In support of a battered woman

 

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Category: Relationships Date: 05 Nov 98


I have a true story to tell you. It happened in Coryal, a remote village in East Trinidad, some years ago. Back in 1981, a 17-year-old woman called Pamela, girlish and high-spirited, fell head over heels in love with a man called Jordan, and he with her. He asked her to come and live with him, and said he would love her forever.

 

Pamela told her childhood sweetheart Denny to forget about her and moved in with Jordan. Soon after the sweet honeymoon period was over, they began to quarrel. I canít exactly say what about, but it must have been the things most couples argue about. Sometimes, little things like how the food was tasting and sometimes bigger things like money, in-laws, men who were interested in Pamela or the time Jordan was spending with the boys. But now when they quarrelled, some rage that Jordan himself couldnít understand would begin to burn him up. Every time he was vexed about anything, or if anyone made him feel small - a man who gave him a sour deal, a boss who would pick on him - he would take it out on Pamela, because she couldnít fight back.

 

Sometimes she, too, was irritating as all of us are, and annoyed him. Despite being a girl and smaller and weaker than him, she would quarrel back. He didnít like that at all. Wasnít he minding her, keeping her in his home, and shouldnít she know now that she belonged to him? That was what got him. She didnít listen to him all the time. He couldnít control her with words but he found that when he beat her, brought her to her knees, shouted louder than her, he felt powerful, and in control again.

 

Now we know that kind of thing often goes on between man and wife, and especially in the country it is considered natural, even essential, since it is meant to make the woman feel like she truly belongs to the man and vice versa.  Pamela got pregnant, but the beating didnít stop. She was pregnant for most of the time she lived with him (she had six children in ten years). So now he continued to beat her in front of the children who would fearfully cower behind her. Sometimes he would chase her out of the house. Then he would drag her back, or she would creep back for the childrenís sake.

 

Jordan also beat the children. They were even smaller and more helpless than Pamela was and he would feel powerful, like the real man of the house, when he made them cry or silenced them at will. Sometimes he would starve them for days or refuse to send them to school. This hurt Pamela more than anything he ever did to her. She needed to talk to someone; she needed help. She couldnít go to the police because most of the officers in the area were Jordanís friends, and anyway in those days there was no Domestic Violence Act and the police used to keep out of husband and wife business.

 

So she confided in her childhood sweetheart Denny about the way Jordan treated her and the children. Denny would always tell her to leave. But the few times Pamela left and went by a relative or friend, Jordan would find her, bring her home, curse, and beat her and the children again. When she couldnít take the battering anymore, Pamela secretly started seeing Denny on the side and became pregnant for him. When Jordan found our he beat Pamela up so badly that she took her two youngest children and went to live in a house rented by Denny and his friend Haniff in Sangre Grande.

 

Even here Pamela received several messages that Jordan was looking for her to kill her. Haniff, in whom Pamela had also confided, assured her that while he was around no one would harm her. Eight days after Pamela left, Jordan kicked down the door to Dennyís house, and began beating her with his hand, cuffing her in her face, and bursting her lip till the blood gushed. He smashed Dennyís guitar and told Pamela he had come to shed blood, and not just hers. He then forced Pamela (whose clothes were covered in blood) to get in his van where he showed her a piece of wood which he said was to beat her. All the way home he kept slapping Pamela about the face.

 

Once inside their house, Jordan locked the door and began cursing and beating Pamela with a piece of wood until she was knocked senseless. After she revived and the children came home from school, he lined them all up, six of them, against the wall, and asked them one by one "should I kill your mother?" All the terrified children said no. He then ordered Pamela to go and borrow a thousand dollars from her mother to get an abortion. Pamelaís mother refused to give her the money and Pamela was glad because she didnít want an abortion. Jordan then told Pamela that if the child werenít his he would kill both her and the child.

 

That evening, Pamela managed to send a written message to Denny to rescue her. On the night of Tuesday, February 12, 1991, Denny and his friend Haniff entered Jordanís house through a door that Pamela left open when she went to the outhouse. Pamela was back in the bedroom when Haniff struck the sleeping Jordan three or four times with piece of wood. Jordan became motionless. Haniff and Denny wrapped Jordanís body in a sheet, placed it in the tray of Jordanís van, and set it on fire. Pamela helped them. All three returned to the home where Pamela made some tea for them, hugged her eight-year-old daughter who witnessed it all, told her to clean up the blood, and not say a word to the police, and then burnt the bloody cloth. Haniff and Denny then took the shotgun belonging to Jordan and left.

 

The next day the burnt van with Jordanís body was found by a passer-by and a report was made to the police. Pamela, Denny and Haniff were sent to jail without bail, as is the norm with all murder cases. A postmortem established Jordanís death was as a result to injuries to the head. Pamela Ramjattan, Haniff Hilaire and Denny Baptiste were charged, convicted and sentenced to death for Jordanís murder in May Ď95.

 

The death warrant has been read to Hilaire and Baptiste whose appeal to the Privy Council was dismissed. Indrawani Ramjattan, aka Pamela, 34, mother of six children, today sits in a state cell awaiting execution for the murder of her common-law husband, Alexander Jordan.

 

Thatís the end of the story, or the beginning of a new one, depending on how you look at it. Pamelaís story is important to all women, and men who believe in justice. How each of you reading this story reacts to it will depend on your views of women, friendship, our legal system, and sense of justice. But before you decide, take into account the legal opinion of two attorneys who have been involved in the case. For the sake of impartiality I will not reveal their sexes or the role they have played so far in defending or condemning Pamela, although this is probably obvious.

 

Attorney 1

ďPamela was the prime motivator in this crime. The jury took domestic violence into account, but her battering did not justify in her getting two men to kill her husband. She acted out of revenge, which is different from protection. She instigated the two men to beat her husband, facilitated them, and did nothing to stop them from killing him.Ē

 

Attorney 2

 ďPamela is the only victim here. She was battered for a decade, jailed for the last seven, separated from her children, lost her baby in prison due to negligence (an inmate cut the cord) and is now condemned to death for a murder she did not commit. This is not someone who should be executed by the hands of the state.Ē

 

This is not a battle of the sexes. It is a battle for basic human rights and dignity. What is your verdict?

 

Afterward: A British law firm, Slaughter and May, are voluntarily preparing to save the life of Pamela Ramjattan, of a battered woman here who is sentenced to hang. The firmís solicitor, Joanne Cross, was in Trinidad in October as an amicus (friend of the court) to conduct a second interview with Pamela in the Sate Prison before petitioning her case at the Privy Council. If they are successful in their application, it will make legal history in the case of battered women who live in former colonies where British law prevails.

 

Support for Pamela has poured in to Trinidad from human rights and womenís organisations worldwide asking for her release. Last year 27 women were murdered in domestic violence incidents, and there were 2,282 reports of domestic violence. The real figures are higher. The Ministry of Social Development here says battered women call every 20 minutes for help. According to the Pan American Health Organisation, it is the number one health risk to women in the Caribbean.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur