Sunday, December 23, 2012

Deeds of God's Wome

 MC= Missionary of Charity order- one of 102 Christian orders of nuns practicing in India, lead by MT, Mother Teresa
SELECTION OF DEEDS OF God’s women WITNESSED in 1997 in south India –in the state capital of Kerala- the most educated state in India. The MC orphanage, though there was a convent full of MC nuns just two doors away who were studying to take various levels of vows to completely devote their life to God or as my experience and as others’ published words confirmed perhaps instead the nuns were more dedicated to the betterment of the Roman Catholic Church. From my three months of daily familiarity and working I can’t recall any nun actually assisting with the milk preparation or children’s needs or with anything except the distribution of the donated drugs. Though often just dispensing cough mixture, the nun not a trained nurse would hand this out to every child whether required or not- though over time the nuns may have become aware of the mixture’s side effects of inducing sleep. For nuns whose mentor MT made no bones about insisting the MCs were ‘not social workers etc’ but were concerned only with spiritual welfare which MT always insisted that conversion to loving JC was the prime purpose of this, her order of nuns. But then as many have asked why were MT and MCs taking on people with physical problems and infants and children without having adequate experience and/or qualifications or education which is necessary when taking on these people. Hence with a home run by a foreign language ‘CEO’ with other nuns centered on prayer, penance, …it became a part of my volunteering to be placed in a position where I was a witness to a great deal of ritual abuse: on inmates defined by MT as ‘the poorest of the poor’-her catchment group. I wanted to help ameliorate the situation but the nuns are very adamant in their belief- ‘you can’t walk into someone’s house and tell them what to do’. This had silenced me lots of times though I seethed underneath when they redirected the puzzles, toys and books I had organized for the orphanage children to their friends, the rubbish bin and into trucks. It was just as impossible to encourage the nuns to give the babies the right amount of milk though I witnessed consistent underfeeding of growing infants as the milk was locked up. When I uncovered baby scales in the cupboard the nuns became very angry. So despite such young babies even in this country able to be weighed in clinics in the community, and a record maintained of their growth and health, the MCs became enraged should they even view the weighing machine out of its hide. Maybe the poor quality of staff dates back to MT’s mandate not to supply her houses from her central funding so the nuns were dependant on what could be fund raised from the local population. Hence I constantly encountered their practice to use unwanted and homeless women in particular as workers with only their board and lodging as recompense. It was particularly sad that pregnant women who were forced to seek refuge and also give up their baby once born, for adoption, who were forced to work in the babies room.  India then was and still is full of poor people who manage without resorting to MC homes. Primarily I learned there were sometimes impossible conditions imposed on those wishing to gain access to MC facilities.  I sometimes was besieged by pavement dwellers begging and though I redirected them to a supposedly free lunch up at the MCs, they never came and I presumed that converting to Christianity for a meal was too much. What I also must say is that the nuns needed workers desperately as they have a serious daily prayer program plus are not permitted to work at all on Thursdays, hence they require cheap labour. One would have to be desperate to work for so much less than the minimum wage. Hence the nuns employed only those people who were so desperately desperate that they allowed themselves to be coerced.  In Trivandrum it was using their untrained residents including mentally affected. One young girl in particular who didn’t understand and could not be convinced not to feed the babies with milk which was almost still boiling. I often had to wrestle bottles off this innocent girl to attempt to cool them somewhat. What nuns would not organise boiled water to make the milk rather than just adding milk to still boiling milk! With staff overworked with mandatory cleaning and hand washing and locked milk- only logs for a stove!
There was so much time pressure that bathing babies in water just off the boil was almost routine- yet discussing with locals putting the water in the sun would be more suitable as they treated their own babies this way. Until I went to the Medical College where the government doctors diagnosed scabies on Anil so severe that they refused to treat his talapes till his scabies were treated even providing free ointment. The nuns didn’t check out the other children instead allowing an illiterate lady to treat him with whatever amounts she felt like using and laughing at him- ‘scabie baby’. It took me years to learn that scabies, very itchy insect infestations, came not just from neglecting hygiene care but inadequate diet. -
