India, Tradition and Modernity

Mariarmel gives an overall view of the the situation in India today as she experiences it:

India is a country where rapid development, leading to socio-economic improvement for some, especially in the cities, goes hand in hand with a growing imbalance in the areas of politics, community, and culture. There is conflict between tradition and modernity, between globalization and poverty, between religions.

The thirst for wealth and power leads to corruption and violence. Hindu fundamentalism is exploited by political parties, and it seems determined to attack all minorities, whether religious (Muslim or Christian) or ethnic (aboriginal tribal populations). Behind this reality is a long history of suffering on all sides.

The Church, which is heavily institutionalized, is stirring too, but change is slow. As for ourselves, we are trying to be close to the poorest, the victims of the evolving situation. Several Little Sisters work for NGO's(non-governmental aid organizations), with people who are marginalized by poverty, or by the fact that they belong to the Dalit (the 'oppressed,' the word currently used in place of the former caste term 'untouchables.')

Divya from Bangalore writes about her work:

I am working in Visthar, an NGO, run by a secular group. The founder and trust members are all lay men and women belonging to different religions.

Divya at VistharDivya at Visthar

Visthar is a center which specializes in conducting training sessions on gender sensitization and development, the rights of minorities, and financial management. There are also academic studies for college students who come from the USA and Asian countries for 4 months each year. We give them a semester course on justice, peace, and development. In addition, the Visthar campus is rented out to other NGO's and schools, churches and other groups (with special consideration given to marginalized people) to conduct their own sessions and activities. We provide the lodging and food.

I am part of a staff of 30 persons. I work from Monday through to Saturday, 8:30 am to 6 pm. When there are lots of guests I even have to work some holidays.

You may wonder what my work in this big institution is. My job is the welcome: preparing rooms for the groups, welcoming the guests and introducing them to the campus, attending to their needs. Until a few months ago I was also looking after the kitchen. Finally there is now a new cook.

At the beginning this was new for me; I struggled and had a lot to learn. Now I have completed almost 5 years, and I can say that I enjoy it. It is a great opportunity to meet all kinds of people from everywhere. We are a team of three for the housekeeping and we do the work together.

India Bandhavi projectIndia Bandhavi project

Another project we have in Visthar is called Bandhavi, which means 'close relationship.' This is a project for devadasi girls. The girls, 70 of them aged 7 to 15, are daughters of devadasis, or temple prostitutes. In certain parts of India, the temple prostitute system still exists. Briefly, girl children are dedicated, or married to, the temple. These young girls are used by men. Men who have no children believe that if they go to these women they will be able to have children. This is an accepted part of the culture in these parts, the origin of the system going back to the time of kings who used to have women as dancers in their palaces.

Now these women have children, and the girl children continue the same trade as their mothers. In order to combat this system, some NGO's are working to give the girls a better future. Visthar is one. We have brought the girls from different villages and we look after them in Visthar, providing everything including education. We train them in baking, art work, gardening, painting, theatre, music, dance, etc. They grow up very well and are happy.

My work with them these past few months is informal. I spend time with each child, listening to her stories and her problems. I write each one's life story. Sometimes I give them a bit of moral education, telling them about practical things. I take the opportunity to speak to them about God in general, and teach them some values for life.

This involvement with the children gives me the possibility of being in touch with the marginalized and the poor. Lately I got a chance to go to their village and spend 5 days there. I feel they are the Lord's little ones. They are so innocent, and accept this way of life as if it has to be like that. Now, many NGO's are trying to raise awareness, to help women fight for their rights. Thanks to their efforts, some of the mothers allowed their daughters to go to Visthar. Otherwise, they say that the devadasi system is their life and they should earn their livelihood by that. But deep down there is a strong desire to fight against this system so that the women can choose their lives as they like and not be bound by the law.

I have developed a good relationship with the girls, as well as with my colleagues. I have a great love in me for these children. I also have dedicated my life in a special way to women caught in prostitution, so I find meaning in this work. I am grateful to God for His revelation of love through these little ones. I bring all these people to God in my daily prayer. Some of my colleagues are widows and struggling, but their love and trust helps me surrender to God more and more, and bring these women and their difficulties all to God. He never forsakes His children.