Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas for Churki

During my visit to Kushgram (read: Lock and Key), Mariam took to me the family of Churki. When I reached the house I saw a small tiny house with two rooms. The house had been built by the catholic mission in the area. An old lady who could not stand up was sitting at one of the doors. Mariam called for a little girl of about 10 years, and told her to call her mother. And soon I was joined by the three females: Churki (about 30 years old), her daughter (10 yrs) and Churki’s mother (55 – 60 yrs). Churki’s family had become Christians, and Churki got the name of Nirola at her baptism. But, as it happened in the village, many had left Christian faith, and few had joined the protestant churches, as they felt that the catholic mission was not caring for them. Churki’s family had been given a house by the catholic mission with little two rooms, but certainly had no livelihood options. And so they lived and live in utter poverty with no food on most of the days, or survive on a single meal. This had lead to the aging of Churki’s mother who is now finding it difficult to walk even few meters. Churki works as a daily laborer whenever there is work in the area. She cannot leave her home to work elsewhere where she can have regular work. Churki’s daughter was studying in the Mustafanagar catholic mission’s boarding school. But because they could not pay a monthly fee of 300 rupees (about 6 dollars a month), she had been thrown out…. Or, dropped under pressure!??? The little girl goes now to the local government school irregularly, as she is not guided or cared for. The family was crying if I can do something for them. I saw that the pressure of the old lady is lying heavily on the family that neither Churky nor her daughter can think of a better future.

I spoke to the family in detail. The needs are clear : the old lady needs a short time care for her to recuperate, and place her in a old persons’ care center, Churki needs continuous job so that she can pay for her daughter’s studies, pay part of her income for the mother’s care and keep a small amount for her own and her daughter’s future needs. I could find a job for her as I called up a friend in Kolkata. But, the old lady needs immediately some short time care so that she can be appropriately sent to another place to care for herself, and spend rest of her life in peace and happiness.

I spoke to the parish priest of Mustafanagar. He knew about the issues, but did not seem to sympathize with the family much. I called up Sr. Magda, a missionaries of charity nun, who is the superior of the tuberculosis care center at Mirwal, near Raiganj. She had problems, as the government has put lots of pressure on the missionaries relating to running of care centers, asking them to report with lots of information on daily basis, telling them clearly that they cannot keep anyone other than tuberculosis patients, etc. She is a good woman, god-fearing and sincere. I also understand that she is not in a position to help in this situation. So, I walked to the brothers of Missionaries of Charity at Mustafanagar. The superior there was not very warm to listen to the story, as he listened partly and he said that he is too busy and can’t do much about this. As I taste a piece of cake, celebrating Christmas, at the convent of the Sisters of Divine Savior in Mustafanagar, my heart is broken. This Christmas is not going to mean anything good for Churki’s family. One issue: poverty, killing three birds in this little obscure village. The family is crying out, “Help!!!”

Lock and Key

I visited Kushgram Village in Baruna panchayat (local government area with cluster of villages) under Kaliyaganj block in Uttar Dinajpur district on 21 Dec, after 18 years of my last visit. The place has changed a lot. Entire stretch from Hat Kaliyaganj village had been upgraded from mud road to metal road under the PMGSY scheme of the government, and indeed about 2 kilometers of road in and just ahead of Kushgram had been already so badly damaged that it was practically non-motorable. Lots of houses had come up along the nearly 10 kilometer long road that there was hardly any empty space but for a few paddy fields.

Not many people, all of them tribals from the village remembered me. I could not recall anyone’s name, except I remembered a family where there was a blind girl of about 5 years old who would get excited just at hearing my voice. I used to walk the muddy streets during my three or four visits to that village at that time. So, I told the people about the girl. One of the elders in the village said that she died about 8 – 9 years ago due to malnutrition and lack of care. Her father also died about 5 years ago. The gentleman reached me to their home. I sat on a bench outside. One of her sisters, Mariam greeted me. She could recognize me although she was too young at that time. She spoke about the family issues, about her father Mr. Jiten’s death, and then took me, just by impulse and by hoping that I would help, to another family of “Churki” (I shall speak about Churki and her family in my next blog.)

 As we were about to just walk across the street to go to Churki’s family, Mariam said, “Let me lock the door and come!” I got a shock! 18 – 20 years ago no family in this area would lock their homes. There was huge trust among the families. No one would steal another’s. If someone required something from another’s family, they would ask for it, or if the other is not present would take it and inform the family, or return it later. But, lock? Never. I watched other doors too. All of them had padlocks. Has with civilization we have become more alert? Or, have we become more alert because there are more thieves around? Has the sense of insecurity increased along with any sign of prosperity that is visible? Who has taken away these people’s innocence and honesty? Who is the threat to their property and little wealth they have? Questions continue to bother me, as I left Kushgram.

Kushgram, the name means a village of happiness, has turned out to be not so Happy any more!