Stand up for whats right


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Category: Trinidad Society 12 Apr 15

An instant intimacy flares up between women when one woman is caring for another. The transactional nature of the relationship is suspended. As a young woman sat across from me applying nail polish, tending to my feet as a mother would, she became the voice of the people in the market, on the streets, in traffic, in homes across the nation. And what a voice it is. Deeply penetrating, easily cutting across like a knife on soft butter, making the political personal. She was talking today about something we have already forgotten about. There was pain in her voice.

“You know, I have a friend who opened up to me when she could no longer bear it, about the rape that she suffered from a man who was supposed to be a friend of the family. She was 23 at the time of the rape. She is married now, happily, and her husband raises a son that is not his. That was a revelation to me.

That sweet innocent child, only four, learning nursery rhymes, is a child of rape. The rapist got away. She lives with that pain every day, and is struggling to overcome it with love.”

The beautician stopped mid polish and we both looked at one another in a kind of recognition that women have. Women understand secrets. We understand shame. We understand that it is power to dehumanise us. And women collude with it all the time.

She was telling me that her friend was just healing when an ugly utterance by a government official reopened the wound. “When the Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin went in Parliament and said Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley was born as a result of rape and that made him ‘aggressive’ and ‘arrogant,’ all her wounds opened.

“Not only that, didn’t that woman realise that when she said that she was attacking the children and victims of rape? In a country with shame, the whole country would be talking about it up to now, and that woman would have to resign. There would be columns and articles and features about it. She would have had to apologise to Rowley, but more importantly she would have to apologise to the victims of all kinds of abuse—verbal, sexual, emotional—that women put up with every day in the walls of their house.”

She asked me, “Why, Ira don’t we have any shame, any sense of responsibility to doing the right thing? How did that statement by that MP put food on my table? How did it pay for my grandmother’s medical bills?

How did it stop road deaths? How does it help anyone get a job? How does it take little guntoting boys sitting in the heat whole day on a fence and using it like a toy at night, to safety, to school, to hope?”

This young woman is not easy. I’ve been going to her for years. Five years back a policeman beat her sister to a pulp. The whole neighbourhood was cowed by this policeman. Not her. She took the policeman to court. His men harass her every day; block her driveway, abuse her, and try to intimidate her but she will not withdraw the case. She saw my fear for her life on my face.

“I know,” she said, “it’s real easy for anyone to have someone killed, cleaned up, dealt up in this country. I know it’s as easy as paying a thousand dollars. But I am not afraid of them.” She looked up at me so directly in the face that she made me confront my fear. Would I stand up to a policeman for years and years while being intimidated by him and his comrades? I didn’t think so. I would think of how cheap life is. I would fear for my family.

As if reading my mind she said, “Someone has to stand up for what is right, not so? Look, some years back someone said something nasty about Obama’s children, something personal. What happens in a proper country? Both the republicans and the democrats stood up against that person, the nation was in uproar, until that person apologised and eventually resigned. Why did that not happen here?” I had no answer.

Later that day, in the grocery I met a man who spoke to me as if he was telling me a secret that was deep in him. In an urgent voice he said, “The main thing is, we have been bullied into silence, by power that has failed to act on our behalf on the one hand, and by guns on the other. What you think will happen if each one us, every single one of us show those who rule us that the power is ours, not theirs. Each of us has to show we are not afraid.”

It takes one person to stand for what’s right, and another, and a third, and a group and many groups and all our tiny villages and cities. We need to set our crumpled, askew moral compass straight. Every time we fail to speak out we commit a crime of omission against ourselves, our family and our country.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur