Apr 07, 2021 Letters
Kaieteur News – I thank Freddie Kissoon for that spot on commentary on Mahadai Das (Apr. 6). I have anecdotes to share about Ms. Das confirming that she, like so many others, was a victim of rape.
She had astonishing beauty as colleagues stated. I did not meet her till around 1985/86 in New York through an introduction by Ravi Dev. I also met her at events organised by and at the home of the great dancer Gora Singh, son of Rajkumarie Singh, whose name Freddie mentioned. Freddie is right that rape at national service had a psychological telling effect on Mahadai Das.
I know of Ms. Das through her crowning of the coveted title as Ms. Diwali Queen and her controversial support for national service that almost the entire Indian population opposed. I too fought against national service when I was a student at Corentyne High School. Although, I paid for that green dressing outfit, as was mandated, I refused it and never got a refund. I was a lucky one who escaped to America to pursue tertiary studies rather than sought entry at UG where I would have been forced into national service.
As Mahadai revealed to me and Ravi Dev that national service destroyed her life. Dev used to lead a group called Guyana United Democratic Movement with an office at 168 Place, Jamaica. Dev was also founder and funder of Indo-Caribbean Social Center and Caribbean American Resource Center (with Roop Persaud). Activists used to gather there where I met Mahadai on a few occasions. Gora Singh was our contact with her and I encountered Das at his apartment. Ravi also met her at Gora’s apartment in Brooklyn. Ravi and I also met her at or near the CUNY Graduate Center (42nd Street) where I was enrolled for my PhD studies in International Politics; Dev and I would meet regularly there during the 1980s. Mahadai was doing graduate studies in Literature at Columbia University and needed a part-time job. I promised to assist. I was also doing a second MA in Economics at CCNY having already completed the MA in IR and was elected President of the Graduate Student Council. I approached the Director, Edward Evans, of Extra Curricular Activities at CCNY for permission to hire Ms. Das. He consented and the GSC approved. A Guyanese professional engineer (with initials RR) who served on the Council was hesitant about hiring her because he knew of her background when he was a student at UG. She led groups who used violence against student protestors against national service. RR was a victim and he was forced into national service in order to get his diploma to further his studies abroad. RR confirmed Das was raped as were hundreds of others. I convinced him to put it aside and support the motion to hire Ms. Das on a part-time basis.
Das and I interacted quite a lot in the GSC office at NAC/210. As McDonald penned and as Freddie affirmed, Das was absolutely brilliant, an accomplished poet, finest product of Guyana. She was widely read. I too read a lot of world renowned literary works. She knew literature extremely well having read the works of virtually every literary figure imaginable. She was an excellent product of Eccles/Peter’s Hall.
Das did tell me and Dev that she was raped at national service and she got no empathy or support from the Burnham government. Freddie is right about Das’ support of national service and her expectations of it. She was an idealist who really believed national service was good. Ironically, she was a cheerleader for national service until she was raped. She revealed that other girls were also raped at national service. Indian doctors in Georgetown told me that rape was a common occurrence at national service. They treated hundreds of victims and performed abortions on many, unwanted pregnancies that were the result of rape. Abortion was common to avoid shame in the family. Girls from very prominent families were raped. Two doctors treated the bulk of the cases. One prominent doctor passed on a few years ago while the other is not doing very well health wise. He told me: “Rape was a regular thing. I treated many patients. I could not make a report of allegations of rape because of fear for my life. My patients included government Ministers and their families and army, national service, and police officers. All the bigwigs from President to PM to Ministers came to me for various ailments”.
But both Dev and I could detect psychological issues affecting Das. At times, she was not ‘normal’. I am not a psychologist (although a course was mandatory for my BS in Bio-Chemistry and six courses were required for my licensing in teaching). And I am not an expert on rape. But I detected in Das an anxiety syndrome, depression, and stress. Her voice, thinking and speech were not at times normal. There were deep scars and psycho-trauma. She looked frail. There were flashbacks of the trauma of rape. She displayed anger and aggression and she displayed distrust of men. Dev and I discussed her ‘issues’ and tried to assist as best as we could. We introduced her to other Indian females who were literary figures including Bhanu Dwarika who was doing graduate studies in literature. Das completed her MA at Columbia and transferred to University of Chicago for her PhD. Something went wrong in her Chicago Studies, which was suddenly discontinued. I lost touch. Dev funded her travel to Barbados to be with a sister or family member who cared for Das. Sometime later, during my visits to Guyana, I would see Das frequenting WPA office on Croal Street and interacting with Rupert Roopnarine. She needed comprehensive care.
Mahadai Das was a teenager at UG, very naïve, and would have lacked the capacity at the time to understand the dishonesty of political figures, the wretchedness, and travails of politics. She was coerced into supporting national service, thinking she would be protected from violence. Even the big ones and her support for Burnham could not protect her from being violated. Talent, skills, culture didn’t/don’t matter. But like other beautiful youngsters, she was preyed upon by men in authority. In the end, she took refuge in her culture, which has been marginalised by successive governments. Her culture gave her the spirit to live on. She was a very strong woman who withstood so much abuses at national service and by those who ‘used’ her for their own selfish ends.
Since it was introduced by Burnham in around 1975, there has never been an inquiry into rape at the national service to bring closure or justice to the victims. It can’t be “bear am and forget am”! It is not too late for a national inquiry.
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