RADHICA DE SILVA
Precious time is lapsing in the search for 23-year-old Andrea Bharatt.
But even as the family goes through the most horrifying ordeal of their lives, the entire nation is rallying around them.
Since her disappearance four days ago, several groups have been mobilizing to bring hope to the family. Prayer sessions, both virtual and actual, are being held across the country.
From 6 am on Tuesday, hunters from various groups in Arima, Toco, Arima, Mayaro, Manzanilla, Penal and Moruga continued a second day of searching in the Sangre Grande forests, where police believe Bharatt is being held.
Speaking with Guardian Media, president of the hunting group Hard Grounds Get Soft, Ren Gopiesingh, confirmed he was deep in the forests searching for Bharatt.
He said he spent several hours galvanizing citizens into action with the hope of helping the police find the 23-year-old.
On a Facebook live video, Gopiesingh said Police Commissioner Gary Griffith had permitted them to search the forests.
“I have many friends in Fishing Pond. I want you to come and help us search,” he said.
For those who have to work, Gopiesingh appealed to them to take a day off and join in the search.
He urged the search party not to walk with big firearms but instead, to walk with GPS tracking devices, headlights, water, tall boots and backpacks.
Meanwhile, the group Women Helping Others (WHO) also joined in, showing support to the family.
“WHO is deeply saddened by the circumstances surrounding Ms Bharatt’s kidnapping and words cannot express the emotional pain and trauma her loved ones are currently experiencing,” officials said in a statement.
The group said it will continue to pray for Bharatt’s safe release. It also urged members of the public to supply any information on her whereabouts to contact the nearest police station.
Several Facebook groups also used social media to appeal to the public to help through active searching, vigilance and prayers.
The group “Look The Bandit T&T” wrote: “Come on people… Someone must have seen something.”
Alert T&T also highlighted the use of emergency notification applications on cellphones, which were carried in an exclusive Guardian story.
Most cellphones come equipped with “Emergency SOS” features that can be quickly activated to contact either an emergency contact or the police if you are in a dangerous situation.
The Presbyterian Church also joined in a virtual prayer session on Monday night.
Youth member and Senator, Jayanti Lutchmiedial, called on the nation to lift Andrea Bharatt in prayer.
“We keep her family and friends in our thoughts; we ask God to bring them comfort. No one can imagine what they are feeling at these dreadful moments. As parents, siblings, cousins… we can all only imagine the pain of not knowing where a loved one is and how gut-wrenching that must feel,” Lutchmiedial said.
She noted that gender-based violence is a problem that is plaguing T&T.
“For a small country, we experience far too many instances of people being abused, harmed in different ways and even murdered. The scourge of GBV is causing hurt and pain and destruction in the lives of people like young Andrea. Women, as we all know, are disproportionately affected by GBV, but our men and boys are also victims of violence. We must not forget them,” she added.
Lutchmiedial also called on citizens to look out for one another.
“We also have to tell our brothers, uncles, cousins and friends that heckling a woman on the street is not okay. Harassing a woman who has ended a relationship is not okay. Forcing a woman you work with to talk to you, and being aggressive towards her if she doesn’t show interest, isn’t macho… it’s wrong. Physically abusing a woman who angers you is not the way to cope with conflict,” she added.
Anyone with information on Andrea Bharatt’s whereabouts can contact CrimeStoppers at 800-TIPS, the Police Service hotline at 555, as well as text or WhatsApp 482-GARY.