Murder, myth and madness
Guyana Chronicle
May 4, 2007

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A FEW years ago, the U.S. tabloid, Weekly World News, carried an article on a cannibal breaking into a Georgetown radio station and devouring one radio talk show host.

The obvious merits of such an act notwithstanding, all but the entirely credulous would believe that anything like that could happen in Guyana.

Yet some years later, a mentally ill woman, Radika Singh, is brutally murdered in a community a few miles from Georgetown, on the charge that she was an `Ole Higue’ – a vampiric creature well known in Caribbean mythology. This incident, specifically the motive for the murder, has raised eyebrows concerning the fact that people are superstitious enough to kill someone for being an `ole higue’ on no evidence at all.

However, the death in Bare Root also goes beyond mere superstition, even as tragic as this particular case is in itself. It represents the distinct fatal trait within our national neurosis, the willingness to project evil upon the other, the stranger, as illogical as that projection often ultimately proves.

If the supernatural image of the mythical ole higue can be superimposed on a mentally ill old woman, then how hard would it be to project malicious intent upon someone much stronger and in greater control of their faculties?

Extrapolate that now to an entire collective of people and you have gone a long way in explaining how communal superstition and ignorance – and their exploitation for political gain – have resulted in the degenerative tribal approach we have when it comes to dealing with each other in this country.

As an adjunct to that, what has been understandably unsaid in press reports, but which has been fairly obvious, is the presumptive racial contrast between the victim and the perpetrators.

While race does not appear to have been a deciding factor in the murder of Radika Singh, there is distinct evidence that it is being alluded to as such in some quarters. The final ripple effect of this tragedy vis a vis our always tenuous racial divisions may yet prove the ultimate tragedy in this case.

Something else which comes out strongly in this case is the care afforded to the mentally ill in Guyana.

With billions being spent on virtually every other area, it has been a continuous shortcoming of our national health care system that it focuses very little on mental health. For every story of a mentally ill person being found murdered, there are dozens more of them being beaten and otherwise molested – the women are particularly vulnerable.

The lack of care shown to those of "unsound mind" is as anachronistic as any belief in ole higues or Dutch jumbies, and the fact that the victim in this case was female is just another illustration of our societal acceptance of violence against women.

At the end of the criminal investigation into this matter also, or parallel to it, there should also be a larger inquiry into the circumstances of this case; the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Human Services, and possibly the Ethnic Relations Commission can quite realistically work together to trace exactly what went wrong in the tragic life of Radika Singh, from the first diagnosis of her illness to the circumstances of her death.