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Shanti – ‘Out of bonded labour’

I was a graduate from the first batch of Grihini women in 1987. I am a Tamil expatriate. When I came as a refugee from Sri Lanka I was forced to work as a bonded labourer for the Tan India Logging Company. We were really slaves, living in coopes (grass huts) high up in the mountain forest. We had no health care, no school, no contact with our friends. We received 3rd grade rice once a week and were abused by the logging bosses. It was so ugly.

When the Delhi government exposed the evils of the logging company, we were free to leave. But the local government did not want to help us. No one wanted to know us. Thanks to Fr Arokiam and his friends we were given help. I and a few other young expatriates were chosen to be in the first Grihini class. They supported my education and by 1990 I returned to teach literacy and to serve as the live-in coordinator of the women’s program. Grihini changed my life from being a bonded labourer to that of a teacher.

‘Grihini is my true home’

When someone suggested I go to Grihini, there was considerable fear from my Hindu family that the Grihini staff may try to convert me to Christianity. It soon became apparent that the aim of Grihini was self-awareness not conformity to a religion.

I fell in love with Grihini and developed a deep bond which continues until this day. I feel closer to Grihini that my own parents. Grihini is my true home. I was so committed that I became an animator teaching literacy in the program as soon as I graduated and continued in that role for ten years.

When I was an animator, I became involved in several government schemes intended to improve the lot of poor women. I frequently visited the villages of the hills to recruit Grihini students. Often they were very shy, hiding in the bushes until I coaxed them out. After leaving Grihini they were no longer shy; they were ready to speak out in public!

On one occasion, while I was an animator at Grihini, a young girl called Kamala received a severe shock and became speechless. They rushed her off to van Allen Hospital in Kodaikanal. After 3 days I visited her and upon seeing me she uttered her first words: ‘Shanti Akka’, meaning Shanti my elder sister. It is precisely this bonding as family that makes Grihini special.

Shanti and her Grihini friends

Shanti and her Grihini friends

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