Following the death of Mumbai native Lyvita Gomes (52) in a US jail after she went on a hunger strike, her funeral service was held at 10 pm on Wednesday in Waukegan, Illinois, USA. The circumstances that led to her arrest and death have prompted her bereaved family to question the actions of the authorities in the world's oldest democracy.
Grief-struck: Lyvita's Mumbai-based brother Oydsteven, a media
professional, was unable to attend her funeral service in Illinois, as he
had to take care of their 94-year-old father, who is still unaware of his
The family claims that callous Consulate officials have only contacted them to inquire whether they would like to bring her remains back to India. Reports say that the Public Defender's office was not informed that Lyvita had been refusing food until a week after she had been hospitalised.
MiD DAY report on January 22
Lyvita's Mumbai-based brother Oydsteven, a media professional, was unable to attend the service, as he had to take care of their 94-year-old father, who is still unaware of his daughter's death. Her sister Lyemia has been too grief-stricken to speak to the media, but her husband, Lyvita's brother-in-law Rodney Fernandes, a UK-based financial administrator, said he was determined to get answers from the authorities.
Kin still in shock
The family wants to see Lyvita's death become an issue of civil and human rights, and generate public awareness and concern about the matter. Said Rodney, "We expected Western democracies to have a higher level of consideration. We never thought anything like this could happen; it shouldn't happen, to anyone. This was a civil matter. We don't understand how it escalated to a criminal one where she ended up incarcerated. We are still shocked."
He continued, "It needs to be taken up at the diplomatic level. After all, human rights have been violated. All that they tell us is that she went on a hunger strike. Why is it that more was not done to save her? We want answers and with time we will work out how to get them, but I am not yet in a position to battle the government."
Sources in Waukegan claim that unless the family follows up the case with local authorities in Lake County, no action can be taken against them. Rodney agreed that it would mostly fall on him to take the matter up with authorities, but added that Oydsteven would also be involved in making decisions.
Rodney added, "We have been approached by some civil action groups but we are so stunned that we have not yet contemplated what course of action to take. Our grief has not crystallised into action yet." Reports say that the Lake County, Illinois Sheriff Mark Curran is conducting an "internal review" of the case.
Lyvita's wake held on January 31 in Waukegan, Illinois saw a turnout of over 200 mourners. The funeral was held at and funded by the Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. According to reports, around 120 people, including 20 local pastors have signed a 'statement of concern' to be forwarded to the County Sheriff's office. The Gomes family had an overwhelming show of support from all over the Chicago area, along with the local Indian Catholic Association and Keralite Association, and The Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin. "I want to thank the people of Waukegan for their support which significantly mitigated our grief," said Rodney, Lyvita's brother-in-law, adding that he was grateful for the support shown by the expatriate Indian community.
Arrest and demise
According to news reports in the US, Gomes died on January 3 from dehydration and malnutrition, after going on a hunger strike for 15 days. She had reportedly received a jury duty questionnaire on July 5, 2011, which she was ineligible for since she was a non-US citizen. She had ignored the mail, and it was later found unopened. A judge then demanded an explanation, which she again ignored, leading to her arrest on October 12. She apparently resisted arrest by refusing to offer her hands for handcuffing and struggled, as she was led away, earning her a misdemeanor for resisting arrest. While the summons charge for ignoring jury duty was dropped, the charge for resisting arrest remained. She did not show up for two more hearings in the case, prompting another arrest on December 14.