Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbour’s garden.
This is a saying which is heard over and over in India. Girls simply aren’t worth the money spent on them. They marry into someone else’s family never bringing in income for their own family. They never care for their parents in old age.
In light of this, Anupama (Anu) considers herself “a lucky one”. Her mother placed her in an orphanage, rather than aborting or abandoning her at birth. Her status in Indian society was one of deep disadvantage. Orphans are seen as a curse and an object of shame. To be a female orphan, even more so.
Anu grew up in anonymity amongst 800 other abandoned children. At only 8 years of age she felt God speak to her about caring for orphaned and abandoned girls. At 15 Anu was transferred to a Hindu orphanage. She took on the role of caring for the younger girls and was given unofficial charge of them.
Later, as a newly married woman, Anu started to apply for the custody of 2 baby girls who had been left with her. Her supportive husband married this orphan despite the protests of his family. Together with her husband, Anu started Vanitashray. Vanitashray is made up of the 2 Hindi words vanita (woman) and ashray (shelter).
At only 32 years old Anu’s husband died. Anu was once again alone. A widow caring for her own 2 children plus the 2 the couple had taken in.
Another disadvantage – widowhood.
Anu was perceived by society as having caused her husband’s death and cursed his family. Anu was now considered to be worth nothing but trash – expected to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. She faced a 2-year legal battle to reclaim the property he had left her. Despite this, she continued, taking in baby girls left on her doorstep anonymously. These girls were abused and would otherwise have been sold into prostitution as infants.
She also started helping widows in her area – women no one else would associate with. Anu asked them to help her in caring for the 12 girls at Vanitashray. This provided the widows with employment and a family environment. The girls now had surrogate mothers.
Today Vanitashray continues – small, family-like and well-run. Anu has remarried, contrary to the dictates of society, and is studying law. She faces daily battles to keep going. A woman interacting with social services is often ignored. A widow who has remarried is an object of shame. Now with a household of widows and orphans she struggles to find a landlord who will lease property to her. She longs to buy land as a permanent home for ‘my girls’.
Anu’s story reads like a list of the discriminations women face in Indian society. And yet she prevails. Experience, vision and faith keeping her going where others would not have dared
Please pray for Sonali and Poonam. These two sisters, here at Vanitashray, recently lost their mother to complications due to AIDS. Their mother passed over the summer holiday during the time. in which the girls were at home for a visit. Poonam was with her Aunt at the time their mother passed and Sonali was at home. Sonali was the only one present when her mother passed away. She remained in their home in the slums of Pune by herself for ten days before arrangements were made for the children to return. Upon their arrival, Sonali was in poor health both physically and emotionally.
She is still struggling with the trauma she suffered through being left alone with her mother’s body without any assistance from her family and neighbors. The loss of their mother now leaves the girls without parents and in the care of their mother’s family.
The family has agreed to leave the girls in our care following Sonali’s request to live at Vanitashray. She desired to live in a home where she could worship God rather than to be forced to worship the idols of her family. Poonam came to join her sister here three days later as the family felt it was best for the two of them. Sonali has been doing well since her return to the girls home.