The movie Padmaavat glorifies suicide

Until recently, one of the factors that drove the suicide rate among Indians in Guyana was the Bollywood effect, the glorifying and norming of suicide in many, many movies from the Indian film industry up until the eighties or thereabouts. That has been almost eliminated over the last two decades or so, but every so often, a movie seeps through the cracks.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat is one such movie. And The Caribbean Voice was shocked that the February 10th issue of the Guyana Chronicle carried an article that seemed to laud the act of suicide in that movie. The writer states, “…my interpretation of Padmavati’s final act of courage and defiance is that she refused to succumb to rape, she refused to go without a fight, she refused to become a victim. Padmavati made her own choices and committed suicide not to save her honour, but to not live a life without her husband.”

The reality is that women like Padmavati were the ultimate victims in patriarchal, misogynistic societies that forced them to self-immolate in the funeral pyre of their husbands per the concept of sati. Those were the very societies in which husbands had to be worshipped as gods by their wives who were bound to obedience and subjugation by the cultural and social fabric. Often times too, women were forced to self-immolate to supposedly save their honour and the honour of their communities, in times of war. In effect, suicide was not an act of courage or defiance but an act of fatalism where choice was never an option.

Ironically, men did not have to self-immolate in the funeral pyre of their dead wives or to save their honour or the honour of their societies. And whereas the men could have more than one wife and/or remarry after their wives’ death, it was a taboo for widows to remarry, a taboo that significantly still exists today. In fact, the sacred city of Vrindavan, is home to over one million widows who eke out a survival after having been driven out of their homes by their families and ostracized by their communities.

Today, in spite of the practice of sati being illegal, annually thousands (an estimated 8,000 to 10,000)) of young brides and wives are burnt to death in India, so their husbands can marry again and again, each time obtaining a dowry. Ironically, this industry of murder is facilitated by the in laws of the tragic young women, who usually cannot escape by returning to their parents’ homes because they would bring ‘shame’ to and become burdens on their parents. In fact there is a dowry death every hour in India even though dowry is also illegal.

Incidentally, we once again appeal to all media to not use the word ‘commit’ in front of suicide because of its obvious connotations that criminalizes suicide. Instead use ‘died by suicide’ or ‘suicide victim’.

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Guyanese support the establishment of sex offenders’ registry and raising the age of consent to 18.

An opinion survey commissioned by The Caribbean Voice (TCV) and conducted during the last week of January revealed that 73% of those surveyed felt that social problems like depression, anxiety, alcoholism and suicide would increase because of the closure of the sugar estates.
The survey also showed that 75% felt the Government is not doing enough to address suicide, while 69% felt the Government is not doing enough to address domestic abuse.
Of the respondents interviewed, 79% support the call for the age of consent to be raised from 16 to 18, while 86% believe that sexual exploitation against young people is on the rise, and that Government needs to take action to deter such occurrences. Notably, 80% support the call for a sex registry for offenders. The survey also found that Guyanese were generally not aware of entities involved in suicide and abuse prevention, but there was more awareness of the work of The Caribbean Voice, most likely because TCV’s work is not centralized in Georgetown and environs, but extends to various regions, and is often a collaborative effort with other NGOs, special interests, and mass-based organizations.
Conducted by experienced pollster Dr. Vishnu Bisram, the survey interviewed 490 individuals, representing Guyana’s ethnic makeup (41% Indians, 30% Africans, 18% Mixed, 10% Amerindians, 1% others) of the population. The findings, analysed at a significance level of 95%, has a margin of error of 4%. This is the third survey commissioned by The Caribbean Voice since we launched our anti-violence campaign in 2014. The first survey, done in November 2014 found that 92% of respondents believed suicide is preventable and 96% were willing to help in suicide prevention if given the relevant training. That survey also found that 66% of those interviewed were willing to intervene in domestic abuse if provided with the requisite training, although 19% were not willing to get involved, pointing out that the ‘peacemaker’ usually ends up being the enemy, an age old perspective that still seems to hold currency both in Guyana and the diaspora. And this is why TCV has been continually calling for a return of the Gatekeeper’s Program and piggybacking mental health on other government training programs.
A subsequent survey done in March 2016 found that 92% felt that government was not doing enough to address mental health, while 78% believed that people with mental illnesses could live normal lives. And this is why TCV has been engaged in continual lobbying on a basket of measures, including counsellors in schools, mental health care integrated into the physical health care system, and relevant training for all Police officers. In any case, the most recent survey clearly indicates that not only is it time for a registry of sex offenders, but provides evidentiary support for reported plans to that effect by the Child Care and Prevention Agency and another Government agency. As well, the survey makes it clear that those who resist the call for raising the age of consent from 16 to 18 are in the small minority, and thus the Government should not allow the outmoded views of a vociferous few to override the desire of the vast majority of Guyanese. In fact, we urge the Government to commission its own survey, perhaps through the University of Guyana. Last year, neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago, with ethnic and cultural similarities to Guyana, raised the age of consent to 18. Haiti and the Dominican Republic also have the age of consent at 18, while there are ongoing calls for a similar measure in Jamaica, Barbados and a number of other Caribbean nations.

