Cut Her Nose to Spite Her Face: Gender-Based Violence within the Indo-Caribbean Community
TW: This article contains content regarding physical abuse and rape. Please use your discretion.
In her canonical work, Coolie Woman, Gaitura Bahadur provides readers the opportunities to fully immerse themselves within the textured lives of the women who reckoned with the brutalities of indentured servitude within the Caribbean. An undeniable theme that appears consistently throughout the text is the gender-based violence that many indentured women experienced at the hands of men. Whether it be from the hands of the various white men who held power over them—the ships’ surgeons and captains, planters and overseers, immigration agents and magistrates—or their own husbands who had promised to care for them, indentured women were exposed to brutal realities in every public and private space they operated in.
Bahadur provides voices for the many women who appear in historical documents as though they are merely collateral to their own horrors. Laungee, an indentured of Vriesland, a Demerara River plantation, is described as looking “beyond saving” after her husband, Badal, hacked and beat her, covering her in 35 wounds (pp. 103). His motive? Perceived infidelity. Bahadur notes that the same year, three other women were murdered by mutilation for the same charge.
As the rich narratives of other coolie women are brought to light, a horrifying realization marks the reader: this violent disfigurement of women who are believed to be adulterers by their husbands is all too common place within the Caribbean. A product of degradation, humiliation, and forced assimilation through colonialism, the violence that coolie men inflicted upon their women provided them with a twisted, horrendously warped connection to their homeland. The Ramayana, a sacred Hindu text, was often interpreted as an epic “preoccupied with women who break the codes of accepted sexual behavior,” offering the prescription of disfigurement as the proper way to handle such women (pp. 106-107). Bahadur expands on the text’s influence amongst the displaced Hindus, offering that the men view themselves in alignment with Ram, the predominant male figure in the epic who is often held as the exemplary model of male conduct. Ram’s wife, Sita, is abducted by a lustful demon who attempts to rape her. As the story unfolds, Sita is eventually deemed to be the ideal wife, but not until she faces immense trauma both from the attempted rape and then her husband’s rage and skepticism against her. It is only when Ram is convinced of Sita’s innocence that he embraces her as his beloved.
Of course, as the years of indenture unravel, we find a variety of exacerbating factors to the disturbing violence against Indo-Caribbean women. High alcoholism rates amongst Indo-Caribbean men and a historical lack of socio-economic opportunities/support for Indo-Caribbean women have found to play a significant
role in gender-based violence, especially in contemporary times. However, the
obsession with women’s faithfulness, sexual purity, and the need for men to dominate them remains the most pervasive, so much so, that they are carried across seas with the diaspora. In 2013, Natasha Houston’s intimate partner, Richard Lord,
slaughtered their children, Saif Lord and Kimberley Houston, after hacking off both of her arms. Lord was never formally punished for the crime, as he had committed suicide following the attack, a common act taken by perpetrators.
Four years later in 2016, Prem Rampersaud awaited for his wife, Rajwantie Baldeo, to get off work around midnight before publicly confronting her on the streets of Queens, NY. The two fell into a heated argument in which reports claimed were centered around Rampersaud’s accusations of Baldeo’s infidelities. Rampersaud eventually pulled out a knife and began stabbing his wife before then attempting to decapitate her.
In 2018, Stacy Singh’s murder was documented as New York City’s first homicide of the year. Her husband and murderer, Vinny Loknath, was known to be abusive, but Singh was trapped in the dynamic due to fear regarding the wellbeing of their two young children, along with the many other complexities that come with abuse between intimate partners. “She stayed with him no matter what because they had two kids together. She was hoping for him to change, but he never did. He was so drunk, so very drunk. He always beat her up when he went home high,” her brother-in-law notes.
Yet again, one year later in 2019, Donne Dojoy’s life was taken from her and her loved ones after her estranged husband, Dineshwar Budhidat, murdered her before taking his own life. Those closest to the couple cited that Budhidat was known to be extremely jealous and possessive of Dojoy, though they never anticipated he was capable of taking two lives.
This article provides a very brief, high level introduction to the longstanding, exceptionally complex gender-based, intimate partner violence that Indo-Caribbean women face, both in the Caribbean and abroad in diasporic homelands. We urge you to continue your own research into learning about the many women whom we have lost due to this form of abuse. However, we do want to take the time to provide some suggestions on how we can all be part of the solution, both for Indo-Caribbean women and women everywhere:
Believe victims so that they can become survivors and not martyrs: If a woman comes to you and tells you that her partner is harming her in any way, believe her first. Help her—and her children, if applicable—relocate to somewhere safe. Focus on ensuring her physical wellbeing before asking questions and determining best next steps.
Hold the men around you accountable: If you notice a male figure in your life is being controlling or demeaning to a woman in his life, address the issue with him so that he knows it is not appropriate, especially if you are his male peer. If an abuser sees that he can publicly harm his partner in any way, it will only embolden him, both publicly and privately. If you witness him physically harming her, remove her from the situation and find her immediate professional assistance if necessary.
Normalize men talking about their feelings: Repression, suppression, and colonial-based oppression have left many men incapable of acknowledging and communicating their insecurities in a productive and safe way. If you notice a male figure in your life is starting to express disturbing feelings of intense jealousy, control, or depression in relation to his partner, do your best to engage in a conversation with him about the way he feels. Encourage him to seek professional counseling and, if you have enough trust with him, suggest he take time apart from his partner just to ensure her safety.
Get involved: There are many incredible organizations doing the much needed work across communities to educate, address, and combat gender-based violence. Jahajee Sisters in NYC is an organization that specifically works to facilitate dialogue and justice when it comes to Indo-Caribbean women in NYC facing gender-based violence and oppression. Whether you give your time, talents, network, or resources, partnering with an organization ensures that your support will be impactful.
Our Indo-Caribbean women deserve better. Our women deserve better. Let’s do what we can to show up and do right by them.
Author's Note: This article provides a very brief, very high level introduction to gender-based violence within the Indo-Caribbean community, mainly between heterosexual partnerships and within a diasporic context. This is no way minimizes the abuse and dynamics that other members within the Indo-Caribbean experience (i.e. Indo-Caribbean men, LGBTQ+ folks, children, etc.). Rather, this article serves as a starting point for the conversation.