The road less travelled in Bihar, India
By Sr. Prasanthi Mandapati, SCN
For most people, a visit to Gaya, a town in Bihar, India, would be undertaken as a means of spiritual transformation under the shadow of the tree of wisdom, the Bodhi tree. However, a visit I made to Gaya to cover the ministry of Sister Roselyn among the Musahar (literally rat eaters) left me with an inner transformation, and a lifetime experience in which I touched the deprivation of the marginalized.
In January 2023, my journey took me to Kazichak, where the Musahar are the lowest caste in the area, and are compelled to live on the outskirts. It was an unforgettable experience. The first sight of the village and its surroundings left me speechless. I had already heard about the services our Sisters offer them there; but now, for the first time, I saw how pathetic their situation and life style really is.
Beacon of hope
As soon as we arrived in the village, the children rushed excitedly to Sister Roselyn. Because I was new to the area, I stood there like a stranger, looking at the children, the women, and the surroundings. I could see immediately that the inhabitants endure extreme poverty and unsanitary living conditions.
The children were wearing only the bare minimum of clothing. They appeared malnourished, dirty, and unkempt. Uncomfortable around strangers, the women were hiding their faces with their sarees, the traditional female attire. Despite this, I noticed the children's faces light up when they saw Sister Roselyn. They felt at ease with her because she was a beacon of hope in their helplessness.
Responding to the needs of the times
Sister Roselyn serves as a social worker in the villages, giving voice to the voiceless, empowering the women in the prisons, and educating the children. From her residence in Gaya city, she teaches remedial lessons to underprivileged children and coordinates skill training centers for women.
In addition to this work, she visits other areas to determine the needs of the people. On one such visit, she met Sangeeta and her son, Abhishek Kumar, at a tailoring center in Kajwati. During their conversation, she learned about the underprivileged Musahar people. Her eagerness to work among them compelled her to accompany Mr Kumar to Kazichak.
Living on the margins as social outcastes
The Musahar are Bihar’s poorest Scheduled Caste. They are socially marginalized, economically impoverished, and politically oppressed. For a long time, they have survived on the periphery of the state, and still suffer from poverty, landlessness, privation, malnutrition, untouchability, and illiteracy.
During one of her first visits to Kazichak, Sister Roselyn interacted with locals and learned that there were approximately 200 children without access to adequate educational opportunities. Although these students were already enrolled in the local public school, their education was substandard, thus depriving them of the skills needed to succeed in life. Envisioning the future of these children, in March 2022, Sister Roselyn added a remedial class on location for them through her outreach program.
Instrument to eliminate societal disparities
Sister Roselyn is convinced that education is the most powerful tool to eradicate societal disparities and improve peoples’ lives. However, there was no suitable location in the village to hold classes. Therefore, she set about gathering the finances needed to provide the necessities for the children to continue their education without hindrance. The children themselves were instrumental in the actual building of their future classroom, contributing to its construction by carrying the building material, which included sand from the river. This kind gesture helped Sister to comprehend the children’s yearning for education.
Once the classroom was built, she made Abhishek Kumar her assistant to mentor the children. In addition to academic subjects, the children learn about their culture, their fundamental rights, cleanliness, and practical skills through activities including games, speeches, drawings, and singing. These exercises are helpful in instilling in the children the courage to speak up for themselves. The knowledge imparted to the children in these classes enables them to better themselves and their community. Mr Kumar, a Hindu, considers himself fortunate, and is grateful to be a part of God’s mission. The children, too, confidently affirm that hard work can transform their lives and impact their future and that of the country. Sister Roselyn would like to assist them till they complete their secondary schooling and enroll in job training programs.
Although she at first drew the hostility and criticism of the upper castes when the remedial class program began in Kazichak, Sister Roselyn is truly making a difference in the lives of the children both there and in the surrounding villages. Their lives and the destiny of the entire community are being transformed by the program she established. The children’s expression of happiness and hope convey their desire to succeed in the future and their readiness to confront life’s problems courageously.
After seeing her work first-hand in Kazichak, I am confident that Sisters Roselyn’s drop of hope will make a difference in the wider ocean of society. Her service to the downtrodden is a true witness to the power of one individual making a lasting difference in the lives of many.