Fr M C George Menamparampil took part in the ‘Voices of Faith’ seminar organised by the Fidel Götz Foundation with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Vatican. He spoke to AsiaNews about the role Salesian educators play in saving street kids from child labour and early marriage. The lives of four girls give, saved by the Salesians, illustrate the situation.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Every year, the Salesians of Don Bosco save hundreds of young women and girls from early marriage and a destiny of domestic slavery, this according Fr M C George Menamparampil, national coordinator for the Don Bosco Schools in India.
Speaking to AsiaNews on the sidelines of the symposium ‘Voices of Faith’ organised by the Fidel Götz Foundation with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Vatican for International Women's Day, the clergyman stressed the importance of Catholic education in India, focusing especially on women, children and poor tribals, "who without us would never have a chance to improve their lives."
Born in Kerala, Fr Menamparampil has dedicated the last 48 years of his life to the disadvantaged tribal communities in northeastern India.
Regarding the status of women, he said that 15 million young women and girls are forced into forced marriages each year.
Although banned under Indian law, child brides are “considered ‘normal’ in Hindu tradition. Parents do not know what to do with the girls at home. They prefer to marry them off. For Hindu fathers, there is also the basic duty of seeing their daughters may before their death.”
To illustrate this point, the Salesian Father mentioned the case of four girls saved by Salesian schools among the hundreds who ask for help. All of them come from poor or tribal families, with a history of violence, abuse, suffering and finally rebirth.
Rupa Khatun, now 18, lost her mother when she was just a kid. Her alcoholic father, instead of sending her and her siblings to school, wasted money on booze. When he lost his wife, he took the girl to a place for only men and left her there. Rupa, who at the time was 7, managed to escape.
Another case of discrimination and violence against women is that of Chiquita, Andhra Pradesh, married off by her family at the age of 15. She was able to flee after a month of marriage and tell her story to an NGO, which brought her to facility run by Salesian Sisters. "Her dream is to work in the bank," Fr Menamparampil said, "and take care of her mentally ailing mother."
Kanchan Kumari Sao has instead two dreams: building a home on her own and open a construction company. For the first objective, "she is on the right track. Thanks to the Don Bosco Self-Employment Research Institute, she trained in construction engineering and can do her best." In her case, her father played a critical role. He is "the hero of her life" because he refused to give his daughter away in marriage, choosing instead to send her to school.
In the fourth and last one case, Deepika Samkuru (not her real name) saw family try several times, unsuccessfully, to get to her to marry, starting when she was 15 years old. All of her relatives mistreated her.
Deepika, who is now 22, was kept segregated at home, and on one occasion had her head smashed against a wall, drawing blood. Yet, she rejected her third suitor. Her sisters could not understand her choice. One of them even "became a grandmother at the age of 30,” Fr Menamparampil said.
At present, all four girls are in a different situation, the priest explained. When she fled, Rupa met a woman who took her to a police station; from here, she was taken to a Don Bosco Ashalayam (House of Hope). Today she wants to be a teacher to tell her story and be "an example of what should not happen."
Chiquita is now in 11th grade in a nun-run school, and wants to continue her studies. Kanchan Kumari Sao is now working in construction.
Finally, Samkuru Deepika moved away from her jail-like family and went to the Navajeevan Bala Bhavan (Don Bosco House for Children to give them a new life) in Vijayawada. She has not seen her relatives for years.