On February 14, 2011, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), embarked upon a two-week journey to India to visit with several partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) and with leaders of the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI). This blog post by Rev. Morales is part of the continuing coverage of the journey. In this update Rev. Morales reflects upon his visit with a Dalit family in Gujarat.
My right hip joint screamed, sitting on the hard floor. My pampered and aging body is not used to this. It longs for my comfortable office chair. I fidget, but I dare not get up. This is too important. I am sharing a meal with the wife and sons of a Dalit martyr.
Some 25 years ago, Pocha and three other men were murdered by high-caste neighbors because they stood up for land rights for Dalits, “untouchables.” Worse yet, these people were essentially abandoned by the liberation theology-influenced Catholics who had inspired them to stand up for their rights.
Today, this Dalit ghetto still has no running water. It has been shut off by the ruling caste. A half-mile or so from the ghetto are the village wells. There are four of them. You may only take water from the well appropriate to your caste. The Dalit well, of course, is the furthest away. And it regularly has dead animals thrown into it so that Dalits have to beg for water from the other wells — wells from which they dare not draw water themselves.
Pocha’s widow, Dani, who has been very quiet, tears up when asked how she found the strength to continue after her young husband’s murder. She raised five children. Today we sit in a small concrete house. It is a recent upgrade from the hut in which they lived before. Ramesh and Himat, the sons, have taken up their father’s work. They are leaders. And it could be dangerous.
As the meal is served, I am asked to offer a blessing. These people are nominally Christian. (Someday I will get used to these sudden requests that I lead a prayer.) I quickly scramble through Christian images in my mind. My prayer speaks about Jesus teaching that when a few gather in his memory, his spirit is with them. I speak of bringing the memory and spirit of Pocha into our midst. Then I speak of Jesus teaching that an act of service to the lowest member of society is the same as rendering that service to him.
I realize, as I sit on the floor sharing a simple (but wonderfully spicy and delicious!) meal, that I am there as the representative of our religion and of the wonderful work the Holdeen India Program has done here in the past decades. Having me as a guest is not a big deal; having the president of the UUA there is a big deal.
And I realize, too, that these people have been abandoned before by a foreign religious body that turned and ran when the going got tough. May that never be said of us.
Rev. Morales is on a two-week journey across India to meet with human rights partners.