India’s communities are full of colour and character, a photographer and storyteller’s dream. They’re also far more ingenious and resilient than many imagine.
“There was an early view that those of us with an education or resources knew so much more than those we were working with and could teach them ‘how to be better’,” says Prita Samantaroy, the Development Officer for the Diocese of Amritsar in the Church of North India. “That’s not how it happens. These communities are a powerhouse of knowledge and skills, and we’re just there as facilitators and supporters.” Prita would know. She works among Dalit (‘untouchable’) communities to unearth the wisdom, resilience and strength within; overseeing projects that provide education, access to knowledge about political and social rights, water and sanitation.
“There is so much inequality in my country, and change comes not from one thing but many,” she says. “It’s gradual but because I’ve been with the Diocese for some years now, I do see a transformation. I see it in the young women, daughters of domestic workers and labourers, who’ve not just achieved well at school because of their involvement in our hostel, or are healthier because of the nutritious food, but who are now determined to take a leadership role or sing in a choir.
That’s life in abundance. It’s not just surviving. It’s real life, and it’s what we’re striving for.” The Church of North India faces massive challenges of inequality and discrimination, and while Prita says her team dreams of changing the world, they begin by addressing the causes of poverty and the structures that keep people oppressed. “The pandemic has taught us, once again, that we have to be flexible and innovative - so much progress has been lost,” Prita says.
“But the partnership with the Uniting Church in Australia, through UnitingWorld, has helped us to move forward on the big picture issues like gender justice and safeguarding for our children, and these are the structures that have to change for real progress to happen. We’re grateful for that.” The Church of North India has a rich history with the Uniting Church in Australia, and Prita highlights how much we have to learn from one another on shared issues like climate change and the treatment of indigenous peoples. “It’s good for us to share our stories, our struggles and to be partners in prayer,” says Prita. “We believe very much in the power of solidarity.”
CNI Diocese of Amritsar strives to break down barriers of caste, class and gender to overcome economic inequality and exploitation of nature.
During the pandemic, they provided emergency rations during lockdown, helped families access school resources remotely and nurtured faith through broadcasts, rooftop services and Facebook.
UnitingWorld supports projects in communities that have traditionally faced discrimination and often don’t have access to clean water, education or their political and social rights. The projects emphasise girls’ education and promotes inclusion for women and people with disability.
Pray that church members will share the vision of the church to be compassionate to those who are different to themselves, and find ways to actively share resources.
Pray for partners in other countries, especially Australia, that they might embrace the idea of solidarity and share stories, struggles and inspiration with the Church in India
Pray for lasting, intelligent solutions to entrenched problems of inequality, and courage for the church to embrace and implement them.