The urge to help and stand by the needy can come at any age. In fact, when one resolves to do something selfless then all obstacles gradually erode on their own. The same compulsive, selfless urge consumed Kerala’s Sudha Varghese at the young age of 15. She moved to Bihar with an aim to improve the life of people from weaker socio-economical section and to resolve issues that bother them.
Sudha has devoted her life to serve the needy and ensure their wellbeing. She has worked extensively with a dalit community — known to be so poor they often catch and feed on rats for survival — called the Moosahaars, literally translating to ‘the one who eats rodents’. She has offered an expansive span of 30 years from her life for serving the marginalized and has aptly been awarded Padma Shri, the highest civilian award of the country.
Let’s skim through her marvellous journey:
One life-changing decision
It was in 1995 that Sudha came to know about Bihar’s Moosahaar caste and their sub-human living conditions that is a result of acute poverty. This piece of information was enough to push Sudha into making a life-changing decision of leaving Kerala, her home, at the mere age of 15. She set out for Bihar and made it her aim to bring dalits of the state into the mainstream society.
When Sudha entered rural areas around Patna and witnessed the ground reality herself she was shocked, to say the least. People from upper caste considered Moosahaars untouchable, meaning a mere touch from someone belonging to a lower caste was considered grossly impure.
She never opted to marry or return to Kerala, her home state.
Initially, Sudha was in Bihar to see people from dalit communities only out of curiosity. But after witnessing their extremely sorry state of living she decided to stay back and do something for them. That little 15-year-old girl was filled with desire to bring about a positive change in these people’s life.
Accepting poverty as way of life
Sudha started living in a pucca house in Chak Dumri village with people from the Moosahaar community. She chose to stay amidst extreme poverty, unhygienic conditions, without any basic infrastructure for the next 21 years.
Telling about her journey, Sudha says, “In the Chak Dumri village of Punpun, Patna, I saw many Moosahaar youngsters playing cards and drinking liquor the entire day. They had nothing to do at all once the seasonal harvesting was over. Boredom and joblessness brought them close to playing cards and consuming alcohol.”
Sudha got a few women from her foundation Patna-based Nari Gunjan to talk to these unemployed lot and it was found that they wanted to engage in some physical activity, like playing cricket. She had set up this foundation to educate women from dalit communities in Bihar and save them from atrocities. Now Sudha saw an opportunity to improve the lifestyle of men here, too.
A cricket kit was given to the youngsters and the situations began to change with every passing day. They chose to play out on the field rather than drinking aimlessly. The drift from cards, gambling, and alcohol towards cricket and a better outlook towards life was visible.
They achieved a significant milestone when their village’s team took part in a cricket tournament held in a the nearby village and won it. This victory on the field was much more than winning a cricket match. It was a victory of the efforts taken by Sudha and of a better tomorrow for the community. The victory gave her a new lease of energy.
In her sole capacity, Sudha has established 10 Anand Shiksha Kendra for children aged four to seven years, and formed 250 self-help groups. She has also established 75 organizations for the welfare of teenagers from Moosahaar community.
She has been honored with Padma Shri, the highest civilian award of the country, for her extraordinary effort to revive the life of these people who still are known as Moosahaars in Bihar.
According to Sudha, “At the beginning, it was very difficult to make a rapid change. The overall process was very slow, but eventually, things started to roll.”
Sudha is living in Bihar for the past three decades. For many years, she is working with the women from the Manjhi, Moosahaar and other Maha-dalit communities trying to reform their state and bring development so that they can become the part of the mainstream society.
Sudha believes, “Education is the best means to bring development. It is very important that we give ample opportunities of education to the children as they will be the witnesses of the work being performed by us.”
Sudha Varghese has provided a new ray of hope to the dalit community while living with them and leading their life in the socio-economically deprived areas of Bihar. Today, the dalit youngsters want to become cricketers, teachers, doctors and engineers. It has become possible to fulfil their dreams only because of the herculean effort of Sudha.
Sudha’s journey has once again proved that there is no age when one may consider taking a life changing resolution. She took it when she was just a 15-year-old child. Her life inspires us to serve for the needy without thinking of our own interest only. We salute her for her outstanding efforts.
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