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Raffique Shah


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Suffering in silence

By Raffique Shah
May 12, 2013

She had first contacted me a year ago, via a circuitous route, to relate a problem she faced at her Diamond Vale home and to see if I could offer any advice. Last week, the pensioner called again. Her problem remained unsolved. If anything, its impact on her health has worsened, and she had tried all avenues I had suggested, without success.

Her story is not unfamiliar, I reminded her. It can be replicated tens of thousands of times in this country where man's insensitivity to man—neighbours, communities, human beings in general—is as heartless as it is boundless.

They flout conventions and common decency to the discomfort or distress of others, and think nothing of it.

Worse, when victims turn to officialdom for relief or rescue, they encounter indifference, sometimes collusion, that could drive them insane.

So they suffer in silence, losing all hope in man, surrendering their fate to the Almighty in the hope that He would grant them a better afterlife.

The woman is a Diamond Vale resident.

She and her retired police officer husband had hoped to enjoy their winter years in relative comfort in a community founded in the 1960s, a government housing development that catered mainly for public officers. Over the years, owners have modified the basic structures, younger generations have inherited houses, and others have sold out leading to "new" persons moving in. The Vale has changed considerably.

One rule that existed, and no doubt still does-it applies in many similar residential enclaves-is that no commercial activity is allowed. The houses sit very close to each other, which means a garage or grocery or similar operation can distress neighbours. In this pensioner's case, her neighbour operates a hairdressing salon and the chemicals she uses, sometimes late into the night, waft directly into the victim's house.

Now, the older woman suffers with asthma, among other conditions, and the chemicals often trigger serious attacks. She and her husband appealed to the operator, asking if she could try to eliminate the fumes. They were roundly abused. They tried to have the councillor intervene: waste of time. I had suggested an approach to their MP. He was useless. They tried the EMA. The agency was toothless.

Final stop, based on my advice, was the Ombudsman. That was an exercise in futility.

Of course, if the pensioners had money and time, they could hire a lawyer; but neither money nor time is an option for them. Their fate is sealed. They will suffer, their health will deteriorate, and they will die, their demise hastened by an uncaring neighbour, ably assisted by impotent or callous officials and agencies.

Two pensioners subtracted from the welfare roll, two less votes, who cares?

In such scenario, who needs euthanasia or a Dr Kevorkian? Trinidad and Tobago is tailor-made for lawbreakers of every kind, for bullies who use their wealth to ride roughshod over the poor, for the strong to take advantage of the weak, and most of all for the savage abuse of older people whose only right, it seems, is to die-the sooner the better.

I've spent some time on this seemingly trivial case because it angers me. Similar abuse in other communities is commonplace, and nobody, certainly not those in authority or with power, does anything about it. Ariapita Avenue and Woodbrook might well be the two most prominent cases where commerce, especially establishments that operate well into the night, has overtaken, even overpowered, long-standing residents, allowing them no peace in their homes. There are hundreds, thousands of similar or worse cases, and no one seems to gives a damn—not the police, not the magistracy, not the EMA, and definitely not the politicians.

Adjacent to residential Lange Park, Chaguanas, for example, several once-rural roads and cane-traces-turned-streets are now centres of commerce. The residents of the Park, Endeavour, Montrose and similar communities, have no objection to development, I am sure. They tolerate the heavy traffic, indiscriminate parking and other inconveniences; it's the price of progress.

But they certainly object to bars and nightclubs that not just sell alcoholic drinks late into the night, but insist on blasting ear-shattering noises (well, it's not music!) into the wee hours of the morning. People cannot sleep well. Children cannot study, or even play. Residents cannot enjoy their own choice of music or television programmes in the sanctum of their homes.

I am sure what I describe above applies to almost many communities across the country, and the offenders are not just bar owners but residential neighbours and vehicles equipped with ear-splitting sound systems. Magistrates casually grant licences to bar owners without insisting that they soundproof their establishments the way discotheques did in the 1970s. Then, one could lime outside JB's and not hear a sound or beat unless someone opened the entrance door.

The police lend a deaf ear to noise polluters of any kind, and Dr Joth Singh, head of the EMA, boasts of having shut down one bar somewhere in Cunupia. It's not just noise pollution. Uncaring people routinely divert watercourses, causing flooding. The super-rich and the dirt-poor clear hillsides and build structures that ultimately result in devastation downhill. Neither gives a damn about the victims of their selfish, not to add illegal, actions.

We often boast of how advanced a society ours is—high literacy, free tertiary education, impressive per capita GDP, the best shopping malls in the Caribbean, the finest homes, highways and so on. These are but a veneer that barely conceals a kind of primitiveness that truly defines us. For as long as we encourage boorish behaviour and callously trample on the basic rights of others, especially the poor, the children and the aged, we shall remain savages masquerading in suits.

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