No nine-day wonder; Andrea Bharatt’s death must lead to action

Originally published on Friday 12 February 2021 Guest Columns Wired868.

February 21 will mark nine days after the burial of Andrea Bharatt, and it is likely that the marching, candlelight vigils and accusations of ‘shedding crocodile tears’ will no longer be at the forefront of our minds. We will retreat to the burglar-proofed boxes we call homes and cautiously peer out, waiting for the next uproar.

Just as we forgot Akeil Chambers and the hundreds of persons who have been brutally murdered since his murder, Andrea Bharatt will recede to the dark spaces of our memories, forgotten forever. That is what our politicians expect and that is a reasonable expectation based on our past behaviour.

Photo: Mourners at a candlelight vigil.

However, something about this spate of protests feels different to me. It does not feel as if we will get bored with it after nine days and move on. I sincerely hope that my instincts are right.

My instinct is fuelled by the mix of people with whom I rubbed shoulders (from the prescribed socially distanced two metres, of course) at the peaceful protest around the Savannah on 7 February. It comprised mainly young women, and while many were of Indian descent, there were sufficient black, ‘red’ and white Trinidadians to neutralise any thoughts about it being racially motivated.

It was a similar mix of people who turned up in June 2020 for the #ttblm protest in the Queen’s Park Savannah. At that protest, the sea of young people took a knee for nine minutes and communicated a message of solidarity with their American brothers and sisters. That effort has gone quiet except for attempts to jail some of the leaders.

In the lead up to Sunday’s peaceful Bharatt protest, many of us had to decide on which protest we would support because of the range of options available. The norm is for a protest to be held in one particular place where interested persons turn up.

But since the discovery of Andrea’s remains, protests have been organised all over the country including Tobago.  Just the availability of different options makes me feel that the population has reached a tipping point in our tolerance of crime in general, and gender-based violence in particular.

Photo: A woman marches to highlight gender-based violence.
(via Amnesty International)

My sense that people will not easily walk away from this one is also fuelled by the quality and quantity of recommendations being made to bring an end to violence in our communities. For example, Nikoli Edwards has publicised his party’s 10-point plan and the Joint Trade Union Movement has expressed their dismay and anger at the many deaths of women and girls in our country.

Since 4 February, more than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for the death penalty for the murderers of Andrea Bharatt and more than 40 candlelight vigils have been organised in memory of Andrea Bharatt.

On Facebook, there is a post on the Trinidad Declassified timeline saying that over 400 businesses will close on Friday 12 February in protest. The post also lists the names of the businesses. These are just a few examples of actions that people are taking to protest against gender-based violence.

I hope that my instincts are right and that this issue will not fade to the background but will continue to place the government under pressure to take action that will make our women feel safer. But more importantly, the time has come for us to take a whole of society approach to reducing crime and placing our society on a trajectory towards peace and civility.

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