Zaila Sugrim’s experience shows neither she nor her husband got the help they needed

Dear Editor,

I first came to know about the murder of yet another Guyanese woman, Zaila Sugrim, from a Guyana Islamic Trust facebook post on 15th May expressing condolences and announcing her death. The entire country is reeling once again from another fatal domestic violent act. The various news agencies have reported that the woman and her extended family suffered for “over 15 years” the abuses of a man who reportedly said to Police that he murdered his wife because “she always upsets him.”

A former Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, is featured prominently in this story, as an attorney-at-law who was assisting the late Zaila Sugrim. What is extremely disappointing is that all that Priya Manickchand can offer, via her public facebook posts, is outrage. Her outrage is peppered with a few posts blaming family members of the murderer together with advice to women to ‘get out’, which was later incremented to ‘get out and stay out’ of violent relationships. Her advice to women is rendered nonsensical when we recall that in March (2019) 20-year-old Omawattie Gill ‘got out and stayed out.’

Priya Manickchand, like the rest of the PPP party that she belongs to, has no solutions for the problems of domestic violence and suicides that hang like a plague over this land. A general election looms in this country and if the PPP wins, are we to expect this kind of meaningless screeching from Manickchand for the next five years? While people of this country continue to suffer social ills and atrocities? We don’t need screeching from our politicians. We need problem-solving abilities.

This issue has got to become political. It has got to become a political priority. The PPP, as a political party, needs to understand that bridges and roads, lights and water, housing and forests, ExxonMobil and oil, Russia, China and the USA are important; but so too is the well-being and mental health of the people of this country. We are not only election fodder. Human development in all its forms must be a priority for any Government of Guyana.

It is President Granger who is introducing some humanity to Guyanese politics. It is from President Granger that we hear about a vision for ‘a good life for all.’ It is from the Granger administration that, following a global trend, we now hear that the Ministry of Public Health is now also concerned with ‘well-being’.

The fact is that there are solutions to this problem; but successive Governments have not addressed it with the seriousness that it deserves, hence the prevailing status quo which is exported to any country where Guyanese men and women are to be found. Dealing frontally with Mental Health issues is now a trend in the Western World and Domestic Violence is a mental health issue.

In Guyana, we have access to a kaleidoscope of religions and cultures to draw from also. Buddhism, as a religion, is an entire science of the mind and its teachings have now pervaded Western Society and Western Psychology. Mindfulness practice is now a household word. Hinduism speaks of Vidya and Avidya. If we seek for solutions, only then can we find them. Any problem of ignorance can be solved with the provision of the right knowledge. Any man who is physically abusing a woman or child is a human who has not found inner-peace, he has not found his inner strength, he is still ‘blaming’ others for his unhappiness; he does not have capacity to cope with the pain of rejection; maybe he is mentally unstable. This phenomenon can be dissected for more intelligent responses than the ‘he is a monster’ plaster that we simplify it to be.

As we see from Zaila Sugrim’s experience, enduring abuse for 15 years, the State – the Courts, the Police Force, the Ministry of Social Protection – do not have the capabilities that are needed to provide the support that was needed by her or her ex-husband. It is politicians who influence policy. We can only hope for this issue to find a space beyond lip-service in the hearts and minds of our political class, and become a priority policy area. Improving the capabilities of Guyanese to deal with negative emotions, the stresses of life and improving self-awareness and self-knowledge is not an impossible task.

Yours faithfully,

(Name and address supplied)

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