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Mental health should be in the Guyana Youth Service curriculum

The media recently reported on the consolidation of key youth programmes and organizations into the Guyana Youth Service (GYS) and the subsequent offering of a standardised education and training curriculum as measures to significantly improve youths’ marketability and prospects for gainful employment. The Caribbean Voice once again urges that this is a perfect opportunity for the standardized curriculum to include modules on mental health.
This is a critical imperative given that in Guyana, among other things, the 15 to 25 age group has the highest suicide rate in Guyana, and subject themselves and/or are subjected to significant abuse including increasing alcohol and drug use, involvement in gangs, a propensity for violent behaviour and physical and sexual abuse.
In effect many Guyanese in general and youth especially, struggle with self esteem and self confidence; lack enduring coping skills and a capacity to deal with challenges and stress, all of which are important traits that foster personal advancement, the ability to manoeuvre in the market place and the drive for increasing success in the workplace. Such attributes also arm individuals with the wherewithal to resist impulses that can lead to self-harm, depression, anxiety, and pathological and anti-social behaviour.
The bottom line is that without the tools to foster mental health and well-being, all the training in the world can end up being an exercise in futility. And adding relevant mental modules in the current training curriculum – self esteem, coping skills, emphatic communication, anxiety and depression, suicide and abuse – will ensure that the campaign to significantly improve youths’ marketability and prospects for gainful employment attain significant success. Besides, this kind of piggybacking is tremendously more cost effective than separate mental health training, not to mention more far reaching as well.

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Attempted suicide should be decriminalised

While we await a meeting with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, to update him on our work on the ground, The Caribbean Voice appeals to the Minister to use his position and influence to help bring about the following:

* A registry of sexual offenders

* Decriminalizing of attempted suicide

* Mandatory counselling for attempted suicide victims and suicide survivors

* Raising the age of consent to 18

* Making sexual abuse a non-bailable offence

* Elimination of the charge of wandering

* Re-establishment of the Gatekeepers’ Programme

While we understand that all of these issues do not fall within the purview of the Minister we know that he can approach his cabinet colleagues, the respective line ministers, and that they can reach out to the opposition to ensure that each piece of legislation is bipartisan to prevent a recurrence of the situation relating to previous motion for the decriminalization of attempted suicide that was voted against by the government some time ago.

We also appeal to the Minister to:

* speed up the process of training all members of the police force to handle abuse and suicide cases

* establish a policy for minors not to be placed in lockups with adults

* reach out to the phone companies to seek their support for a toll free suicide and abuse hotline

* standardize stringent legal consequences for all forms of abuse

* establish a Special Victims Unit in the police force to deal with all forms of abuse

* establish a special court at the level of the magistrate’s court to handle abuse cases

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The caribbean Voice is all inclusive

There are activist (those who do), advocated (those who talk and shed light or ask questions) and lobbyists (those who agitate for change or new measures). The Caribbean Voice is all three plus a purveyor of information and a builder of collaboration. In effect we do it all and raise our own funds to do so while being a totally volunteer driven organization.

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Social activism is action for positive change.

Social activism is not about rhetoric and putting on a show, It is not about using others to promote oneself. It is about direct and sustained action to bring about the desired change. So no matter how many storms some talk up and no matter how many shows they put on they are not social activists, even if they present themselves as such.

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Puzzled by Minister’s comment

We are grateful to Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan for recognising The Caribbean Voice (TCV) as a credible NGO. We are also thrilled with the Minister’s words, “I would support Caribbean Voice, they have done some work in Guyana”. However we are a bit puzzled by the Minister’s statement, “I want to see them going down on the ground doing much more work.” After all, doing work on the ground is what we’re about.

