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Dear Editor: T&T’s two-tongued on issue of violence and the women whose lives matter

“[…] Gender-based violence is often separated from the larger problem of violence that has pervaded this society. The violence is symptomatic of a country built and driven by bloodshed, which is then propped up by widespread corruption. 

“[…] If it is acceptable for the police to unlawfully assume the role of executioner by their arbitrary rules, then what is the shock and outrage about when other citizens apply that same modus operandi?”

The following Letter to the Editor on the death of Andrea Bharatt and the subsequent national response to the tragedy, was submitted to Wired868 by Aileen Alexis:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago has mourned the recent unexplained death of 22-year-old Andrea Bharatt.

The kidnapping and still unexplained death of a young court clerk, Andrea Bharatt has evoked strong emotions from a wide cross-section of the Trinbagonian population. 

Protests, vigils and calls for legislation regarding the use of non-lethal weapons—such as pepper spray and tasers—and the resumption of hangings have been among the manifestations of these emotions.

There is no doubt that what happened to Andrea is a tragedy for this country. This has caused the ‘Protect Our Women’ call to re-emerge with a specific focus on dealing with gender-based violence. However, this call to protect our women can be quite skewed as it does not seem to apply to all women, irrespective of race, colour and class. 

The stark reality is this concern can be quite selective. This is evident in the case of Ornella Greaves, a Beetham Gardens resident, who appeared to have been shot dead by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) in June of last year, while protesting police brutality. 

It is evident that this society places a higher value on the lives of some women, while others are disposable.

Photo: Ornella Greaves was shot dead during a protest in the Beetham Gardens, after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.

Andrea has been called beautiful, meek, gentle along with other numerous character traits from people who have never met her. One has to wonder on what basis are individuals giving their assessment. The answer is not hard to formulate. 

Andrea fits ‘the look’ of what this society deems as a respectable young lady; and to top it off, she is a graduate of the University of the West Indies (UWI). 

Ornella Greaves, a mother of five, did not receive the same feeling of outrage from the population. She did not meet its skewed notion of a desirable woman. The investigation into her death has gone cold with the TTPS denying any involvement. There has yet to be any protest, vigils, or calls for holding Ornella’s killer accountable. 

There are prejudices that are inherent within the ‘Protect Our Women’ movement; and to tackle them, people need to be honest enough to acknowledge and actively work on the biases that blind them from seeing the value of Black lives in this society.

Photo: Morvant resident Joel Jacobs, 37, (background) holds his hands up as does the driver in the car.
It was not enough to save their lives, as both men along with a passenger were gunned down moments later by police officers on 27 June 2020.

Trinidad and Tobago was born out of violence. Rape, murder and genocide are some of the core pillars that shaped Trinbagonian society with the coming of Westernisation. 

Therefore, when shock and outrage ensue after an egregious crime is committed—more so against someone who is seen as socially desirable—one has to wonder about the historical awareness of the citizenry of this country.

Gender-based violence is often separated from the larger problem of violence that has pervaded this society. The violence is symptomatic of a country built and driven by bloodshed, which is then propped up by widespread corruption. 

Society is often two-tongued in its sentiments surrounding violence. They condone violence when it is someone they view as a pest, undesirable or a burden to ‘greater good’ of the country. 

Thus, they often commend the actions of the TTPS who, many times, take on the role of judge, jury and executioner while carrying out their duties. With the deaths of two main suspects in Andrea’s case while in police custody, many citizens said they would have no problem if it was an extra-judicial execution. 

Photo: Police officers square off with Morvant resident after protests against the police killings of Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(Copyright Trinidad Express)

It is extremely palatable to accept the murder of some individuals—more so, when they are men and women from areas in Port of Spain and other communities that are deemed as ghettos or hotspots. This is symptomatic of the ever-present racism, classism and colourism that this society quite often ignores or downplays. 

If it is acceptable for the police to unlawfully assume the role of executioner by their arbitrary rules, then what is the shock and outrage about when other citizens apply that same modus operandi? 

To tackle gender-based violence, there needs to be a broader analysis of all the institutions, values and prejudices that we so easily subscribe to without challenging how we ourselves contribute. To tackle the crime problem that has so long plagued this country, there first needs to be greater dialogue that extends far beyond the academic and professional spheres.

Voices from marginalised individuals and communities need to be strongly considered, as they have been silenced and overlooked far too often. Their insights, experiences and perceptions cannot be ignored when they are the ones who are most severely disadvantaged by the implications of crime. 

Photo: Morvant residents remonstrate with TTPS Inspector Alexander, after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacob, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(via Stabroeknews)

The death of Andrea Bharatt is a product of a plethora of unaddressed issues that have been constantly overlooked or pushed to the back-burner of thought and action—not just by politicians, but by the general population of this country.

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4 comments

  1. thehandbehindthecurtain

    If you see a riot then remove yourself from the riot, go back into your house. Riots and violence go hand in hand.

  2. Ms. Alexis raises essential points! Unless we are committed to improving the quality and safety of ALL T&T lives, we are going to perpetuate the problems we are facing today. The circumstances of Andrea Bharatt’s death were utterly degrading to her (in the most extreme sense) and to her family and the wider society. This is heart-breaking and vexing. But the circumstances that gave rise to the criminalisation of someone her own age, from a nearby town within the same society raises very important questions. If we do not attend to the questions, we will never find new answers to lift us out of the current despair. The answers will lie in alleviating poverty (no Mr. Minister, money does not trickle down in the way you imagine), providing support to communities, promoting non-violence, respect for women, making schools positive and safe spaces, improving infrastructure including transport, improving policing, and the list goes on….There is much work. We need leaders who will coordinate the efforts of so many who want to see T&T become better, for ALL.