A Personal Reflection on Visiting India

1 Comment » Written on February 15th, 2013     
Filed under: Community Development
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A number of CWR-connected people recently took a trip to India to visit CWR projects. Below are reflections about the trip from Thomas Robinson, a member of the Covenant Executive Board and on the Compassion, Mercy, and Justice committee. 

In Poona city (Pune) we met with a eunuch leader named Panna, who has fought for recognition from the State to be recognized as a human being, and to then be able to travel to the US in 2011 for the US National Aids awareness event in Washington D.C. It was a time of firsts – her first time on a plane, able to leave her native country, and the first time that she owned a passport. She lives in a hirjas (eunuch) community within a “Red-Light” district as a result of their social marginalization. Panna loves the Lord and told us that she had prayed and prayed for the recognition from the State. She continues to confront the State for the rights of all eunuchs.

Panna’s colleagues work with the women in the adjacent “Red-Light” community by helping them understand that the Lord cares for them. They are human beings and God loves them. Some of them now have a co-labor of love making communion wafers for a number of India churches and the ECC.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is the manager of the many municipal services including the dumpsites of Mumbai. Everywhere we visited we met children who were eager to learn with dreams for their lives like our own children. However, the children of the rag picking community in Mumbai were most disturbing.  The “rag pickers” in Mumbai’s sixth largest dump do not exist as far as the State is concerned.  While we visited one child’s home I felt cool air over my head and noticed a ceiling fan. It seemed somewhat odd to me that electricity was being provided to the community. I found out later that the electricity is provided by the BMC and yet the State says that they are none existent, but not to the point that the BMC doesn’t see a market that it can exploit. These are families that do not have fresh food, medical, educational or any other social services but are seen as a paying customer resource to the BMC.

However, there is a ray of hope being fostered by the Hindustani Covenant Church. They have a small space which is used as a classroom and where the children can get prepared to enter a formal school curriculum provided their parents allow them. You see, we were told that if the family can’t spare the child from working in the dump then they will not be allowed to enter formal education. So the three hours of non-formal education that they receive at the HCC School will be all that they receive, instantly placing them in a caste of untouchables and a life of “rag-picking.”

When asked about what they wanted to be when they grew up we heard one of the older boys say “to work in the garbage dump”. His vision doesn’t go beyond what he can see today. My prayer is that the Lord will cause a divine stirring among those in charge, the State of Maharashtra and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, for the children of Mumbai’s dump sites…that they will be able to see beyond just today. That the Lord will “vindicate the orphan and the oppressed…That man who is of the earth may cause terror no more” (Ps. 10:18).

The group also visited another partner in India called Truthseekers. Here is Thomas’ reflection on that experience:

My first full day in India was spent with the Truthseeker’s organization that operates out of New Delhi confronting India’s Brahmanism (caste system) for the sake of Christ. Brahmanism is the main exploiting system of the traditional Indian society.  Braj Ranjan Mani (author of Debrahmanising History: Dominance and Resistance in Indian Society) states that Brahmanism “stands for the aggregate of the sacerdotal literature, social structure and religio-political institutions that have been mastermind by the minority elite with the primary aim of keeping the masses ignorant, servile and disunited” (Debrahmanising History, 2011).  Since the caste system is highly patriarchal it considers all women from all castes as chattel. It works at several levels in Indian culture by empowering the Brahman and allied castes, and disempowering the rest of Indian society, legitimizing gross inequalities, human rights abuse, gender discrimination, mass illiteracy, and untouchables. Each person is born into a caste and is thereby either superior or inferior to someone else. In the classical sense, the caste system is a form of social stratification in which castes are hierarchized, occupationally specialized and separated from each other in matters of marriage, physical contact and food by rules of purity and pollution.

One ray of hope is the work of Rev. Sunil Sadar, founder of Truthseekers. Rev. Sunil’s organization confronts India’s caste system, in the name of Christ, around Delhi, the 2nd largest city in India. We were taken to a small farming community where we were greeted by the primary teacher of a rural school for primary aged children who would not have an opportunity to learn if it wasn’t for the efforts of the leaders of the community, Truthseekers and Covenant World Relief.

It’s here where I learned that the people of this community are considered to be of the agricultural class (vaishyas) due to their physical work and are traditionally not afforded opportunities for education or anything else for that matter. Opportunities for a better life, whether farming or otherwise, are non-existent. This is especially the case for women. However, in Harawali, Delhi, I saw a future and a hope. Through the efforts of CWR a technology center was dedicated to the community, with four students already participating.

As visitors, we had the opportunity to participate in a foot-washing service for some of the patriarchal men and women farmers as a symbol of humility. It was evident that our gesture was appreciated just by looking into their faces. It was a very rich time and a privilege to take part in.

India’s caste system reminds me very much of racial discrimination in the U.S. Both systems were created to keep people in their place with no hope of a better future. They both are systemic in nature in that entire social systems were put in place to keep power for the elite, or the majority culture in the US.  In India the cast system still labels entire communities as non-human. My hope and prayer is for “justice to flow like a mighty river” (Amos 5:24), throughout India, the US and the world.

This is our prayer, as well. Consider supporting one of our projects in India: opportunities for women and children with HCC, or India Truthseekers.

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