Sexual violence had psychological effects on Mahadai Das
Kaieteur News – Thanks to Freddie Kissoon for the spot on commentary on Mahadai Das (April 6). I have stories to share about Ms Das confirming that she, like so many others, was a victim of rape.
She had a wonderful beauty as noted by colleagues. I did not meet her until about 1985/86 in New York through a presentation by Ravi Dev. I also met her at events organized by and at the home of the great dancer Gora Singh, son of Rajkumarie Singh, whom Freddie mentioned. Freddie is right that sexual violence in the national service had a psychological impact on Mahadai Das.
I know of Ms Das by crowning her on the prestigious title as Ms Diwali Queen and her controversial support for a national service that almost the entire population of India opposed. I also fought against national service when I was a student at Corentyne High School. Although, I did pay for that green dress, as was mandatory, I refused it and got no refund. I was a lucky one who escaped to America to pursue tertiary studies rather than seeking entry to AS where I would have been forced into national service.
As Mahadai revealed to me and Ravi Dev that national service had destroyed her life. Dev used to lead a group called Guyana United Democratic Movement with an office at 168 Place, Jamaica. Dev was also the founder and funder of the Indo-Caribbean Social Center and Caribbean American Resource Center (with Roop Persaud). Executives used to congregate there where I met Mahadai a few times. Gora Singh was our contact with her and I came across Das in his apartment. Ravi also met her at Gora’s apartment in Brooklyn. Ravi and I also met her at the CUNY Graduate Center (42nd Street) where I was enrolled for my PhD studies in International Politics; Dev and I met 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 contacted the Director, Edward Evans, of Extra Curricular Activities at CCNY for permission to hire Ms. Das. The APS consented and endorsed. A professional Guyanese engineer (with initials RR) who served on the Council was hesitant about hiring him because he knew of her background when he was a student at AS. He led groups that used violence against student protesters against national service. RR was a victim and was forced into national service to receive his diploma to further his studies abroad. RR confirmed that Das was raped as did hundreds of others. I convinced him to put it aside and support the proposal to hire Ms Das part-time.
Das and I interacted a great deal at the GSC office in NAC / 210. As McDonald noted and as Freddie confirmed, Das was absolutely brilliant, a skilled poet, Guyana’s finest product. It was widely read. I also read many world-famous literary works. She knew literature very well having read the works of almost every literary figure imaginable. She was an outstanding product of Eccles / Peter’s Hall.
Das told me and Dev that she had been raped in the national service and received no empathy or support from the Burnham government. Freddie is right about Das’s support for and expectations of the national service. She was an idealist who truly believed that national service was good. Ironically, she was a cheerleader for national service until she was raped. She revealed that other women were also raped in the national service. Indian doctors in Georgetown told me that rape is a common occurrence in the national service. They treated hundreds of victims and performed abortions on many unwanted pregnancies that were the result of rape. Abortion was commonplace to avoid embarrassment in the family. Women from very prominent families were raped. Two doctors treated the majority of cases. One eminent doctor passed away a few years ago while the other is not doing very well in terms of health. He told me: “Rape was a regular thing. I treated many patients. We cannot make a report of allegations of rape for fear of my life. My patients included government Ministers and their families and army, national service, and police officers. All the bigwigs from the President to the Prime Minister to the Ministers came to me for various ailments ”.
But Dev and I could detect psychological issues affecting Das. At times, it was not ‘normal’. I am not a psychologist (although a course is compulsory for my BS in Biochemistry and six courses were required for my licensing in teaching). And I am not an expert on rape. But I discovered in Das syndrome of anxiety, depression, and stress. Her voice, mind and speech were not normal at times. There were deep scars and psycho-trauma. She looked frail. There were flashbacks of rape trauma. She was showing anger and aggression and she showed men distrust. Dev and I discussed her ‘issues’ and tried to assist as best we could. We introduced her to other Indian women who were literary figures including Bhanu Dwarika who was doing graduate studies in literature. Das completed his MA at Columbia and transferred to the University of Chicago for his PhD. Something went wrong in his Chicago Studies, which ended abruptly. I lost touch. Dev funded her travel to Barbados to be with a sister or family member who looked after Das. Sometime later, during my visits to Guyana, I would see Das attending the WPA office on Croal Street and interacting with Rupert Roopnarine. She needed comprehensive care.
A teenage Mahadai Das at AS, was very naïve, and would have lacked the capacity at the time to understand the dishonesty of political figures, the pitifulness and the misery of politics. She was forced to support a national service, thinking she would be protected from violence. Even the big ones and her support for Burnham could not protect her from being broken. It didn’t matter about talent, skills, culture. But like other beautiful young people, she was ambushed by men in authority. In the end, she took refuge in her culture, which is marginalized by successive governments. Her culture gave her the spirit to live on. She was a very strong woman who opposed so much abuse in the national service and by those who ‘used it’ for their own selfish purposes.
Since its introduction by Burnham around 1975, there has never been an investigation into national service rape to bring closure or justice to the victims. It can’t be a “bear am and forget am”! It’s not too late for a national inquiry.