Help and Shelter urges President to speak on domestic abuse allegations

Help and Shelter yesterday expressed concern over allegations made by former First Lady Varshnie Singh against President Bharrat Jagdeo and called on the President to respond to them.

In a statement, the NGO which provides a range of domestic violence services, acknowledged the courage it takes for any woman to make public statements about her married life and noted with concern the recent allegations made by Singh about her treatment by the President during their marriage.

Varshnie Singh
Varshnie Singh

“Domestic violence is not only the threat or infliction of physical harm but psychological abuse, which includes a pattern of behaviour that is ‘performed to the dishonour, discredit or scorn of the personal worth of the person’ (to quote from the Domestic Violence Act)”, Help and Shelter said.

The statement said that Help and Shelter’s work is based on the premise that domestic violence is not a private matter and that abuse of any form has no place in a relationship.

“The President has been very clear about his commitment to the work against domestic violence and his government has developed various commendable initiatives. Help & Shelter therefore urges him to respond to Ms. Singh’s allegations, as whether true or not, they have given rise to the perception that there may be a contradiction between his public
statements and personal behavior”, Help and Shelter said.

Red Thread and a number of prominent women have come out in support of Singh and have called on the President to defend the allegations against him.

At a press conference on January 20 after she had been given notice to leave State House, Singh said “It is funny and sad to hear the politicians talk about the campaign against domestic violence, investing millions to stamp it out etc when what I am experiencing is hi-tech domestic violence and persecution. Our president is using his office and state resources including Ministers unprofessionally to disadvantage a woman.”

She also complained of poor treatment by the President during their marriage and said that she did not receive proper maintenance or care during the union.

In a statement issued that evening, President Jagdeo, however, denied some of the claims, while stating his unwillingness to get into a public contest over what he said was a one-sided recount of their period together. With Singh accepting there is no constitutional or statutory position of First Lady, Jagdeo noted that whatever benefit she received was solely because of her marriage to him. As a result, he said it would have posed an ethical dilemma and he questioned the example he was setting if they separated and she continued to have access to the State resources for her private work. “I wish her well in the future and I just want to go on with my life,” he said.

At a press conference last month, the President had also declined to respond to questions over the legality of his marriage after Singh disclosed at a subsequent meeting with the media that their marriage had not been registered. They were married according to Hindu rites in 1998.

The two announced a separation in 2007 but there has not been an agreement on the sharing of assets accumulated during the marriage.

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