Source: JoseKalapura/GlobalSistersReport

One of the most inspirational women alive and you may never have heard of her

Sister Sudha Varghese has dedicated three decades of her life to live among “untouchables” in Bihar, India, and fight for their rights and education.

Sister Sudha spends three decades among lowest caste in Bihar, India

Sister Sudha Varghese is a social worker and Catholic nun in India who has devoted herself to the Musahar, the Dalit of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These are one of the very lowest Scheduled Castes, therefore considered "untouchables" by many, and their basic rights and education are often overlooked. In 2006, the Indian government presented her with Padma Shri ("Lotus Honour"), the fourth highest civilian award in the country.

Socially uplifting some of India’s very poorest, Sister Sudha was awarded government distinctionSource: Facebook/ThisIsZinc

“I have lived a thousand lives and died and a hundred deaths in these 50 years…”

Awarded with Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award in 2006, Sudha Varghese, also known as Sister Sudha, has selflessly spent decades among lowest caste in Bihar, India. However, the 68-year-old Catholic nun has not been struggling to create a better life for herself. She has struggled all these years to give a better life to others.

“I have lived a thousand lives and died and a hundred deaths in these 50 years that I chose to spend in Bihar,”, said Sister Sudha in an interview with Shivani Sinha, for DNA India, in 2015.

Sister Sudha, sometimes fondly called ‘Didi’, meaning ‘Big sister’ , arrived at Patna’s Notre Dame Academy in 1965 with the nuns working for the Roman Catholic School. At the time she was just 16 and she had gone there against her prosperous family’s wishes. A language barrier in the region made things more difficult for her at first as she did not know either Hindi or English, having been born and raised in Kerala.

The 68-year-old nun and social worker said that Bihar has helped to evolve her perspective towards many issues.

“I was unaware about the evils of caste system,and the miserable state of poor in Bihar. In the last five decades that I have spent here, I have grown as a person. I have overcome my fears. There were days and nights when I feared that I could be killed any moment.” 

Upon receiving death threats, Sister Sudha was advised to leave her home in Danapur and was forced to live in a rented flat. “But then the realisation dawned upon me that I can’t fear to lose my life to some goons who don’t own my life. God has given me this life. It was after that I moved back to my home in Danapur,” she recalled.

The plight of the poor people in Bihar had disturbed Sister Sudha greatly. “I compared the state of poor people here an in my hometown in Kerela. Poor people in Kerala at least have a home, but here in Bihar they are forced to beg and thrive on footpaths. Besides, the evils of child marriage and domestic violence is also looming large on society, especially in Bihar,” she lamented.

“The cruelty being faced by Dalits there shocked me to the core. The upper caste people of the village had simply made it impossible for the people from Dalit and Musahar community to survive. I was told that the upper caste people wanted these Dalits and Musahars to leave the village; they did not allow them to avail the basic amenities of life and would beat the lower caste people.”

Source: DNAIndia

The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presents the Padma Shri Award – 2006 to Sister Sudha Varghese, a courageous social activist, in New Delhi on March 20 of that year.
The President of India presenting the Padma Shri Award to Sister Sudha in 2006 The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam presents the Padma Shri Award – 2006 to Sister Sudha Varghese, a courageous social activist, in New Delhi on March 20 of that year. Source: PatnaBeats

By educating a girl… Sister Sudha is aiming at working towards a paradigm shift in society

At the time of the interview in 2015 — from which these are only extracts —Sister Sudha had dedicated 21 years of her life to living among the Musahar community people in their Musaharis. “I have seen their pain, their suffering, their lifestyle, their customs. I notice their life every day. The children hardly go to school, especially the girls; they cook, clean and wash at home. I wanted to work for the cause of girl education,” she explained. 

Sister Sudha started an education programs for the marginalised girls in 2005, and set up a residential school, Prerna. 

She also added vocational skills like sewing and stitching to the education program. “I started with 25 girls, and then the state government officials heard about the program and visited the education centre. They liked how education had brought about a change in the lives of Musahar community girls and supported me in expanding my education centre from one to three. And then it went from three to five then 15 then 27 then 50 and now 80. I have my education centres in Bihta, Danapur, Punpun, Phulwari and Naubatpur” she said. 

After providing basic education in these centres, the girl students are sent to government schools for proper certified education as the education centres run by Sister Sudha are not authorised to issue educational certificates. 

By 2015, some 2,000 girls from these education centres had received matriculation certificates. These girls today know the importance of education and hygiene in life. 

By educating a girl, Sister Sudha is aiming at educating a family and working towards a paradigm shift in society.

Along with the Padmi Shri Awawrd, further accolades such as the Corporate Philips Good Samaritan Award, Bihar Saman Award in 2010, and Bihar Asmita Award have applauded her work in society time and again. 

“It is the smallest change that I have been able to bring about in somebody else’s life that makes a huge difference to my own life,” she concluded.

*Read the original in-depth interview with Shivani Sinha, for DNA India, in full.

Source: DNAIndia

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