Dojoy even had an order of protection against him. That order didn’t protect her. Today, she is no more. There are programs that the Queens County Criminal Court often requires of domestic violence perpetrators as part of their punishment. Court-mandated programs like batterer’s intervention have the potential to shift the ways in which perpetrators think and behave. Too many opportunities are missed in the design of these programs, however. Generally, they often function as simple checks on a box for a judge. If more resources were put into building out programs that have been empirically deemed effective, abusers would have a check on their toxic masculinity. As an aside, when I interned at the Queens Family Justice Center in law school, I sat in arraignments, which is the first time a defendant sees a judge after being arrested. In the domestic violence court room, I’ve never seen more defiant abusers than Indo-Caribbean men, who simply don’t understand how wrong their actions are.
A ROBUST COMMUNITY NETWORK MUST BE BUILT. Survivors can be hesitant to entrust their personal stories to professionals in order to access help. This is especially the case when professionals are not culturally-appropriate. Moreover, sometimes involving NYPD does more harm than good, further inciting anger in the abuser. Building out an Indo-Caribbean community network of trained volunteers willing to help both in crises situations as well as non-crisis situations is critical. Survivors need to know they’re supported by their own people. Abusers need to know they will be held accountable by their own.
WE NEED TO TAKE TO THE STREETS.
Historically, some of the biggest change to promote women’s rights occurred after massive uprisings of women to stand up for justice. If we are to seek a true cultural shift, then we must build a movement of women, as well as men allies, to take to the streets and send a message far and wide that gender-based violence will never be acceptable.
Sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family of Donne (Rehanna) Dojoy who lost their beautiful loved one too soon. Let us wrap this family with love from our community.
Below are quotes from local leaders and community-based organizations collected as we mourn the death of Donne Dojoy. They include elected officials, health professionals, community-based organizations and faith leaders.
“I am deeply saddened and troubled by another heinous act of violence committed against a young woman who deserved to have a full, healthy long life,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “There is absolutely no justification for such condemnable behavior projected from one human being on another – particularly one who has vowed to love and cherish you forever. Such cowardly, wicked actions have no place in civilized society. I stand in strong solidarity with Donne’s family and with my Mothers, Aunties, and Sisters in our community, who will never, ever accept this abhorrent behavior as the norm for our people.”
“I’m not shocked, but I’m saddened by this news. It sheds light on the toxic levels of intimate partner violence that remains in the dark, until a tragedy like this spills into the open. Every single police precinct has a domestic violence counselor, including trained Indo-Caribbean professionals. We have to speak up, reach out, and we need resources to help families interrupt this cycle of violence. We need healing.” said Richard David, activist and District Leader of Assembly District 31.
“Intimate partner violence is a devastating, preventable public health crisis that affects millions of Americans, and particularly horrifying number from our Indo-Caribbean community.
The cycle of toxic masculinity, gender-based violence, the stigmatization of mental health, and self-harming behaviors must end. Untimely acts of rage and jealousy cannot continue to take innocent lives. Our public health community is committed to bringing awareness to, providing resources for, and ending domestic and all other forms of violence plaguing our communities,” said Dr. Kamini Doobay of the Coalition Against Racism in the Healthcare System.
“I refuse to sit back and allow our sisters to be silenced by fear, intimidation, violence – and worse – their lives. Too many of them suffer in silence; too many of them have been silenced forever. It’s time for our community to hold their sons accountable, to intervene early and to teach their sons to deal with their mental health. Our sisters should not be collateral damage for men’s insecurities,” said Dave Kutayiah, chairman of The Shakti Mission and Shri Shakti Mariammaa Temple, and adjunct professor at Mercy College.
Vijah Ramjattan of the United Madrassi Association said “while the blisters of domestic violence can be masque and camouflaged, an end result of death is a sad reality that is devastating and reminds us that violence in any form should not be tolerated.”
“You may never know how a partner or spouse may react during or after a domestic violence situation before a homicide occurs. If you find yourself in a situation that looks like one in the news, be sure your family and friends are aware. Know that it is hard to spot the warning signs that could lead to a homicide. One main red flag is if your parter or spouse ever strangled you and you lived to tell about it. Never return or be near him. Keeping silent could mean your story in the headlines. Examples of abuse should be recorded and documented.
The mental health of your partners is important to pay attention to as well as your own. A support system is also an important part of the journey.” Dianne Madray, Let the Women Speak.
“The Indo-Caribbean Alliance is greatly saddened and angry of hearing of another murder/suicide due to gender-based violence in our community. We will join in forces with our community partners to continue our efforts for awareness on mental health and gender-based violence. This reoccurring tragedy needs to stop and the time is now!” said Artee Perumal, Vice-Chair of the Indo-Caribbean Alliance.
Mohamed Q. Amin, Executive Director of Caribbean Equality Project said, “In sadness and anger, we join a community of migrant experiences to grieve the loss of our sister, daughter, friend and neighbor, Donne Dojoy. Her violence, tragic and preventable death reminds us of the internalized fear, and trauma survivors of gender-based violence within the Indo-Caribbean community are silently combatting. We mourn in solidarity with the family of Dojoy and pledge to rise-up from a culture of systematic oppression and inherited ancestral trauma.”
“We are heartbroken by the news of yet another Indo-Caribbean women’s life cut short by gender-based violence. Our deepest condolences go to Ms. Dojoy’s family at this difficult time.
We are here to support them, and will continue our work with ever more urgency to uproot the causes of this violence once and for all,” Shivana Jorawar and Simone Jhingoor, Jahajee Sisters Co-Chairs.
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.