The caption read, “The decomposing body of 16-year-old Shakuntala, was found in a cane field. Police believed she was raped and strangled.” I asked my mother what ‘raped’ meant and she handed me a dictionary.
Memory fails with respect to precise details but the story went something like: Shakuntala and her younger sister had accepted a lift home from someone they knew. The driver deviated from the normal route to their house and when asked repeatedly where he was going, his silence alarmed the younger of the two sisters enough to compel her to jump from the moving vehicle.
She was able to make her way home and alert her parents, by which time Shakuntala’s fate had been sealed.
In 2008, I pick up a newspaper, circa 30 years post Shakuntala, and read that Hope, a girl half her age had been mutilated, murdered and dumped in a cane field, allegedly by someone known to her. In the late 70s, in my adolescent naivety I struggled to understand how and why one person could/would do such a thing to another. Thirty years hence, I’m still wrestling with that question and searching for an answer. While three decades, six governments, two oil booms, one recession and about three billion more people on the planet separate the two tragedies, I’m impelled to conclude that while everything changes, nothing changes.
I recall a fair amount of public furore (back then) over the brutality of Shakuntala’s murder. I remember as well, the adults around me asking, “What is happening to this country?” Today, the public furore is more acute and that question has transmogrified to the often articulated and conclusive statement, “Dis country gone thru oui!”
I will not add my voice to that chorus but I have a question of my own. When did personal and collective responsibility go out of fashion? When did ‘blame it on the other guy’ become de rigeur.
What is more lamentable than Hope’s terrible end, is the cookie jar mentality that we have adopted wholesale which has made it entirely too easy for us to say, “it broke” as opposed to “we broke it”. The pitiable individuals who took from us Akiel Chambers, Sean Luke, Amy Anamunthodo, Hope Arismandez and other slaughtered innocents, are not spawned like demons seed, they are the result of society’s abject neglect of those on the brink, its pre-occupation with self and immediate gratification and general ostrich-like behaviour when it comes to managing social issues decisively and head on.
A friend of mine suggested there be a national day of mourning for the loss of Hope and I am more than inclined to agree.
While I know that in time this too shall fade from the collective public consciousness, I hope that it will linger a little longer in individual consciences and cause each of us to consider earnestly how we have contributed to the problems, and more importantly, how each of us can find or at least be part of sustainable solutions.