Vinay Samuel continues his diary from India
Last week was very difficult for us at Divya Shanthi and also for the City in our battle with the Corona virus. Infections continued to be high. Covid-assigned beds in hospitals were full and spirits plunged as the main newspaper announced in very bold letters that most people in the city will not have access to a vaccine for two years!
We had to contact trace over 300 families connected with our work and ensure that they all got tested last week. A male teacher who worked in our school for 28 years travelled over the weekend with his wife and daughter to see his mother in a town over 500 miles from Bangalore. He travelled by bus. Studies have confirmed that 80% of those who travel by bus in our state for journeys 6 hours or longer test positive. These journeys are lethal. The teacher returned with fever but came to work as the staff was meeting with the parents. Our system of checking the temperature of each staff member every day also failed.
On Thursday last week he had serious breathing problems and lost his sense of taste. He was rushed to a nearby private hospital that kept him in the outpatients till he agreed to pay an extortionate amount of over £2000 per day for treatment. Fortunately a senior medical officer in the municipal corporation knows us well and took responsibility to handle the situation. He got our teacher,his wife and daughter who also tested positive beds in a Covid ward of the same hospital with the costs paid by the Government.
We feared the worst for Prabhu as he is 52 years old and overweight and his condition was deteriorating. He turned the corner on Sunday and the doctors are hopeful he will make a full recovery. His contact list with us was 300 people and we had to ensure they were not infected. So far all have returned negative results.
Most Dangerous Country for Women.
For a few years now India has gained the sad reputation being the most dangerous country in the world for women. The last week has seen marches and candle light vigils all over the country protesting about a horrendous rape committed on a young Dalit girl in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The shocking behaviour of the police and the District Magistrate who cremated the body at 2:00am in an open field and prevented the family from attending shows that we have not made much progress in our treatment and protection of women. Three northern states account for the vast majority of reported rapes in India.
South India is a different country when it comes to violence against women. 40 years ago Divya Shanthi was one of the few Community organizations with a programme protecting women from violence. We worked closely with the police and the women’s welfare departments of the State. At one point we had 10 social workers in the programme. We have now come down to one. We have seen a remarkable reduction in violence against women among the several thousand low income families in the communities where we work.
We expected a marked increase in violence during these difficult days when men have lost jobs and cannot go out. Our pastoral team that is in weekly contact with 1250 Christian families came across only one case of violence in the past three months. We have seen no noticeable rise in violence against women in the 6 communities where we work. However, there are signs that this is changing and we recognize the need to increase our work in this area.
Marriages have been on hold for the past six months. The parents of our young accountant have informed me that they have arranged her marriage. They are Dalits and she will marry her cousin following an age-old custom. She studied in our school and was supported by us in her college studies that she passed in first class. She also worships Christ. Her personal faith is in Christ but her public religious identity is Hindu.
Several of our people including our accountant’s parents live in this liminal, boundary world. The wedding will be in our main temple in a few weeks. The parents would like me to attend and pray. The priest of the temple is also quite happy for me to take part and invoke Christ’s blessing on the couple.
I am confined to my home so will not be able to go. But the couple will come to my home after the wedding for a Christian blessing following all the safety precautions! The plural religious context of India produces interesting expressions of religious practice. The challenge to the Christian pastor is to respond Christianly and creatively.
Church of England Newspaper October 9 2020