Janine Schaefer, AUP
After New Year’s Day, we met with the organization/s that each one of us chose to work for. Filip, a student from the Swedish university, and I, both chose to work for the Social Awareness for Liberation Trust (SALT). SALT is a childrens’ home for homeless or “unwanted” children, founded by Reverend Melquie in 1991.
Before even meeting up with Melquie we had our first encounter of intercultural differences in communication. The reverend was on “Indian time” – he made us wait for 2 and a half hours before he picked us up from Auroville. However, his hospitality towards us made it hard to be mad: Melquie had prepared delicious lunch for us before he told us about his story and the history behind SALT.
Melquie grew up in a very poor family, the so called “untouchables” or Dalits. In India, the untouchables represent the lowest class people that nobody respects or even accepts near to them. For instance, if an untouchable person came into one’s house, everything the Dalit touched would have to be cleaned and disinfected after they would leave. Melquie however received help from neighbors and friends, which helped him to eventually become reverend of a protestant church.
Soon, he quit work and decided to never put a foot into a church in India again. Melquie told us that churches don’t allow untouchables and other poor people to enter into a church. Catholics and Protestants are usually higher income people in India that don’t want to “see” low class people inside the church. This hypocritical and disrespectful thinking of church goers led reverend Melquie to dedicate his life to the Dalits. Since 1991 he ensures that abandoned and neglected children in the Villupuram district are provided an education, safe environment and a nurturing home. All of the 24 boys that currently live at SALT come from untouchable families that remarried and didn’t want the children of the previous marriage anymore or that didn’t have the finances to feed them. Melquie looks for children that are on the streets and offers them a home at SALT.
Melquie told us that also rape and gender inequality are common issues in his country. Just recently we heard about the Singaporean girl in New Delhi all over the news, which was just one of many incidences that happen daily in India. The issue of gender inequality in India is due to the fact that boys are usually preferred over girls, as boys carry on the family name and don’t require expensive dowries (money, goods and estate that a woman brings to a marriage). Indians that can afford ultrasounds during pregnancy often even decide to abort female fetuses. Also, India’s most recent national records show increasing reports of crimes against women. These include rape, abduction, dowry death (women murdered or committing suicide when their dowries go unpaid), molestation and trafficking, with cruelty by husbands and relatives accounting for a large proportion of offences. This may also relate to the problem of alcohol addiction among Indian men that we heard about during almost every meeting we had with the local organizations.
Also, in the North of India, honor killings are a common threat to women, as a result of people marrying without their family’s acceptance, and sometimes for marrying outside their caste or religion. In contrast, honor killings are rare to non-existent here, in the South.