Ecology and culture sessions are part of school curriculums throughout India and around world, but for these girls from Meghalaya, they were a first and they were clearly thrilled by the unique opportunities that has come with their life at Parippally. To get a hint on how significant these activities are to these young people, here are the short profiles of eight of the girls, showing the backgrounds and trauma they are overcoming:
Toffe’s mother died within hours of delivering her. It was said that she blessed the baby and implored the nurse to take care of her. She doesn’t remember having seen her father. She had an elder sister who was brought up in their father’s family, but they were not interested in taking on the added care of Toffee. So finally their paternal grandmother agreed to bring her up. She only had the chance of meeting her elder sister on the day of her departure to Kerala! Although she had a maternal uncle and other relatives, she never knew the taste of love; on the contrary, she used to be beaten by her uncle. She never got to wear good dresses and was hungry all the time. She says that not all girls are safe in Meghalaya, as there were many cases of girls subjected to incest by their fathers, when their mothers were away at work. Many girls grow up feeling that the menfolk are cruel by nature, and that they don’t even mind taking a life.
Mismoda had eight siblings when her father died. Her mother married again soon after. With the addition of her half-brothers and half-sisters, the hut was too small to accommodate all of them. Mismoda and her siblings were shifted to their grandmother’s house. At 80, this woman still had to work to earn her living. The people are so callous there, according to Mismoda, that they did not inform her of the death of her mother, until about one and a half years later. She is in seventh grade now.
Ameesha lost her father quite recently. She was greatly perturbed by the news. One could always see her brooding. One day she was heard begging her mother over the phone, “Ma, please do not remarry. If you do, I will never return to Meghalaya”.
Jeje’s resolve is altruistic: “After securing a good job I will support my mother and siblings (all five of them) and I will remain single”. The bitter lessons of life might have influenced her. She is now in ninth standard.
Sameera’s family is small in comparison; only three siblings. Tragedy stuck her family in the form of her father running away with the money kept for renovating their house. Instead he chose to give that money to his new wife who was his third victim! The woes of that family were not over at the time of writing this. Sameera’s elder sister is destitute now, as her husband deserted her after the delivery of their first child. Sameera’s mother takes care of the family.
Anjaleena was born in a village that is known in Meghalaya for its excessive dependence on superstition and black magic. For instance, stories of the existence of blood-sucking vampire-like people in the village are widespread. She lost four of her siblings. Two of them died in accidents. Death caused by the lack of quality medical care is common there; and the people have been taught to rely on prayer as means to recover from illness and injury.
Isha and her family are immigrants from Nepal settled in Meghalaya. She had three siblings. Like many families, hers is also a victim of her father’s addictions, primarily to alcohol. When he leaves home with the stated intention of buying milk, he often returns intoxicated and beats his wife and children. So Isha’s only prayer to God is that her father should give up liquor. Tears well up in those tiny eyes whenever she recollects the conditions back home.
Engjimute is another daughter of sorrow. The phone conversations between her and her mother would always end up with her crying. She has not heard anything about her father and sister ever since she came to Kerala, and she longs to hear their voices. Her mother resorts to silence whenever Engjimute enquires about them. Once her friends took the call and asked her mother about Engjimute’s father and elder sister. Even then she evaded the issue. Engjimute is constantly brooding over the fate of her father and sister.
Despite their traumatic background, these girls are very happily settled in Parippally, as they have both a loving mother who loves them more than their biological mothers and a host of the elder sisters (who they call ‘chechi’), the brahmacharinis of the ashram, who lovingly look after them. Thanks to their new found environs, their past trauma have become fatigue recollections from a different life they no longer feel affected by. Although Kerala’s cuisine is new to them, within a short period, they started relishing it and now prefer rice and Kerala curry to their cuisine. They are doubly happy when they get to visit Amritapuri, which has become their new home.
In Engjimute’s own words, “Every day is a festival day in Amritapuri. We get lots of care and attention from the residents of the ashram. We have not seen so many happy faces together in one place. Pretty much every day we get to enjoy different varieties of cakes, sweets and confectionery. We have delicious masala dosas. But sweeter than all the delicacies combined, is Amma’s love. Her Darshan is the golden moment that will always be etched in our memories.”
Apart from the regular supply of new dresses from the Ashram, residents of the ashram also present them with brand new dresses and girl’s accessories such as bangles, necklaces, etc. At school, all children receive their education in English. Along with the superior quality of education, they also receive training in crafts and fine arts from competent instructors. They have already won many awards in these fields, including traditional temple arts. They received police training (under the youth wing), too. Not only are they trained to face a male-dominated world, national pride has been instiled in them they are committed to protecting the rights of girls everywhere from abuse. From being students of Amma’s school, they have found a new life full of opportunities, the good fortune to live close to and meet Amma frequently and a value-based education that aims at all-around development of the personality.