06 February 2012

The 52-year old Mumbai native, a former Pan Am stewardess and Delta Airlines trainer, had been on a hunger strike in jail for nearly three weeks following her December 10 incarceration arising from charges of resisting arrest in a routine jury summons case. On December 29, Lyvita was ordered to be taken to the Vista East Medical Center. She died on January 3, 2012 at the hospital.

The funeral was conducted on February 1 and was attended by over 200 people, all asking the same question that's haunting the Gomes family. The last rites were conducted Thursday in the presence of her sister and brother-in-law who life in UK as well as a large assembly of local community leaders. A Chicago daily reported that around 120 people, including 20 local pastors, have signed a "statement of concern" that will be presented to the authorities.

The family lives along Link Road in Goregaon west. Lyvita's brother Oydsteven, who works in a television production house, has so far managed to keep the news of his sister's death from their father. "He is 94 and is still recovering from a nasty bout of malaria," said Steven. "I have requested several relatives and friends who wish to pay condolence not to visit. Of course, now that the funeral is over, I will have to break it to him."

The second of four siblings, Lyvita was a well-educated, qualified achiever filled with a sense of joie de vivre. She studied biochemistry at Sophia College, then went on to teach chemistry at St Joseph's Convent during which time she wrote workbooks for junior school. Soon she tired of that and joined Pan Am airlines in the United States as a flight attendant and supervisor before moving to Delta Airlines where she graduated to flight trainer.

Much of what happened since December 2011when the Chicago police arrested her remains a blur for the family. Questions linger over the exact circumstances of her arrest, her illness, indeed her mental condition and subsequent death. "We are still unaware of the full truth behind her hunger strike over jury duty," said Steven.

"Those who are in the US are hardly wiser for being there. My sister Lyemia and her husband who live in London conducted the funeral on Thursday. They are seeking answers as are the 200-odd supporters and community leaders who attended Lyvita's wake," he added.

Lyvita was single and did not have family in the US. "Is this how they punish foreign nationals who merely refuse jury duty? Stand by as they forgo food and drink, watch them become dehydrated and die?" he asked. "I cannot help think this is racism. Would this have happened to a white person?" Steven and his siblings are yet to receive an apology or explanation, though the Lake County sheriff's office on Thursday released a timetable of events from Lyvita's arrest up to her death in January 3.