Stolen Dreams, Stolen Hopes

By Sally Bruce

Posted in Culture

Over 250 million people in India fall below the caste system and have been considered ‘untouchable’ for more than 2,000 years. These people took the name ‘Dalit’ for themselves, which means ‘crushed, oppressed or broken,’ symbolising their reality.

Technically caste-ism was addressed over half a century ago, however little has changed in their daily lives. They continue to experience widespread discrimination, exploitation, oppression and segregation. Many are trapped in various forms of bonded labour and slavery. Women are generally considered of less value than men.

A particularly heinous abuse that many Dalit women endure is known as the Jogini system. Little girls from as young as 5 or 6 are dedicated to the temple goddess in a form of marriage, and become the property of the village. Dedicated without their consent, or understanding, these girls are trapped in ritualised sexual abuse.

The practice was outlawed in 1988, however it continues to this day, causing physical, mental, social, economic and spiritual devastation to thousands of women and girls.

Mallamma's story

In May 2019, Mallamma sat in the dust, waiting to die. A woman approached her, and asked what was wrong. Mallamma replied that she was pregnant, had attended the local government clinic, but was turned away as she was not expected to live. The lady brought her to one of our Good Shepherd Clinics, where they discovered she had a haemoglobin count of just 5. They quickly arranged a blood transfusion, and soon after Mallamma gave birth to a healthy baby boy.Mallamma and her baby

As the team cared for her, they learned her story of neglect and abuse. Mallamma was dedicated to the temple goddess at the age of 10. She lost her first baby when she was just 12, and delivered a still-born baby at the age of 15. The staff guessed that she was about 17 when they met her. As they spent time with her, they gently asked what her dreams and goals were. Sadly, Mallamma replied that she didn’t understand the question, but if there was something she longed for, it was for a good meal.

Mallamma has now returned to her village with her baby, both are in better health than when she met our team. Ongoing care and training will be provided for her in local language in her own village, and our hope is that she will re-discover her dreams as she encounters a God who loves her through our team and programmes.

What we do

DFN partner with Good Shepherd Ministries, a nationally led and run organisation, working to eradicate this heinous system. Our team explain to Joginis that the practice is illegal and empower them to leave the system. They pray with these precious women and girls, care for them, and explain that they are created in God’s image. They provide health care and counselling, skills training and advocacy. Former Joginis join our team and return to the very villages where they suffered unimaginable abuse becoming Jogini Village Leaders, and working to end this abuse.   

In villages where we have a Jogini Village Leader, we are seeing a significant decline in the incidence of dedications, and many Joginis empowered to leave the practice. Our goal is to see the practice eradicated entirely.

International Women’s Day (8 March) provides a platform to be a voice for women and girls like Mallamma. Just $250 supports a Jogini Village Leader working in a village for an entire year. Currently we have 260 Jogini Village Leaders, however our goal is to raise more increments of $250 so we can expand into more villages.

We are inviting people and groups to help us by running local fund-raisers until 17 March. In 2019, churches ran clothes swaps, mothers’ groups held morning teas and afternoon teas in retirement homes; others sewed, made jewellery and donated the sales. These initiatives helped us expand the ministry into 58 new villages.

One of the villages where we established our team as a direct result of this initiative was Mallammas village. Had it not been for the generosity and creativity of people who joined our IWD2019 initiative, she may well not be alive today.

This year we hope to raise funds to support these same 58 villages for another year. But we want more. We want to continue to expand bringing hope and dignity to precious women and girls like Mallamma. 


For information about participating in our annual International Women’s Day campaign:
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