08/07/2017, 12.28
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Sister Meena Barwa becomes a “sister” to ten prisoners

by Nirmala Carvalho

Together with 19 women, she visited a Madya Pradesh prison to celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan with 89 inmates. The event is centred on the relationship between brother and sister making the women, the prisoners’ "sisters". For Sr Meena, "Usually we despise people in jail and think that they deserve their punishment;” however, the prisoners, who are aged 20 to 50, are just “human beings who have done something wrong."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Sister Meena Barwa, along with three other sisters and 16 Catholic women, went to a Madya Pradesh prison yesterday to tie a "rakhi" on the wrist of several inmates, a symbolic gesture by which people become "brother and sister".

Sister Meena, who survived violence and rape during the anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal (Odisha) in 2008, tied the rakhi to "ten brothers.

Raksha Bandhan (bond of protection in Hindi) is a ritual related to the Hindu festival– which falls today –  by the same name, which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters.

During the festival, sisters tie a rakhi (sacred thread) to their brother's wrist. The ritual itself has also become a way of celebrating ties of friendship between biologically unrelated men and women.

The gesture performed by the nuns and believers in the prison yesterday is a way of spreading friendship and dignity among the prisoners.

"I was very excited, even at peace,” Sr Meena told AsiaNews. “I was filled with a strong feeling of compassion towards these people. They are human beings who have done something wrong and for this reason they are imprisoned, but they also have sisters, they also have a family."

"Usually we despise people in jail and think that they deserve their punishment. It is rare that we think something positive about them."

"It was the first time for me. I, three other sisters and 16 women went to the prison and tied the rakhi on 89 prisoners. We planned the event in a very simple way: tie the rakhi, sing two songs, mark their front with the traditional red powder and give some sweets.”

“After getting permission, we arrived at the prison at 11 am. It was a clear and bright day. The prisoners we visited were aged 20 and 50.

“As soon as we started singing, the men began to weep and wept even more when we tied the rakhi. I was moved and my heart was full of compassion and love. Many of us cried together with them.

“In the past, I had to deal with prisoners – I had to identify my accusers – and on that occasion, I was afraid they would attack me. This time I felt they were human beings like us and had our own feelings. Now I understand more that they are my brothers.

“After the visit and the rakhi, they are present in my mind and I think about their families, their future, the possibility of being accepted again into their family and society. Many of them are young . . . What about their future?"

"For me, it was like being healed from the violent trauma I suffered nine years ago this month. I was overcome by a great peace."

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