Sorry for being late… It seems that after suffering typhoid fever another ailment was in store for me. This time it has been a chance mishap or because of my clumsiness. I fell down some steep stairs leaving my back temporarily paralysed and ending up with a sprain, which I am taking with good humour. If I think about it, I can even believe that I am unlucky. I prefer not to stop and get on with the future.
Everything was inundated in flames. Hundreds of candles burnt along the Ganges while the dark sky was lit up with colours. There were constant bangs coinciding with the laughter of the children. Diwali, or “Festival of Lights”, aroused boundless joy in the streets of Varanasi. Sweets were handed out among neighbours, families and shops. Everything was joy and adoration in the Hindu New Year. Most devotion was paid to Lakshmi, consort to the god Vishnu, who presided over the festivities as it is she who grants prosperity and wealth.
The streets were brimming with people, wearing their best clothes and accompanied by their family and friends. Legend says that after defeating Rabana, the King of the demons, Prince Rama returned to the city of Ayodhya. This victory, which lead to the release of sixteen thousand prisoner maidens, stirred up the people to welcome him. They filled the walls and roofs with lamps to guide Rama along his way.
The smell of oil lamps and the tenuous light of candles took us back to this time, with the fire guiding you through the streets.
Exams with good marks
The children of the suburbs of Sigra have been back to class for over a month. To achieve good results, all studying needs to be checked. Soma, the project coordinator, gives monthly tests to grade the knowledge of the children. Results were excellent, with marks that show the progress of children who just a short time ago, didn’t know what an exercise book was. Our new pupils know the alphabet in English and Hindi, numbers and calculations up to a level more than satisfactory. With just one and a half hours of preparatory class a day, progress has been tremendously profitable. Soon, in April, many of them will open their books and hum the letters, they will lose themselves in the pages, in their mysteries, in the new challenges that will lead them to new achievements.
In spite of everything, success lies in consistency. In older children, progress has gone through some bad patches, but not because of lack of interest or enthusiasm. Children aged 9 to 12, are forced to shrug their shoulders and turn their back on their dreams. This we see every day as we pass along the beautiful ghats on the Ganges, with their steps full of life and reality in its purest state. They prowl the area carrying enormous wicker trays, on the look out for tourists wishing to buy a flower to throw on the water. This is where they lose their dreams for the future. The sadness in their eyes is evident, but they always have a smile, hiding the frustration of a child forced to be an adult.
Education, in this case of the parents, is the way forward. We try to make them aware of the importance of schooling for their children to break this circle of impossibilities, to open doors, to give them the option. Reaching the goal is difficult, but we shall keep on cultivating the path, planting seeds for change.
Light and half-light
We have had plenty of work during the last few weeks. Luckily good company makes the effort easier. Cristina, Maria’s sister and Nacho, member and friend, are with us. From dawn to the last murmur of life in the streets, they have worked with a devotion only known by those who seek and enjoy their work. Cristina and Nacho are the creators of the new audiovisual production company, La Soga Films. Using their time in India to find out more about the project Maria started a year ago, they spent days recording a documentary which shows the life of one of the families within the Seed for Change programme.
It was more than an honour to accompany them in this task, sharing different moments and experiences. Filming required them to be constantly close to the selected family. This led to finding out subtle nuances outside the walls of this house on the banks of the Ganges. It was almost dark, and we had arranged to visit them for a short interview. After several balancing acts, as access to the home was very complicated, we took off our shoes and entered. Once we were inside, we shuddered in horror.
Unfortunately there is nothing new or out of the ordinary for a woman to be abused by her husband, here in India or in many places in the world. Hearing her weeping and seeing her tears, while she lies out of fear, is terrifying.
The mother of S. has 5 children. The three smallest ones are receiving schooling through the “Semilla” programme. The eldest daughter must be married soon and the dowry paid; and the eldest son, aged 12, is obliged to work to help with the family expenses. Father and mother work in the building trade for ridiculous wages, which the husband ends up spending on drink.
The first reaction of someone witnessing a scene of this sort is anger. But hatred simply encourages this circle of barbarity.
The discrimination of women in India starts in the womb and cradle, from the abortion of females to doing the hardest tasks and then selling them or marrying them off in exchange for money. The difficult financial situation of the poorest families leads to severe cases of drug abuse and alcoholism among males, which at the same time ends up in violence and sexual abuse.
I had my doubts on deciding to write this account. In the end, my powerlessness decided for me. To witness such heart-rending situations makes your heart decide what is correct and moral. It is difficult to solve cases like these in a country where nothing is as it seems. To end silence and untold pain, assistance is needed both for the victims and offenders. Every month, Seed for Change invites family parents to make them aware of the importance of their attitudes and behaviour towards their children, and at the same time insisting on giving up habits which lead to the use of violence.
From the Ganges and its sacred waters, wishes can be asked. During Diwali, it is said that the further the candles go, the greater the happiness for the coming year. You start not believing in miracles in spite of being in an incredibly mystic city. It is not enough to light a candle and let it drift downstream. We must fight for the women and for their children, for their forced resignation and for their dignity.
Fotos and text: Vanessa Escuer
Translation: Bridget Hunter