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Rediff.com  » News » Death in the US: 'Why did Lyvita have to starve to death?'

Death in the US: 'Why did Lyvita have to starve to death?'

January 19, 2012 18:43 IST

The death of Mumbai-native Lyvita Gomes, 52, on January 3 in Chicago after going on a hunger strike for 15 days to protest her arrest, has left her family in a state of grief and anger.

Mumbai woman dies in US after hunger strike in jail

Lyvita's death was the end of a bizarre saga that began with a failure to answer jury summons and ended with her succumbing to dehydration and malnutrition.

As per US laws, only American citizens can be called for jury duty, but the courts will send questionnaires to anyone, legal and illegal. If they do not reply to it, it could result in arrest and legal action. The former Delta Airlines staffer reportedly "resisted deputies" during the service of the warrant and was arrested.

Oydsteven Gomes, Lyvita's brother, is now posing some hard-hitting questions.

"Why was Lyvita summoned for jury duty when she wasn't eligible to serve? Why was her condition (depression or otherwise) not detected earlier? What forced her to go into starvation? Why was her health (dehydration or starvation) not noticed in time to prevent her death," Oydsteven, who resides in Mumbai, asks.

Conveying his anguish to rediff.com, Oydsteven -- in a statement -- said:

"Lyvita worked for Delta Airlines in Mumbai for over 10 years after which she was transferred to the Atlanta office.

She was made redundant by Delta five years ago. This actually came as a very big shock to my sister, as her job profile had been fast tracked by senior management. I feared that she might have been depressed as a result of the redundancy.

I believe that her employer might not have handled this matter well in counselling her or help her to return to India. Having done her Masters in Organisational Development, she moved on to work on assignments in Chicago. She was always an achiever

I cannot give you any insight into her health or mental condition (at the time of her arrest), as she did not confide such matters to the family. She seemed happy when she called the family on birthdays and on every Christmas, Easter and New Year. She last spoke to her dad, aged 94, on the December 14, 2011.

Lyvita never married and had no kids. Lyvita was always positive in her attitude towards life and wanted to help anyone who needed help. Her going on 'hunger strike' was out of her character.

Why did the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement release Lyvita after taking her into custody? Did the ICE make a mistake? Was she given the opportunity of an attorney to advocate for her? Why, after Lyvita was finally taken to the Vista Medical Centre East in Waukegan, Chicago, as a prisoner, did the county jail suddenly decide to "release her" and to let her fend for herself?

If Lyvita would have received proper hydration in a more timely fashion, she might still have been alive today

My only plea is that the circumstances of her death should serve a lesson to all to ensure that this may never happen to anyone. I do not know if this is an inadequacy or failure of the prison system or a careless culture and attitude towards individuals, whatever their circumstance.

If you can help in changing this small world then it would help us have closure on this matter and allow us to grieve in peace."

As told to Rediff.com Special Correspondent Toral Varia Deshpande.

Toral Varia Deshpande in Mumbai