My first day ever volunteering was totally shocking. Five little toddlers each standing mournfully alone in a metal cot/cage; one little girl Judy took one look at me and started screaming – luckily for me at least- on a young local student volunteer sat and as I sat next to her she told me that Judy had screamed when she first came- unfortunately this was her last day. I looked more closely at the other four little ones- a boy was desperately scratching his head as he watched another little boy was banging his head against the cot, another girl scratching her stomach and banging, the last simply standing as all the others were in a wet cot stretched out her arms to me, ‘Amma. Amma’ –‘mother, mother’. We volunteers were to feed them- something they should have been able to do for themselves. All I can remember from that day is that in the far corner of this room there were boxes in which I spied lots and lots of toys. My request as to whether I could use some of them with the children, just like my request to take the children out of their cots for a cuddle or a walk, was dismissed immediately. day 2 –these tiny children being taken into a dank, slippery dark cement room with trough toilets and cold water taps which they murmured sadly perhaps frightened quietly;  mostly nits, cold horrible bathrooms, isolating vision I confess that when on my third day of volunteering they were no longer there I felt relief. I was never to hear anything about them again. Months later when I visited Cochin in search of another disappeared child I enquired about these children’s whereabouts. By then I had learned that none of these children were available for foreign adoption unless they were transferred to Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta. The nuns never spoke about these children again. Surely they would have informed me and the local volunteer with satisfaction about their transferal. For I did later learn that there was a scarcity of people wishing to adopt in Kerala though later I learned that in Chennai the queue for a child was hundreds long.  I’d learn too over the passage of time that local Indians in those times preferred to adopt baby boys with wheatish skin colour. Toddlers were not their preference and certainly not girls especially dark skinned ones. This proclivity for light skinned babies made sense especially when one considers what can happen to older ones that can’t fit in with the family… after the Gujarat earthquake within days the United Nations who had taken over the relief management put a stop to the quick adoptions of local children who lost their family in the quake. They’d discovered that a number of people had taken up these kids not entirely for their own benefit but to be able to train them up as low or no cost servants. I met my first ‘adopted and returned’ child in Trivandrum. A was adopted by a Tamil couple living in Singapore and she could speak English quite well and had even been to Australia. She had been adopted at age 2ish and only problem was that when her adoptive father died when she was twelve her adoptive mother sent her back to the Kerala MC convent. Why? I wondered whether the clue lay in her adamant wish to never marry- even to the extent she wanted to become a nun. Now at around age 16 her most prized possession was a snippet of MT’s sari.
Gradually as I learned more about the culture I could understand with the Indian inheritance laws the adopting parents would have to create a ‘new’ birth certificate making the child officially their own family.        
Though it sounds outrageous it could have well been that I was witness to their staff feeding up unwanted babies and transporting them under cover to become body parts in Enaculum. I will describe my experience. In South India [then nationwide], dark baby girls are definitely undesired to be adopted by most childless families. Though it’s been illegal for more than 50 years, Indians who wish their daughter to marry must provide a dowry- surprising when there are now according to the census at least 40million extra males in India. In addition people want ‘fair skinned’ babies. So when I watched and could hear the lighter skinned babies especially the desired baby boys [potential dowry drawers] yet here they were underfed and quite thin, often distressed. Yet one big very dark baby girl of more than 12 months, was the one the workers spent much time shoveling in food to make her quite fat. The superior assured me that Aulya was much sought after in Enaculum. If this was so why hadn’t they taken her home already- I would not have been at all suspicious, except  that accepting the correctable treatable problems of inmates. as God’s will for their suffering  was very hard to take, and I this was because the nuns were being too lazy or had ulterior motives. Could be that a child crippled/ unable to walk due to not correcting talepes vagus could be used  for hard labour – perhaps relocated when older to a place like the Chennai Cheshire homes where I witnessed camera parts were in production.
I witnessed them allowing babies to be frantic with hunger because the nuns refuse to use modern stoves to boil water to purify for making into milk. The workers have to use small machetes to cut up large logs of wood into usable pieces – often they start fires in the middle to cook on and as a bonus burn it down into more usable pieces. This procedure occurs downstairs in the garden area and the workers have to struggle up a flight of stairs to deposit the huge metal pot on the floor where they can add the powder into the bottles. Here most of the bottles are labeled which is good as there is no sterilizing or even hot water bottle cleaning facility.
Because the nuns don’t even read the label on the milk tins, and because they just empty new powder add milk powder into any empty tin the workers just go on feel for making up the milk
There is no time to measure as none of the nuns in Trivandrum ever did any actual work, apart from supervising, in the three months I was there. The workers were unable to read either Hindi or English which were the only languages on the tin. The nuns couldn’t have read the instructions either because they were only feeding much smaller amounts than the recommended. Their instant and only response was that the babies were premature. As the majority of babies came from pregnant mothers who lived and worked in the institution before they gave birth, I’d be surprised if they induced them. Certainly the post natal mothers did not look malnourished- which is the most given reason here for low birth weight

1 comment:

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