The Day of the Poor in India: 'Are We Not Human Beings Too?'
The testimony of a nun who has been ministering for 20 years to the homeless and needy in the slums of Bihar: "Too often they experience that they do not matter; no one stops to notice them. Instead, we listen to their questions that are difficult to answer."
Patna (AsiaNews) - The Church today celebrates the World Day of the Poor throughout the world, established by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. "Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor" is the theme suggested by the pontiff for this event. We publish a reflection by Sr. Dorothy Fernandes, religious of the Sisters of the Presentation, who in the Indian state of Bihar is the founder and director of the NGO Aashray Abhiyan, serving the homeless and needy who reside in urban and rural slums. Active since 2003, this organization now assists almost 6 thousand families, 96% of which are non-Christian.
A human being needs food and shelter first and foremost to sustain himself. Our Constitution gives us the right to life, but guarantees the right to land to a privileged few. We are with the government when it comes to development; but then why is it always only the poor who have to sacrifice their lives?
This day's call to 'Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor' once again strengthens us in our beliefs. It is the commitment to 'become a voice for the voiceless; power for those who have no power', which helps us not to turn our faces away from the less privileged.
Who are the poor and where do we find them? They are those who have been discarded, robbed of their dignity and who are often treated like the dregs of society. Even though they possess very little of the goods of the world, they radiate joy, they do not complain about what they do not have, but live with the bare minimum in search of happiness. They embody joy, always ready to give what little they have, reminding us of the truth that 'God loves those who give joyfully'. When we engage with our most peripheral communities, we learn profound lessons by being alongside them.
Too often they experience that they are not important, no one stops to notice them, far from engaging with them. Instead, we listen to their stories with interest. We gathered at Malaai Pakkadi, people gathered with great enthusiasm and sense of responsibility.
They asked us questions that are difficult to answer, but they were profound words, because they brought out their pain. 'The earth belongs to God, who sent us to this earth: so how come certain lands belong to the government or to some people who have purchasing power? We don't ask for money, wealth, but only a piece of land to shelter us from the rain, the sun, the wind; a place to rest after a hard day at work. We work hard; we are daily wage earners, who do not have regular jobs. In these difficult days, with inflation, the price of basic necessities is so high that it becomes impossible to even have two meals a day. Healthcare and education are a dream for most of us.'
'We have lived in this place for almost six decades, when it was a jungle, with trees and wild animals surrounding us. We made this place habitable and now the government says the land is theirs. The place along the road where we lived has been transformed into a park, where the government collects 10 euros for the morning walk. It seems that the land and all the structures belong only to the rich. Aren't they human beings like us?'
(Nirmala Carvalho collaborated)
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