India's Young Dalits Finding Freedom Through LearningThe "untouchables" of India are learning that they are created in the image of God, and that they have dignity and worth.
Ranjeet led the way along the dirt path past tethered cows through the village huts in rural Uttar Pradesh, while Carol and I followed.
|B.C. physician Dauna Cutforth speaks with Dalit children in rural India.|
"Namaste," we said to a village woman. Her guarded look turned into a smile when she recognized Ranjeet, a former teacher at Barbanki school, which we had just visited.
As we sat on the woven charpais on which the family would sleep tonight under the thatched verandah roof, I watched a young woman making cow-dung patties for cooking-fire fuel.
Seeing the impoverished conditions in the village earlier this year, I was amazed at the progress the children and their teachers had made in the four years since this Dalit Education Centre (DEC) had been founded.
The students arrive in uniforms hand-washed by their mothers in homes without running water. They have to finish their homework before daylight fades, so as not to waste valuable household fuel. They have no help completing assignments, as their parents and older siblings are illiterate.
Earlier this morning, the senior (class five) kids who were about 11 years old, had eagerly tried out their English on Carol and me: "Good morning, madam, how are you? My name is Sanu … " These bright little children were so bilingual, after only four years!
How had Carol and I been drawn into this work? Early in 2005, a small group of believers from the Lower Mainland (British Columbia) who had heard of the plight of the low-caste Dalits of India, and the move of the Holy Spirit among them, had met in Carol and Rob Sinclair's living room.
The organization which resulted, Dalit Freedom Network Canada, works in association with Operation Mobilization India and the All India Christian Council to respond to the request of the larger Dalit community to provide quality English and local language education to their children.
The Christian worldview that all human beings—male or female, low or highborn—are created in the image of God, and have dignity and worth, is particularly valued by Dalits. They have been called "untouchables," and treated as exactly that, by multiple generations of Indians of other castes.
The DEC's admit children from all castes and religions; but the majority are Dalit—as at Barabanki, where 118 of 173 students are from that community.
Students receive financial assistance through a child sponsorship program which supplies their books, uniforms, a midday meal and teachers' salaries. The teachers are well-qualified Indian professionals who have usually come from far away in another state, and are compelled by missionary vision to serve there under basic living conditions.
It was a privilege to meet these disciples, and it will be a privilege to serve them from Canada. And perhaps someday to return …
To learn more about the Dalits and God's work among them, read Joseph d'Souza's, Dalit Freedom, Now and Forever. Contact: (604) 592-2238, orwww.dalitfreedom.net.
Originally published in B.C. Christian News, May 2006.
Used with permission