Former Guyana First Lady Shares Story Of Domestic Violence

Varshnie Singh is proof that domestic violence can happen to anyone and take almost any form.

The Former First Lady of Guyana shared with a St. Maarten audience on Saturday her ordeal as a victim of what she termed “institutionalised” or “high-tech” violence – nearly a decade of verbal and emotional abuse in her marriage to Guyana President Barrat Jagdeo before the marriage ended in 2007.

Singh was guest speaker at anti-violence and woman’s advocacy group Peridot Foundation’s annual lecture against intra-relationship violence.

She had been a UK-born paralegal hoping to serve her country when she got married “according to Hindu rites.” After that she was isolated at home and mistreated, she said.

Safe Haven President Oldine Bryson-Pantophlet had spoken earlier that night of violence-free domestic abuse, the systematic dismantling of a person’s self-confidence by withholding support and love.

Singh called herself a case study in this, telling of her non-profit Kids First Fund being sabotaged often by her ex-husband. Kids First raises funds for medical care for poor Guyanese children. Singh had used her position for several years to get Kids First running.

“He found my work embarrassing and me annoying. The First Ladies of every country in the world, when they are helpful, are treated with respect and are given the full backing of their husbands and the nation – even if they don’t do anything more than cut ribbons and kiss babies,” said Singh, reading from a statement she had published a few months ago.

“I’ve enjoyed the support of the nation, most ministers, but very little from the President.”

It was the second time she had read this statement to any audience. She said she had been “denied access” to the President’s state-owned home at certain times of the night and had been isolated and alone for two years.

“If I wasn’t home by 6:00pm, the apartment door would be locked with a latch from the inside so my key could not open it,” Singh said. “When I was locked out, I would have to spend the night on the sofa on the first floor without a sheet, praying for the night to end quickly. Eventually, I would walk with a change of clothes just in case.”

She told the audience of having been sabotaged over and over: having a freedom march torpedoed by her husband, being denied money and support to run her charity and being denied rights to buy land to start a low-cost specialist hospital for the country.

“My humble opinion of why we are here is to love one another, to do our best to help one another,” said Singh. “What is important is … whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability.”

Former Island Council member and Peridot founder Gracita Arrindell thanked Singh for her story and applauded her courage in telling about years of struggle and abuse that was not at all physical.



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