The tragedy of Sydney homeless woman, Ms Monika Chetty, has been in the news. Ms Chetty is of Fiji Indian background. Her agony, pain, injuries, sufferings and ordeals have affected people, not only from Indian community, but also from every other community in Sydney. People have expressed their sadness for what happened to her. “Rest In Peace” comments have been posted in social media. People, including her classmates from High School days, have expressed their wishes to attend her funeral, when the date for funeral is fixed. There is certainly an outpouring of grief.
People from various communities, including Indian Australian community, have wondered how a lady from a close-knit community like hers could be homeless for this long. She has been homeless at least since May 2013. Many including I have known about her. I received an email about her from a concerned Indian in May, 2013. I did whatever I could as a result. Others from Indian community did things too in whatever way they could. From media reports, we know that members of non-Indian community too helped her in whatever way they could help. Obviously, this was not sufficient.
After May, 2013, I did not hear anything about her until the news of her burn injuries in early Jan, 2014.
She suffered massive burns (80% of her body) and was admitted in the burns Unit of Concord Hospital, Sydney in early Jan, 2014. I was devastated to hear about her burn injuries when a SMH reporter contacted me while I was in India. After struggling for her life in the Burns Unit, she has unfortunately died on Friday, 31st Jan, 2014. This is a very sad news. Our hearts go out to her children and family. She was a mother, sister and daughter to someone, and her death must obviously be devastating to them. I feel their pain. To say that I am anguished is definitely an understatement.
There are questions in regards to how she received these burn injuries to 80% of her body. What are the circumstances of these injuries and who did it to her? Obviously, NSW Police is investigating and will reach a conclusion in due course. How, why, where and when of her burn injuries need to come out.
There are many lessons and messages from this tragedy. These are relevant to everyone, but more so for Indian community in Sydney. Without putting any blame on anyone, we can’t run away from introspection and analysis about what happened to a co-human and why. We can’t run away from introspection and analysis about what should/could have been done, and was unfortunately not done, or done too late! We must think about it!
As I think through, I get following questions repeatedly in my mind.
1. How did this happen that she was homeless for this long without an effective help? From media reports, she was seen in pain for days or even weeks before Police was finally called. How could her cries and pains go without needed (and appropriate) help? What happened here? How cries and pains of a human did not receive the help/assistance which was needed?
2. Do we have any mechanism to help our people when they get into such desperate situations?
3. What is the role & responsibility (moral and social) of Indian Australian community in regards to these situations happening to its members?
4. What is the role and responsibility (moral & social) of every human, irrespective of the segment of the community they belong to, when they encounter such cases?
5. Have we become too individualistic, self-centered and self-focused that we do not do enough to help people in desperate needs? Did we fail as a society in this case?
6. What prevents people from our own Indian community from sharing their difficulties with members of Indian community? Are there some cultural issues which create obstacles in seeking such community help and guidance? Do we have issues in protecting confidentiality of information when someone from our own community seeks guidance or help from us?
I have been thinking about her ordeals ever since I heard about her burn injuries. My view is that we should approach key people of the Indian Australian community (Fiji Indians are part & parcel of Indian community) as well as general community members, with a suggestion that we meet and discuss these issues to help us have a mechanism which can be used to help people. This suggestion is not about some alternative model of service delivery. It is all about preparing ourselves to look out for, and help (if necessary), people who are in trouble.
7. Did “System” which is expected to help people like Ms Monika Chetty fail completely? If yes, then why did it fail, and who is responsible? What needs to be done to not let this happen in future? I know from my personal information as well as from the media reports that many people did help her in some form (money and food), and some contacted the agencies, asking them to help Monika. What did these agencies do in this case is something which is not clear at all.
Monika’s ethnic heritage being Indian does not make this case solely relevant to Indian Australian community. Her case is relevant to every human in Australia. Having said that, I do believe we, from Indian Australian community, have a slightly higher moral responsibility for what has happened here. We must learn from this tragedy. We must recognise the issues, understand them and evolve a mechanism to offer help, recognising that this help does not necessarily need to be financial, as an appropriate and timely counselling at times could deliver the result.
We, as a community, need to have a serious debate and discussion on these matters.
NSW has services, facilities and help [Govt as well as Non-Govt sector], which could be utilized in these circumstances. We just need to network and organise ourselves into doing this type of service to our own people. We need to get into serious stuff like helping our needy people, if we want to do sincere and genuine community work.
Ms Monika Chetty suffered needlessly, but she is not going to be the last one. Even though it has been rare to see an Indian homeless woman so far, it may change in future as our numbers keep growing. It is crucial for us, as a community, to do something in this regard and prepare ourselves to deal with cases like this in future.
I wish to emphasize it here that this tragedy is very much about “Monika Chetty-an Australian and above all, a HUMAN”, not just about “Monika Chetty-an Indian! We all must remember this fact. We should help any human-irrespective of his/her background, when we encounter such cases.
We must re-assert, by deeds and actions, that we are a caring community and do look after people, within our means and resources, when they end up in difficult and desperate circumstances!
Saying just R.I.P is not enough!
Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/4th Feb 2014