Meghalaya, one of the states on the northeastern fringe of India, is known for its awe-inspiring panorama of mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, and dense jungles, which have fascinated visitors for centuries. It is also blessed with the heaviest monsoonal rains in India, which means the soil is fertile and perfect for cultivation. The landscape everywhere is extremely beautiful, with mountains covered entirely with lush, velvety green grass, an elevating sight.
The fauna in Meghalaya consist of several species of colorful birds, adding to the beauty of the flora. In Shillong, its capital, the mountains are collectively known as Devalayam (meaning “the abode of angels”). This beauty evokes an interest in exploring the country further, visiting its villages, and meeting its people. Those who venture deeper into the heart of the forest are welcomed by a deep silence that is so eerie it creates a sense of foreboding—intensified by the heart-rending scenes that are seen in many villages.
The plight of humans living in extraordinarily beautiful places can be in sharp contrast to the harmonious landscapes of their native land
Lured by money and in the name of “conversion,” many people of this area have been uprooted from their traditions and heritage, and then left to fend for themselves. The exposure to liquor, among other negative influences, has played havoc in their lives. Statistics show 71 percent of the population are converted Christians, followed by Hindus at 13 percent, and Muslims at four percent. Though they took on the labels of these religions, they could not leave their past entirely behind; they have continued their traditional tribal ways, filled with age-old local beliefs and rituals. Deep inside the forest one can see scores of huts in rows. Each hut is occupied by 15–20 members. Ten is the minimum number as far as occupation is concerned. Though women are the breadwinners in most households, it is the men who practice polygamy. It is not uncommon for daughters to be raped by their own fathers. Girls and women have naturally developed a morbid fear of males, and they are afraid to leave their huts. This fear comes across clearly on their faces while they are talking to strangers. The signs of starvation and disease are easily visible on their faces and bodies. Lack of education leads to harmful superstitions, and this worsens their plight.
Exploiting the vulnerability of girls and boys on the threshold of adolescence, job recruitment agents dupe them by promising jobs, and transport them to metros. There, the girls are forced into prostitution, and the boys are recruited to be trained as terrorists. The “hidden hands” of the mafia are very powerful in this area, and when the innocent villagers of Meghalaya recounted such heartbreaking stories, we could only cry with them, feeling powerless to do anything more.
Then, against such a bleak backdrop, a bright star appeared: Srikanth Dwivedi, an angel in human form, whose only motto was to uphold sanatana dharma. Encountering the conditions of these villages in Meghalaya, Srikanth’s heart melted. He yearned to save at least a few of these young villagers. He happened to meet a sympathetic South Indian humanitarian, grabbed the opportunity, and promptly made arrangements to bring around 20 children (all girls) to Amrita Higher Secondary School, Paripally, with Amma’s permission. Her compassion toward those children was so much that she agreed to enroll them in the school and let them stay at the Hostel designated by law, without any grant from either state or central Governments. Added to this financial burden were the legal entanglements the school had to face as these children were from another state; this is one reason only 20 children were allowed. Finally after all the legal procedures were duely completed, they were enrolled in the school. They arrived at Parippally in 2011. The children came with few of their parents under the auspices of the agency from Meghalaya authorised by the Central Government. Most of them are from Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, and they speak the Khasi language.
Now we can see the influence of a wholesome environment flower in their eagerness to step forward and participate in a wide variety of positive programs and activities. As a part of the “Serve an Hour” program on April 5, 2014, the children took active part in an awareness campaign on the environment, that included ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels, paper, etc. They performed four plays, emphasizing the virtues of patience, helping fellow human beings, forgiveness, hard work, etc. They took part in two interactive games that were intended to evoke good qualities in students. School students exhibited their artistic talents, such as singing and dancing, making the occasion a very joyous one and an example of the progress possible when open hearts respond generously to acute need.
(to be continued)