NFP – it’s good for you…
January 13, 2018
Mother Mary Ellerker remembered
January 13, 2018

Confronting the ugly…

The photos of women brutally murdered in 2017 were plastered on the front page of last weekend’s Sunday Guardian (January 7). The precedent continues into 2018, with three women already murdered for the month of January.

While in many of the cases they were the victims of domestic violence, the issue bespeaks a larger problem of individual accountability and the absence of communities looking after the most vulnerable within.

On the afternoon of December 30, we were waiting to board a public transport vehicle when a man whom we recognised from that morning entered the building. He had travelled on the same vehicle, sat directly in front of me and had reclined his seat, until his head was practically on my chest. He turned around and smirked in my face, looking as well at my sister, who was across the aisle. I moved.

The afternoon he kept looking at us again. As we boarded, he didn’t join the line but somehow managed to position himself directly behind us, and sat in front of my sister, by the window. She was on the aisle seat.

As we drove off, she turned to me perturbed and said softly, “I think this man is taking pictures of us”. I looked across, and there he was, camera poised between the seats, aiming at myself and my daughter.

Were we indecently clad? No. Were we engaged in a public brawl? No. We were merely sitting quietly in a public transport vehicle. I mention these two specific examples, because both men and women find it not only enjoyable, but justified to record these.

“Why are you taking pictures of us? Stop it. Stop it right now!” I let my voice carry. A woman directly in front of us, who had seen him taking the pictures, turned to me and said, “You should report him”.

He put the phone down. The three of us got up and moved to the back of the bus to be away from him. And then the threats came: “Daz why people like all yuh so does end up dead! All yuh doh know who I know, and when bullets start to fly”…and later, “ All yuh Indian woman need to check yuhself…”

The woman who had spoken to me earlier (not ‘Indian’ by the way), braced him about what he was saying, and she too received threats on her life.

“Yes,” I said, “Reveal to everybody what you are. You are a pervert, a liar, and apparently a criminal.” He had first claimed he was taking a ‘selfie’, then contradicted himself saying later in his tirade, that “no flash went off”, so he couldn’t be taking pictures…

In the midst of this, not one other person said anything. No-one. Here was a man who threatened the lives of three women and a minor, and resounding silence and disinterest to our plight were the responses.

In fact, once he made the ‘Indian’ comment he got the immediate attention, and protection, of an older gentleman and woman in front of him. She spun around and glared at me. The older man told him to get up and move, which he did. Mind you, we were seated at the back of the vehicle; he was in the middle-front.

That he threatened ‘gun shots’ did not matter. Gun talk is hot air and not to be taken seriously. That I called him out on his taking of photos, and that we were ‘Indian’ did.

The men were silent, except for one, who told me that I was distracting the driver. “Why didn’t you say something to that man who is threatening women?” I responded.  Imagine how differently the scenario would have unfolded if there was collective and firm disapproval for his behaviour.

We got off prematurely, because neither of us wanted him to know what our stops were. As we disembarked, my sister and I berated the driver for allowing such behaviour and threats on a public vehicle. The man’s protectors shouted us down: “De man eh do nutten! He eh make no threats! He siddong dere quiet.”

I couldn’t believe the blatant untruths. Indeed, it was a moment that made me feel insignificant, alone and excruciatingly vulnerable. We could end up dead and we would have looked for it because we had apparently launched an unprovoked attack on an innocent man!

I asked the woman whom he had earlier threatened to identify herself. She did. “And this,” I said, “is why women end up dead at the sides of roads, because of supporting wrong behaviour and not caring!”

We called the police, who took a report, the vehicle number, description of the man and they said they would patch it through to the highway patrol. Whether this was actually done, we don’t know.

This incident was a concentrated experience of the ugly that is rotting Trinidad and Tobago: racism, indifference and passivity. The days for blaming politicians for the various ills, must come to an end, and the new era of change begins with looking at ourselves as individuals: our prejudices; our interactions; the heart of what we think and how we behave; what we turn a blind eye to and our motives for doing so.

Not the other person, or the other group, but ourselves. Trinidad and Tobago can be changed with prayer, but personal action is necessary too.

And kudos to the woman who was the lone voice and stood up for what is right. May we all follow her example. – Simone Delochan