Since our launch in 2015 we have done workshops and outreaches (training delivery and sensitization is one of the pillars of our activism) in Regions Two, Three, Four and Six as well as an initial outreach in Region One. Furthermore, we have done workshops at a number of schools, mostly private, and for employees of a few businesses. While the Ministry of Education has endorsed TCV to also do workshops in public schools, we are waiting for this process to be formalized. The Childcare & Protection Agency has also pledged to collaborate on these workshops.

Currently we have a memorandum of Understanding with the Guyana Teachers Union for workshops for teachers, nationwide. Thus far, workshops have been held at the Canje Secondary School, Berbice High School and Leonora Secondary School, with 324 teachers in attendance. As well, workshops for fired sugar workers will be held on Feb. 3 at Rose Hall Estate Community Centre, on Feb 17 at Skeldon Estate Recreation Centre and on March 10 at Albion Estate. A similar workshop was held last year at Wales. And in April, TCV, in collaboration with Seva4Life, a Canada based NGO, we will be holding a series of workshops in Black Bush Polder. This would be our second intervention in Black Bush Polder, in addition to one outreach also. Outreaches and workshops are also being planned for Regions One, Five and Ten this year.

Additionally The Caribbean Voice held the first and only national Stakeholders Conference on Suicide and Related Issues in August 2015, which was attended by over 75 stakeholders. The Minister spoke at that conference. Also we have held three press conferences. The last one on January 19th, generated a tremendous amount of awareness and information dissemination. Awareness building and information dissemination, one of the pillars of our activism, is ongoing as some of our members are media personnel who put their radio and TV programmes at our disposal in all three counties, and, as well, we have been accommodated by the media via interviews, letters and articles. Awareness

building and information dissemination is also fostered through our website (, our Facebook group and page, our youtube channel, our blog and five other social media sites. And we have also been invited to address many forums including the National Parliament, as the Minister is aware.

Then there is the Annual Anti-Violence Candlelight Vigil, a TCV initiative, organized by Voices Against Violence, a grouping of about 80 Stakeholders, on World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10. The first two vigils drew close to 100 stakeholder participants and saw about 800 vigils held across Guyana. The Minister is also aware of this vigil, as we had sought his support when it was launched in 2015.

In fact, our workshops are also done in collaboration with other stakeholders. Also we have participated in quite a number of outreaches organized by other stakeholders in various parts of Guyana. And we continually hold meetings with other stakeholders including government ministers, institutions such as UG, various media and influencers in a bid to foster collaboration and advance anti-violence. As well The Caribbean Voice has attended many related forums, organized by various entities, including the University of Guyana, the US Embassy, the Ministry of Public Health, PAHO, The Women’s Roundtable. In fact, building stakeholders’ collaboration – with local government administrations, NGOs, FBOs, CBOs, special interest groups, mass based organizations, media, government agencies and entities ‒ is another one of the pillars of our activism.

Furthermore, there is the El Dorado Awards, in its fourth year, which has sought to highlight the work of social activists and those who make a difference through volunteerism and/or philanthropy, by honouring them and in the process bringing them together for interaction with the general public. To date 48 such honorees from across Guyana have been highlighted.

Our ongoing petition calling for the establishment of a registry of sexual offenders has also seen TCV doing work on the ground to obtain signatures in walkabouts, at outreaches and at various other events and activities. Then there is our ongoing counselling service offered free by our technical team of seven highly credentialled and experienced clinical counsellors. To date over 320 counselling cases have been handled.

This year we will also launch our Concert For Hope series in Guyana, a fundraising venture that is anti-alcohol, as are all our events, and that combines great entertainment with messages focusing on suicide and abuse. This concert series was launched in the US last year at a number of different venues.

All of this and more in spite of the fact that TCV is a fully volunteer entity, offering all services for free as well as covering all costs related to all our events and activities (including snacks and lunches for workshops), with no paid staff or overheads, operating on a shoestring budget, with funds raised by our members and with no funding from any external source – here and there we have had some support from a few businesses. In fact, the Minister would probably be aware of us being told in 2015, just after our conference, that two cabinet members had been designated by President Granger, to provide all needed support to TCV, since he felt that our campaign was worthwhile. Of course we are still awaiting such support. However, we fervently hope that Minister Ramjattan would find it possible to accommodate us with a meeting, so we can fill him in on our work on the ground and be able to take up his offer of support.

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