Grandiose memorial for Dalits brings to light ‘important social problem’

By November 3, 2011

India (MNN) — India's most recent claim to fame is its housing of the world's seven billionth member.

It's fitting that the birth be in India–one of the world's fastest-growing countries and home to more people than live in all of the Western hemisphere.

But how is the nation caring for these millions? And how does India account for its 200 million "untouchable" Dalits?

Dave Stravers of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India says the nation is at least making noise about compassion for this marginalized group of society, which has historically been treated like animals.

"A politician by the name of Mayawati, who is the Chief Minister of the most populous state of India (Uttar Pradesh), has constructed a huge memorial to the Dalits," says Stravers.

The memorial contains "towering statues of heroes of those on the bottom rung of India's ancient Hindu caste hierarchy," according to AFP news network.

Many have criticized Mayawati for spending large sums of money on the marble, granite, and sandstone statue parks within poverty-stricken Uttar Pradesh, lamenting that the money could have gone to improve areas from education to healthcare.

"This big memorial is really a political ploy on the part of Mayawati to gain the votes of Dalits and to secure her place as possibly the next prime minister of India," notes Stravers. "But it does point to really an important social problem."

It's a social problem that Mission India has tended to for years. The ministry serves hundreds of thousands of Dalits, people who have previously been made to feel as though they are something less than human. Mission India provides Bible clubs for Dalit kids and literacy classes for the adults, since most have never been taught to read.

Stravers says "untouchable" children still flock him when he touches one of them. They have seldom, if ever, been touched by an adult who is not a member of their caste. Even in this day of supposed change, adult Dalits feel as though they are the rest of the world's trash.

Mission India teaches  literacy to empower Dalits, but more than that, they invest in relationships and teach the Gospel.

Stravers tells the story of one woman transformed by literacy classes. "She said to me, ‘When I entered this class three months ago, I did not know I was a human being. My mother told me we are not human. People around me treated us as if we were animals. And now for the first time, I've discovered from the Word of God that I'm a human being.'"

Whatever this new memorial may represent, it's the Word of God that is doing the transforming, says Stravers, not statues. "This sense of self-esteem and importance as a human being is really important. The politician Mayawati is trying to give this to people through big statues of elephants, and big statues of herself and other Dalit politicians. But we're trying to give this to people in a real sense of empowering them with literacy and also with the Good News about Jesus."

It only costs $1 to send a child to a Mission India Bible club, and only $30 to send an adult to a year-long literacy course. Partner with Mission India as they touch former "untouchables" with the compassion of Christ.

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