By AMINTA KILAWAN NARINE
Natasha Ramen, Guiatree Hardat, Rajwantie Baldeo, Stacy Singh, Riya Rajkumar, Omwattie Gill, and countless others in the Caribbean. All of these women were killed by those who were supposed to love them, most at the hands of their partners with the exception of 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar, who was killed by her father this past Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be her birthday.
Several of the perpetrators subsequently took their lives. The horrifying headlines seem to repeat themselves – most commonly “husband kills wife and then kills himself” – often in the most gruesome of circumstances. We should not be desensitized by the headlines. This is a pervasive problem that cannot be dismissed. What does it take to end the cycle? And why does such brutality seem so common in the Caribbean, trickling into diaspora communities?
The murder of Omwattie Gill is the most recent death of an Indo-Caribbean woman at the hands of gender-based violence. On March 30th, Omwattie (fondly called “Anjalie” and “Ango”) was on her way to work at a store in Rose Hall Town in Corentyne, Guyana when her estranged husband ran her over, then exited his vehicle with a cutlass and proceeded to hack her to death. Omwattie was just 21 years old. She leaves behind a 7-month-old baby girl. According to news reports, after a year of putting up with the abuse, Omwattie moved out and returned to her parents home just two weeks ago. A week prior to her death, Omwattie reported her husband to authorities and had an order of protection against him. He was not permitted to be within 100 feet of her. That did not stop him from murdering her. In fact, according to local residents, the order of protection was violated many times. Neighbors reported that they saw Omwattie’s husband, a taxi driver, taunting her every day as she walked on the street to go to work.
Omwattie and her husband were married in January 2018. According to her sister Samantha, Omwattie’s husband is an alcoholic who did not meet his financial obligations in the home including providing basic necessities such as milk for his child. “Overbearing make she move home back. Now she get wan work just fi support she and she child. He keep telling dem he guh kill she and he go kill Haley too,” Samantha said. Omwattie’s husband also threatened to kill Samantha and her mother. Sadly, Omwattie was expected to receive her first paycheck on March 30th, the very same day she was brutally murdered.
A woman who summoned the courage to leave her abuser, to become economically independent, and pick up the pieces, was met with demise. Omwattie’s tragic passing underscores the difficulties behind a decision to leave a domestic violence situation. The solution to domestic violence is not black and white. Sometimes it’s not as simple as just leaving. While there are many “success stories” of survivors who have broken free of the violence, not all the stories end well. Statistics show that it takes seven tries before a survivor ends up permanently leaving their abuser. In the end, no matter when that decision is made, the safety of a survivor must be prioritized. An entire network of people must be ready to support a survivor’s choice to leave. S/he must feel empowered, and constantly protected. It takes a village to get out safely. This may not be the convenient path, and it may take sacrifice – but it is the only way, especially when someone has voiced that they want to kill you.
Since we know that it takes so much for a survivor to leave their abuser, we must do more to promote healthy relationships and foster mental wellness. There must be a complete culture shift in the way women’s role in society is perceived by men in our wider community. This takes a heightened level of commitment from men, particularly men in positions of power and leadership. It takes undoing toxic masculinity and the notion that “boys will be boys.” It takes having those uncomfortable conversations about how we feel inside and an unveiling of all our historical trauma, to get to a place of true equity.
The night after Omwattie died, at an annual event at Bhavaanee Maa Mandir in Brooklyn, New York called “Mata Ki Chowki”, a gathering in preparation for Navraatri (9-night festival celebrating the different forms of the Hindu goddess), Kajol Pooran, Omwattie’s distant cousin, spoke to attendees about the importance of spreading love in the aftermath of such a brutal death. Indeed, relationships cannot be premised on any level of ownership on the part of a dominating partner. Too often, the moment a man feels he is losing ownership of his wife, he takes it out on her through abusive language, violent behavior, or even at its peak, murder.
We know of the various factors that contribute to this type of behavior. Poverty, for example, can impact the prevalence and general societal acceptance of gender-based violence. According to a survey conducted between 2005 and 2017 by the University of Bristol among 1.17 million persons, mainly in low-income countries, 36 percent of people thought it was justifiable for a husband or partner to perpetrate violence on his wife or partner for at least one of the following situations: she goes out without telling him, argues with him, neglects the children, suspects her of being unfaithful, refuses to have sex, or burns the food. Studies have also shown that factors such as political turbulence play a role in an attitude of acceptance of gender-based violence. Though poverty, access to education, and use of alcohol and drugs are all associated with domestic violence, the foundational root of domestic violence is gender inequality. Violence is often a way for men to reaffirm their masculinity. And behind closed doors, intimate partners are the easiest target.
No more mincing words. Men, stop thinking that you have some sort of power and control over your partners. You do not own your wife.
She is an equal partner in your union. Respect her, even when you don’t agree with each other. It’s also up to you to come to terms with any mental health issues you may have, including abuse you may have witnessed or experienced as a child, or pent up trauma that has yet to be addressed. This means recognizing when only a third-party mental health professional can help you. The truth is, there is a reason why many young women my age do not look for their lifetime partners among Indo-Caribbean men – even the good ones get a bad rap because of the rotten chauvinist apples. Men – call out your brothers when they’re acting a fool – don’t turn a blind eye.
Before Omwattie’s murder, an image appeared on many of my Facebook friends’ walls stating “A divorced daughter is better than a dead daughter. When will our society understand this?” To all in our community, when one of our sisters is victimized, the first question we ask should not be: “What did she do?” Instead, it should be: “What could we have done to help?”
Rest in Power Omwattie Gill.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.