Freedom begins with a school

Jun 2014    

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT)

Bihar, the poorest state in India, is home to 15 million Dalits – traditionally known as “untouchables”, and some of the world’s most marginalised and impoverished people. Almost 90 per cent of Bihar’s population live in rural areas with little access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

Half of the children in this region drop out of school by grade five and many end up in bonded labour and human trafficking. For the children of Bihar, life is an unending struggle just to survive.

At the age of 21, God instilled in me a vision and passion for the North Indian state of Bihar, known as the “graveyard of missions”. God opened the door for me to visit Bihar for the first time 16 years ago. On two occasions we provided basic medical care for poor women living in remote villages, many of whom had been abused, exploited and treated as next to nothing.

Through these clinics we were able to show them kindness and hope and communicate to them that they were made in the image of God. A few years later we built several small churches in villages for believers to gather and worship God in freedom.

Our Good Shepherd Schools in Bihar are helping Dalit children discover new hope for their future. These boys and girls are learning, not only how to read and write, but also that they have significance and value. By providing an English-based education with a biblical world view, we are giving entire families and communities the knowledge and tools to break the cycle of poverty, for themselves and for future generations. Freedom for the children of Bihar begins with a school.

More recently, my passion has been to share the story about the Musahars, who are also known as the “rat eaters” because in their poverty they hunt and eat field rats. About two million of them live in Bihar and they are considered probably the lowest sub-caste groups among the Dalits in the social order – certainly one of the most exploited people in the world today! They are extremely poor and their children very often go to bed hungry.

There is no electricity in their villages, the roads are unpaved, there is inadequate clean drinking water and they are completely cut off from the rest of society – an average Indian would not even step into their village. These landless people often depend on the mercy of the upper caste for field work. Their children are trafficked to major cities of India with promises of a better future only to find themselves forced into child labour or prostitution.

In 2012, with the help of Canadian partners, we built a school with four classrooms in a village where 80 per cent of the children are from Musahar background. This is exciting because an education will give them the opportunity to achieve their dreams and move forward in life. We hope it will break the cycle of poverty amongst a people who have been so neglected and show them that God loves them.

We are now seeing small fellowships springing up in different villages. Their love for God is evident in their faces as they worship Him. In the midst of adversity, God is at work among the Musahars!

Why should we be concerned for the Musahars? Because this is the heartbeat of God, to care for the poor, the needy, the rejected, homeless, widows and orphans. When we do this, we reflect His character, and the fragrance of the Gospel is spread throughout the earth.

The Rev George Barathan (centre, in checked shirt) works to raise awareness of the plight of the Musahars, particularly the children.

If you were born a Musahar…
• You have a one in 100 chance of attending school
• You live apart from the rest of your village so that you don’t “pollute” other villagers with your presence
• You earn less than $1 a day
• Over 95 per cent of people in your community are landless labourers
• If you are a girl, you are likely to be trafficked or married off before 15 years old
• 85 per cent of your Musahar family suffer from malnutrition
• Your village has no electricity, proper roads or sanitation
• You daily experience discrimination, ridicule and abuse simply because you were born a “Musahar”

Picture courtesy of the Rev George Barathan

The Rev George Barathan is an ordained Elder of Emmanuel Tamil Annual Conference who has been seconded to serve with Operation Mobilisation (OM) in Canada. He is the British Columbia (B.C.) Representative of Dalit Freedom Network and lives in Richmond, B.C., with his wife Janet. He has been serving with OM since 1972.


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