The Curse of the Missing
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By Bhaswati Ghosh
At age three, I first sensed the agony of those having to deal with the news of a missing loved one. On a hot summer evening, as my family members started gathering in the living room for tea, they noticed I wasn’t in the courtyard playing with my brother. Nor was I in any of the rooms, or the lone bathroom, in the house. Tea flew out the window and was replaced by an immediate search mission. My grandfather, uncle, and the landlord’s sons went out in Delhi’s oppressive heat to find me. Nearly half an hour later, they all returned empty-handed, even as their anxiety grew with each passing minute. I don’t remember at what point the orchestrator of the plot – I – surrendered before them. I emerged from behind a couch, where I had been hiding all along.
As the search continues for the Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, which seems to have vanished from the face of earth more than a month ago, one can almost feel the collective restiveness brewing around the world. From the time the flight went missing on March 8, theory after theory has surfaced to explain the plane’s disappearance – from hijacking to uncontrollable fire to a bomb, pilot suicide, mid-air collision, and an accidental shoot down.
This is perhaps the curse of a missing entity – the unending conjecture it must suffer, even as a conclusive answer eludes the anguished survivors.
Closer home, in Canada, my current location, a particular ‘missing’ news has, sadly, itself been missing from the country’s mainstream media. For more than five decades now, hundreds of women – most of them aboriginals – have gone missing or been murdered. And, yet, the first time I ever heard about this since migrating here three years ago was a few months ago, when a colleague at work referred to her daughter’s research on this subject.
According to a new research, the number of missing or murdered women is more than 800. The most recent case came to light with the murder of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk aboriginal young woman, who, ironically, was writing a thesis on the missing or murdered aboriginal women. Her death reinforces the need for a national inquiry into the matter, an idea the federal government doesn’t deem necessary.
If that wasn’t apathy enough, nearly fifty per cent of the cases remain unsolved, and no charges have been laid. This, despite government statistics showing that the indigenous women are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. As in the case of most marginalized groups anywhere in the world, the women of those groups are even more vulnerable.
Arguably, the most chilling symbol of this ongoing missing-murder mystery is the highway of tears – a 724 kilometre stretch of Highway 16 in British Columbia, where between 1969 and 2011, a number of women (18 according to official records; as many as 43 otherwise) have gone missing or were found murdered. Most of these women were from aboriginal communities.
Statistics are one thing but my thoughts invariably turn to the mental state of the family members of these women. I try to think of the mother, whose daughter never returned home after going out for a smoke one evening three years ago. Or the aunt whose beautiful niece’s body was found, naked and slain, in a bush three days after she went missing. Or the twelve-year-old whose parents allowed her to go biking alone for the first time, only to find her remains 17 years later.
Yet, despite these heart-wrenching stories of loss and unanswered questions, more often than not, the media portrayal of missing or murdered indigenous women tends to focus on how such women make themselves easy targets – whether because of addiction or hitchhiking or wrong relationship choices. As evidenced by the conspiracy theories for the missing plane, finger-pointing can be a convenient recourse to explain the tragic disappearance of these disadvantaged women.
In the last week of March, when the Malaysian authorities announced that MH 370 had sunk in the Indian Ocean, the near and dear ones of the passengers on-board that flight erupted in anger. “Where is the evidence?” they clamoured even as they tried reconciling to the worst. The living experience is one of swinging between hope and despair. But while hope’s sprightly footfalls dance in the realm of the unknown, despair wants a concrete footing – tangible evidence, closure – to make itself acceptable to us.
At age three, I understood that a missing me meant panicking grandparents, a weeping mother, and immense sadness all around. My convoluted sense of mischief auto-corrected itself so I would never inflict that pain on them again. I shudder to imagine the haunting spectre of memory, decaying hope, and crushing despair the families and friends of people, who really go missing, have to live with. Not for half an hour but for years. Decades. Sometimes, for ever.
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction and non-fiction. Her website: bhaswatighosh.com.
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7 Responses to “The Curse of the Missing”
[…] April column on missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada is now up at Cafe Dissensus Everyday, the blog of […]
Such a brilliant, eye-opening piece depicting the sadness and plight of the families of these missing women. You contextualize the entire emotional world of these families so wonderfully with your own childhood story. While your own story lets the readers drown in the vividly painted world of your own family, fraught with panic, suffering and anxiety, it also leads the readers to the bigger social reality of these missing aboriginal women. It is a gruelling reality with which we would grapple, while the families of these missing women would hang in the silver lining between hope and despair.
“The living experience is one of swinging between hope and despair. But while hope’s sprightly footfalls dance in the realm of the unknown, despair wants a concrete footing – tangible evidence, closure – to make itself acceptable to us.”
Such poetic, at the same time haunting, real expressions which surpass metaphorical beauty and become a living, breathing human reality. More power to you, girl!
You have brought this tragic story to life in a way the media has failed to do. You have taken us with you on a walk down the highway of tears . Perhaps if enough of us take this journey, one day justice will be served.
Lopa, thank you so much for your moving comment. Ever since I heard about these missing or murdered women, I’ve been troubled by the phenomenon. I am glad Cafe Dissensus provided me this opportunity to share this story.
Joyce, that is my earnest hope too. Thank you for your comment.
Terrific piece. This is a such a tragic thing and at the same time, one that has always gone under the radar. Aborigines don’t count and they never did. They are shoved into ever-shrinking reservations, made to shut up with tax breaks and completely forgotten.
This could be multiple serial murderers at work. 😦
Achyut, so true. This is the result of systemic bias, neglect and apathy.