By Neil Parsanlal
Ashanti died a horrible death at the hands of men who are sons, brothers, cousins, uncles, perhaps even fathers. She, like the 42 other women of Trinidad and Tobago who have shared similar fates in 2020, did not deserve to die in the manner she did. No-one does. Today, as a father, brother, uncle, cousin, as a man, I share the grief of her family and the outrage of a society that has seen enough horror, that has cried enough tears, that has been left numb by the sheer frequency of these events, and at our collective impotence at its curtailment.
There aren’t sufficient words for me to apologise on behalf of all men for the cruelty meted out to Ashanti and so many others. And simply calling on men to desist from this behaviour is to whistle in the wind. This behaviour stems from a basic disrespect for women, from a worldview that is selfish and self-centred, from a perspective that eschews delayed gratification for instant appeasement, and from a warped sense of power and control that is fuelled by male insecurity.
None of this will be solved by marches around the Parliament where the same qualities are often displayed. None of this will be solved by the women’s groups whose inconsistency in dealing with matters pertaining to women leaves their credibility exposed. None of this will be solved by blaming the victims for the manner in which they dress, the mode of transport they are forced to utilise, or even their inability to extricate themselves from obviously dangerous and toxic liaisons.
This will be solved when men take on the responsibility of being authentic men, not a creation of YouTube, or a figment of someone else’s imagination. When I own my feelings of despair and rejection, when I own my feelings of economic impotence and societal displacement, when I own my own mistakes and shortcomings, and decide that I am not in a place to which I am accustomed, that I need help, then I can respect myself. When I see others as unfinished works of God’s creation, just as I am; incomplete works of art, just like me; then I can respect the other. When I teach my son and his friends to fully respect their sisters and be their first protectors, future Ashantis will stand a better chance of returning home alive.
As the country navigates its way through this COVID-19 pandemic, approaching Christmas with a feeling of apathy, I wish to offer the figure of Mary, Mother of Jesus, as a point of reflection for us all, whether male or female.
Mary, as an unwed teenage mother, experienced uncertainty and insecurity when she said ‘yes’ to the invitation by God to become the mother of the Saviour. She knew the experience of homelessness when she didn’t find a hospitable place to give birth to Jesus. She knew the sufferings of mothers who see their children’s disfigured bodies, bloodied and beaten by those whose own insecurities knew no bounds. She lived as a refugee in a strange land with a strange language and strange customs. She knew what it meant to have a child who does not follow the regular ways of life but creates turmoil wherever he goes; she felt the loneliness of the widow and the agony of seeing her own son being executed.
Indeed, Mary is the woman who stands next to all the poor, oppressed, and lonely women of our time. Every word in scripture about Mary points to her intimate connection with all who are forgotten, rejected, despised, and pushed aside. She joyfully proclaims: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:52-53).
Ashanti’s death and that of so many others could be prevented if, like Mary, we allow the Word to become flesh in our lives. This Christmas, perhaps we can make a commitment, not to eat or drink less, but to pray more, and to live our lives as witnesses to the truth, that when the Word becomes flesh in us, great things are possible.
Neil Parsanlal is a husband, father and lay minister at the Santa Rosa RC Church, Arima.