Featured Letter to the Editor:To live as an outcast or to die?

Dear Editor,

I would like to tell you about two events which took place in our town, both of which ended tragically. A Roma man – we shall call him V. – was put in prison in his youth.  He had a strong personality and found life hard under prison rules.  He did not readily submit to the pressures placed upon him by other prisoners, and they ended up raping him.  When V. was released, all of the Roma had found out about what had happened to him in prison, and he became an outcast; no one wanted anything to do with him. 

As a result, V. withdrew into himself and took up drinking.  One day, guests came to visit his family and, as is customary with the Roma, a big family meal began.  V. joined the celebrating guests at the table and also took up a glass, but they stopped him and announced that he was not worthy of sitting at the table with them.  His brothers stuck up for him as much as possible, as did his close family.  It all finished in a fight.

From then on V. tried to avoid noisy company, began to drink alone, and in the end died as a result of his drinking.  So concludes the tragedy: one more young man, who could have had a happy family and still be alive today, lost his life because the Roma community did not treat him with understanding or compassion.

Another Roma man, we shall call him O., was serving a sentence for theft. Like V., he did not get on well with the other inmates.  Moreover, the prison management and the guards treated him terribly and threatened to never let him out of prison.

O. told his relatives that he feared he would be raped, and unable to handle the pressure, he committed suicide, even though his wife and children were waiting for him on the outside. He understood that if he were raped in prison, he would never be accepted back into the Roma community and would forever be in disgrace.  So once again a young man, who could have gone on to live a long life once he was released, has died.

I want to let my people know that they should not treat so badly those who have suffered such terrible ordeals.  We all know how cruel the prison world is: inmates can do whatever they like to other inmates; they will not be held accountable for their actions, for rape of other prisoners.  A person who has experienced such shame and disgrace is in need of the support of his community, but instead these victims return home and become “untouchables.”

Of course our people have strong traditions, but is it not time for change? Because of our behavior real people are dying.

A. K.

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