What Lies Ahead

Posted Dec 02, 2010 by 3 Comments

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to spend the night in a small Indian village outside of Lucknow.  I’ve written a little bit about the experience already, but it wasn’t just a fun adventure.  I learned a lot about what life is really like for the people of Sadullakheda and about what God is doing there now that Truthseekers is involved…

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When the footwashing team was gone and Deshpande and I were alone in the village, we sat down for chai with several of its residents.  We talked a bit about their families, asked about the village and explained just why a random white guy wanted to spend the night.

The village of Sadullakheda. Home to about 75 families.

After chai, a couple of the young men in the village were assigned to us as tour guides of sorts.  They took us across the village, guided us through a few surrounding fields and essentially just gave us the lay of the land.

While we were walking I had the chance to meet several villagers, ask lots of questions and get a better understanding of what village life is like.  Deshpande, who grew up in a similar village in central India, helped a lot as I sought to understand it all…

Subsistence

The whole family helps out at harvest time.

The village of Sadullakheda is a pretty standard picture of what rural India is like.  Although their brick and plaster homes are a step up from the mud huts found in the most impoverished Indian villages, the residents of Sadullakheda are still very poor.

A few of the 250 villagers work in the city during the day, but most get by solely as subsistence farmers (growing only enough food to eat, not to sell).  They spend their days planting and harvesting rice, cultivating vegetables, picking fruit and caring for their flocks of goats and buffalos (cows, considered holy and never eaten, simply wander around on their own).

The people of Sadullakheda can usually get by with what they produce, but harvesting rice is a difficult and time consuming process.  Poor crop yields or a sickness in the family can often create a lot of stress with their already backbreaking work.

While we toured the village, I got to see villagers hard at work in just about every stage of the rice harvesting process.  Drying, carrying, threshing, winnowing, storing…  Let me tell you, it looked tough.

Nevertheless, the people of Sadullakheda continue to get by.  Apart from a few technological advances like cell phones and occasional electricity, life in the village goes on the way it has for thousands of years.

My host family for the night, winnowing rice (separating the grain from the chaff) with an electric fan.

Unfortunately, rice harvesting and shepherding are not the only things that have continued in the village for millennia…

The caste system has too.

Puja

As we walked around, Deshpande explained that half of the village consists of low caste people in the Shepherd Community (an Other Backward Caste or OBC).  The other half of the village is made up of Dalits (Untouchables).

Any time a major life event happens such as a birth, a death or a wedding, travelling Brahmins come by to perform a religious ritual called puja.

These upper caste priests come into the village (careful to avoid contact with the Dalits, of course) and perform the ceremony whether they were invited or not.  They light some incense, say a few prayers, then expect to get paid for their services.

Everybody pays.  It’s just a part of life there.  As a result, these Brahmin priests live lavishly while the people of Sadullakheda struggle to scrape by.

A statue of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god.

No Choice

Now, I’m an American.  My culture has bred in me a finely tuned sense of justice.  I’ve been taught since childhood that people should get what they deserve… that nobody should have a free ride.

Hearing about these greedy priests taking money from the hands of the poor got me all worked up.

“Can’t the villagers do something about this?  Don’t they have a choice in the matter?” I wondered.

The answer, as frustrating as it is, makes perfect sense from the framework of Hinduism:  if these villagers want to be holy – if they want to reincarnate into a higher caste in their next life – then no.  They have no choice.

They must continue to dig deep into their pockets to pay for priestly services.  They must do humiliating and disgusting rituals like drinking cow urine or smearing cow dung on their bodies.  They must recognize that their low position is due to misdeeds in a previous life and must do whatever it takes to rise up in the next.

They have no choice.

Or at least they didn’t… until last week.

Discussing the message of Truthseekers by the light of a small lamp.

A Monumental Event

Last week, Truthseekers International came to Sadullakheda with an earth-shattering message for its people: you have value.

As I wrote in my latest photo gallery, the message of the caste-less kingdom of God hit home.  Never before had the people of that village been given such incredible dignity.  Never before had they been told that there were alternatives to slavery and subjugation.

Americans, influential caste leaders, Brahmin-born Christians… washing the feet of those on the bottom of society’s ladder.  It was a monumental event for Sadullakheda.

No Longer Slaves

That night, as Deshpande and I finished eating dinner, the five grown sons of our hostess, Parmeshvary Devi, pulled up chairs into the small room to talk some more. They had many questions and were anxious to hear more about the kingdom of God.

Who knows what lies ahead for Sadullakheda?

By the light of a small kerosene lamp, we talked for hours.  We discussed the teachings of past Indian social reformers like Mahatma Phule and Bhimrao Ambedkar.  We shared stories from the Bible.

Deshpande passionately made the case that these men no longer needed to be slaves.

Finally, when nobody could stifle their yawns anymore, we all went to bed.  In the morning, Deshpande and I left Sadullakheda to catch a train.

A Long Journey Ahead

On the six hour train ride back to Delhi, I had plenty of time to think about everything I had experienced in the village.  I was once again blown away by the powerful work of Truthseekers and humbled to have been even a small part of it myself.

There is still a long journey ahead for the people of Sadullakheda.  It will take a lot more than a single footwashing event to break their bondage completely.

But I have hope for this little village because of the words Sunil Sardar spoke to me right after the event.

“Don’t worry, Barry… We’ll be back.”

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Next Steps
    • The book Untouchables by Narendra Jadhav is a fascinating look at the story of one Untouchable couple that rose out of the caste system. It’s definitely worth a read.
    • Read more about the history of Truthseekers on their website, truthseekersna.org.
    • Consider contributing financially to the work of Truthseekers. Can you think of an investment more powerful than that? Click here for more information.
    • Pray for the people of Sadullakheda. They have a long journey ahead. Pray that they would develop strength and hope as they discover their new identities as children of God!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Kevin said... 

    Reply

    December 2nd, 2010 at 11:12 am  

    Thanks again Barry for telling the world these amazing truths of what is taking place in the world, outside of our bubble here in the USA.
    I thank God for humble, yet strong, servants and messengers such as Sunil Sadar, Deshpande,
    the Truthseekers, and World Next Door. The Light continues to root out darkness because of your efforts through the love of Christ.

  2. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    December 2nd, 2010 at 12:31 pm  

    As always, I am just blown away by what you share, Barry. I found myself sitting here at my desk, reading your article, and wanting to yell – at those creepy, life-sucking priests who think they are somehow adding value to the lives of the villagers. How dare they. I’m bred very American as you are. The task of Truthseekers seems daunting. Thank God for Sunil and his partners as they shed light and bring hope. I almost typed “Holy Cow” but then realized how awkward that feels after reading how cows live a better life than the villagers it seems. That is just wrong. May God continue to protect them until His word is shared. Thanks so much for sharing Barry.

  3. Kent Burns said... 

    Reply

    December 3rd, 2010 at 8:38 am  

    Barry – great stuff. Please keep writing.

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