Holy Mass was in progress in a city parish in Bhopal. Ashish and his youth group who had come from Rourkela, Odisha, to visit the city also were present in the church participating in the Mass. While attending the Holy Mass he could hear the cry of a young girl from the back benches of the church. Gradually the cry became louder. People in the church were looking back and saw the girl sitting and crying. Yet, hardly anyone thought of going to the girl and to enquire the reason for her crying. The young Ashish could not bear it any more. He mustered courage and went to the girl and tried to calm her. Meanwhile the Mass was over and people who were in the church went out passing the girl and Ashish. None of them from the large crowd ever stood there and tried to find out what was going on. Indifference of religious people who ‘carry Christ after receiving communion’!
While interacting with the girl, Ashish came to know that the girl had run away from Jabalpur. She had studied up to the 9th class. She was from a poor Gond tribal family which converted to Christianity by some protestant sects. Due to their conversion to Christianity the neighbours were harassing the family. She decided to leave her home with the hope of getting some job and earn money. As soon as she arrived in Bhopal railway station she asked an auto driver to take her to any church in the city. Thus she landed in the church.
Ashish and his friends were to return to Odisha by the night train. However he could not to leave the girl in that situation. He saw a nun who was doing the sacristy work and asked her if she could take the girl to her convent. She made several excuses and rules of the convent which prevented her from taking a stranger to the convent. He requested the priest to help the girl but he too was very scared of bad name and trouble he could get into. What was the impact of observing the “Year of Mercy” with retreats and seminars?
Then Ashish remembered a famous social worker in the city who had a lot of influence in the police and other government officials. He phoned up to him and he asked him to come with the girl to his office. When he arrived in his office with the girl, the social worker explained the formalities of handling such cases and the risks involved in it. However he contacted some NGOs in the city who keep orphan girls and women in distress. A retired police officer who was in charge of such an NGO came and started asking all sorts of questions to Ashish and to the girl. When he came to know that both Ashish and the girl were Christians he changed his conversation which made Ashish very uncomfortable because he started speaking against tribals and Christians. Ashish understood that the retired police officer was a person associated with Hindutva organisation. When he confronted the officer he agreed to take the girl provided she would write an agreement to do any work voluntarily. Though the girl was helpless she was not willing to give any such written agreement. Ashish was frustrated seeing the hypocrisy and insensitivity of the social workers!
Ashish was advised by the director of the NGO to take the girl to a women’s police station. He did not have the sensitivity to realize that the young man was a stranger to the city and had to board the train within an hour. The social worker with all his influence could have taken the responsibility of taking the girl to any institution or women police station. He made excuses to avoid that. By this time it was already 9.00pm. As a last attempt, Ashish took an auto and after much search reached the women’s police station in the city. The women police refused to accept the girl giving several excuses. Time was running out and all options before Ashish also exhausted. It was time for him to board the train with his friends. Meanwhile seeing all the efforts Ashish was taking to help her, the girl also was motivated. She said to Ashish that she was willing to go back home. Promptly Ashish cancelled his trip to Odisha and purchased tickets for both of them to Jabalpur. He informed his friends and asked them to proceed to Odisha. Ashish did not want leave the girl in the streets of a strange city. Giving his time and spending his money he took the risk of accompanying the girl back to her family.
Narrating the whole story Ashish summarized his feelings in these words: “Father, I saw the real face of the church going Christians, hypocrisy of the social workers who speak eloquently for the poor and the marginalized, the fear of the consecrated women and men to save an orphan girl who is in need of protection. I also experienced how a good number of police personnel and government officials nurture prejudice and negative attitude towards tribals and Christians”.
Back in Odisha, young Ashish is doing a lot of service for mobilizing youth and using their resources for the welfare of the society especially for the youth. He is engaged in supporting and motivating young students who are in crisis.
I wished if every human being expresses a small percentage of sensitivity and choose to help someone in need it will not take much time to transform the world! People need to liberate themselves from the routine thinking and unproductive religiosity of rituals. Ashish found God in a helpless girl and accompanied that God. When will the religious people and social workers see, recognize and worship God in flesh and blood?(Published on 19th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 25)