From May 5, 1838 to the end of that century, indentured men and women from India arrived in shiploads at what was then British Guiana to grow sugarcane. On the torturous journey and thereafter, degrading living conditions seemed to bring out the worst in human behavior. Women, in short supply, were raped and abused, not just by their companion workers but by people in authority. Over time, the abusive patterns as well as the acceptance of abuse became almost a ‘normal’ for Guyanese society. Even deaths by husbands, a near normal.
Let’s move to 2017, New York. In the 106th precinct of Queens, where large numbers of Indian origin Guyanese have made their home, emergency 911 is often called. The milieu has changed, affluence has entered homes, but the legacy of domestic abuse hasn’t changed over a hundred years. According to Vrinda Jagan, an immigration attorney who attends mostly to people from the Caribbean, about 90% of her female clients have suffered some form of violence from their partners. Researcher Aneesa Baboolal talks about how many Guyanese women still feel “if he beats you, he loves you”.
And if he kills you? This year’s first homicide in New York was of 26 year old Stacy Singh, mother of two, by her husband.
But there seems to be a turning point in this hopeless narrative. In 2007, the murder of Guiatree Hardat at the hands of her NYPD transit cop boyfriend, aroused anger, disgust at community apathy - and resolution. The younger women decided to group together and set things right. (See http://www.jahajeesisters.org/) By establishing ‘sister circles’, women’s groups within faith institutions, holding leadership programs, these women are working to change women – and men – fundamentally.
Tolerance of abuse is NOT their story.
In a stirring letter to the community after the killing of Stacy Singh, the Jahajee Sisters wrote “We commit to organizing even harder to end the legacy of gender-based violence among our people and create a safer world. We hope you will stand with us. It will take ALL of us.”