In India, we are working with the churches as they seek to empower the vulnerable and marginalised
Let My People Go: Justice for Dalit and Adivasi peoples
A new programme – entitled Let My People Go – is focused on winning equal rights and greater inclusion in India’s economy for Dalits and Adivasis, who are respectively India’s so-called untouchable and tribal peoples.
The programme was set up in 2014 by the Church of North India’s Synodical Board of Social Services (SBSS), with support from USPG.
The aim is to encourage and assist disadvantaged communities and congregations – of all faiths – in their ongoing campaign for justice.
The programme includes a focus on women's self-help groups.
In Amritsar Diocese, a women's group who received training from the church have been able to set up income generation projects, which means they no longer need to work as farm labourers on minimal wages for exploitative landlords.
The women also learn about their rights and have been able to lobby local government offices to obtain ration cards.
Biru started a small grocery shop with a loan from one of the the women's group in Amritsar, and she can now afford to send her children to school She told USPG: 'We make decisions as a group. Now we can see how we are helping our families to grow.'
Usha, from the same women's group, said: 'We can now speak up as a group and solve our problems together. We live with dignity and confidence.'
Focus 9/99: Support for the girl child
Discrimination against women and girls happens in all cultures and societies worldwide.
In India, discrimination begins before birth through the female foeticide – with one article in the Lancet journal (reported by the BBC) claiming as many as 500,000 girls are lost each year due to female foeticide. Possible cultural reasons include the notion that a male child could be capable of manual labour or earning a higher income than a woman to support the family, whereas a female child is effectively given away to another family.
As she grows older, girl children generally have less access to education and employment – her needs are overlooked.
Focus 9/99 is a programme of the Church of South India (CSI) to try and ‘assure the future’ of the girl child.
In the 99 administrative districts of southern India – where the Church of South India is based – a congregation has be chosen for a programme of learning and engagement with issues concerning the girl child.
It is hoped the congregations will seek ways to support girl children, as well as campaigning on the behalf of girl children through local and regional government.
Institute of Pastoral Management
The Church of South India is huge – with 15,000 congregations, 3,500 ordained pastors, and more than four million members. It also faces many challenges due to a society that is undergoing many changes – with an increasingly poverty gap and traditional cultural norms being challenged.
Within this context, the Institute of Pastoral Management aims to train pastors in important management, administrative and public relations skills.
Health programme in Sarenga, Durgapur
We are supporting a community health programme through Khristiya Seva Niketan (KSN), a 125-bed hospital run by the Church of North India in Sarenga, Durgapur. The name of the hospital, which was founded in 1914, is Bengali for ‘The house of Christian service’.
Our partnership with KSN includes facilitating a health programme that is helping the hospital and the local church establish closer connections with local communities.
Delhi women's helpline and community justice programme
We are supporting a helpline, skills training and a community justice programme that are providing a vital service for women in the slum communities of Delhi, who are suffering attacks, abuse and discrimination.
The services were set up by the Delhi Brotherhood Society (DBS), with support from USPG.
DBS, whose vision is ‘to empower people to create their own destiny’, has over 200 professional and volunteer staff running more than 20 programmes that support poor and marginalised residents of Delhi’s slum areas. There is a special focus on children, women, teenagers, the elderly, and those with physical or mental disabilities.
According to an official DBS report: ‘Women in India have been objects of repression, uncalled for violence, neglect and discrimination, and the petty tyrannies of the male.' The helpline service is therefore greatly valued by women.
Women in difficult circumstances can contact the helpline 24/7 to access emergency help, advice and counselling. A round-the-clock team can offer immediate support where necessary, including a police resopnse, legal support and shelter.
In the long-term, the helpline operates a system of community-led councils, called Mahela Panchayat, which means ‘women’s council’ in Hindi. There are currently two women’s councils – in the slum areas of New Seemapuri and Mandoli, in north-east Delhi.
The council’s are made up of up to 30 senior women from the local community, led by two DBS staff members, both women. The councils summon couples who are facing difficulties – mostly issues of domestic conflict or violence.
Though not a formal part of the legal system, the councils have the support of the Indian government and provide an opportunity for communities to resolve local disputes without the need for fines, court fees or imprisonment that further impoverish families.
One of the reasons for the councils’ success is that women in the community are witnesses to proceedings and can then monitor and verify whether rulings are being upheld.
The councils are also an example of inter-faith co-operation. While DBS is a Christian organisation, the councils are in the hands of the people – whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian. There is no discrimination according to faith.
Community Approach for Rural Development (CAFORD) programme
The CAFORD programme, in Sarenga, is an initiative of the Church of North India (CNI).
The aim is provide appropriate, holistic and affordable healthcare that maximises community participation.
CAFORD brings together local churches and communities and personnel from the CNI-run hospital in Sarenga to carry out a process called SALT (Stimulate, Affirm, Learn, Transfer).
The SALT process involves visits and discussions in villages which help to identify concerns and implement solutions, largely through mobile outreach clinics.
To date, CAFORD has been able to address concerns such as tackling chronic diseases, improving hygiene and sanitation, providing safe drinking water, reducing communicable diseases, encouraging employment and small-scale industry, and encouraging children to stay in school.
Particular tasks of the mobile clinics include eye-screening, testing for chronic diseases, treating minor ailments, and health education.
Skills Training Programme for Women and Girls
This initiative was introduced by the Most Revd Pushpalalitha, the Bishop of Nandyal in the Church of South India.
The bishop wants to encourage and provide opportunities for under-privileged girls and young women from rural and urban backgrounds.
The training programme, based in Kurnool town, is currently helping 25 young women to learn skills, such as tailoring, IT, English and working as a beautician, so they can engage in income generation.
The women are also taught about the Bible.
Supriya, one of the trainees, told USPG her story:
'My father died during my childhood, leaving just myself, my brother and my mother, who worked as a teacher and went to a lot of trouble to help ensure we received an education. Mother also brought us up in a spiritual way and we accepted Jesus as our saviour.
'My mother wanted me to become a doctor, but I couldn’t because I failed a subject at school. I was very depressed and thought there was no point in living if I couldn’t fulfil my mother’s desire.
'Then, through my church, I heard about the skill training programme for rural girls – and I was very thankful to the Lord.
'In tailoring, I learned cutting and stitching. I am learning to speak and write in English. I have also gained computer knowledge and I am learning about the Bible. I praise God for the change it has made in my life!
'My ambition is still to become a doctor so that I can be a helper to serve poor people, the elderly and orphans.'