We decided to go to Bijnor district in Uttar Pradesh to visit the Little Servants of Divine Providence centre at Dodrajpur, Khajuva P.O. in Nagina taluk for three reasons. One was to find out how the children, whom we met 11 years ago, were doing now. The second was to know more about the police “raid” on the Providence Home to find out how many of the children had been converted to Christianity.
The third was to celebrate my wife’s 70th birthday with the children and the sisters taking care of them. I had heard claims that under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the roads in Uttar Pradesh had become as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks.
To be fair to the BJP, it was the then Bihar Chief Minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had promised that the roads in Bihar would become as smooth as her cheeks. She was India’s “Dream Girl” at that time and had not joined the “party with a difference”.
Nonetheless, I have seen Adityanath claiming that there were roads in Uttar Pradesh on which aircraft could land and take off. Incidentally, his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav had also built a road at a much lesser cost which was as good as the runway of an international airport. Alas, the road to Bijnor was in a dilapidated condition. Fortunately, our car was new and we had a driver, who took extra care of the occupants.
True, most of the roads were under construction, either in full or in patches and it took more than seven hours to reach the place. We thought we would have lunch on the way but we did not find any restaurant worth the name to have food. And by the time we reached Dodrajpur, the sisters had already had their food which consisted of rice and butter milk curry with pickles. Unluckily for us, there was not even a morsel of rice left in the vessels.
The building, situated in a walled compound with an imposing gate, an impressive driveway and a garden that had plenty of flower-bearing plants, looked familiar. No change has been made to the building and that is why we really felt at home. I remembered the story of how LSDP was able to build the home for the destitute and the abandoned, about 40 km from the Bijnor district headquarters.
No, the money had not come from the Vatican or from the US or from Europe, as many seem to believe. A Catholic priest in Kerala was from a rich family. When his father’s property was divided among his children, he also got a share. It was a prime property. The priest had no use for the land, as he had taken a vow of poverty and chastity.
He had heard about the need of Mother Dr Mary Litty, who set up the congregation called LSDP, for a substantial sum of money to set up the Bijnore Centre. He sold the property and handed over the proceeds of the sale to the Congregation to build the Home. That is how the sisters of LSDP could construct the two-storied building which has several wards, rooms, prayer halls and recreation facilities on two floors.
When we pressed the bell, it took a while for Sister Helen, who was in charge of the centre, to open the door and allow us to enter. She led us to a corner from where I could get a good view of the whole building. I could see girls and women looking at us from a distance. When the bell rang, they knew someone had come.
I asked Sr Helen about a boy whom I met 11 years ago. He could not get up from the bed, as his head was growing bigger and bigger. It was already as big as a basketball when I met him. Although she is new to the centre, she knew about him. When she told me that he was no more, I was not shocked. I knew that he would not live long.
Sr Helen had come from Kunnanthanam, near Mallapally, in Kerala where the LSDP is headquartered. Suddenly, I remembered a young, smart boy there, who did not have both legs and hands. He spoke with confidence and answered all my questions. He did the same thing to a foreigner who visited Kunnanthanam.
The foreigner was so impressed that she ordered for him an electric-engine scooter on which he enjoyed moving about. She knew whom I was inquiring about. “He is there. He has become a young adult. He could not be kept along with girls. So, he has been shifted to another facility where he is doing well as a student.”
I told Sr Helen that I was lucky enough to shake hands with three Catholic saints. I told her that they were Saint Teresa of Kolkata, Saint John Paul II and Mother Litty, the founder of her congregation. “She has not been declared a saint,” said the sister.
I told her about my visit to Kunnanthanam one afternoon when I met Mother Litty and interviewed her. I was simply amazed by the kind of work that she, a medical doctor, had done and I am sure that if there is anyone worthy of being declared a saint it was she.
Although Sr Helen was the superior, she had no airs about her. I asked her about her experience when a group of people, including the local Station House Officer, barged into the Centre one afternoon. They were there as they had received a complaint that the sisters were busy converting the children.
“It was soon after I arrived here. I was new to the place. I did not know the names of all the residents. There were in all 63 persons whom the seven LSDP sisters were taking care of. The police officer wanted to see the register and meet each of them,” she said.
She took them to each person. The inspecting team wanted to ask each of the residents her present name, and her original name when she reached the centre. Initially, they wanted to do the job themselves. They would go to each child and ask her previous name and present name.
Most of them could not tell their names as they were either mentally challenged or were hearing or speaking impaired. Finally, the police officer had to seek the help of the sisters to know their names. He realised that whatever name was mentioned in the register remained the name of the child.
None of the children was converted. In fact, conversion was meaningless for the children, many of whom were bed-ridden. They did not know anything other than the need to have food and water. They defecated in the bed and all their needs were taken care of by the sisters.
The police officer would have cursed himself for the task he was given of verifying whether the children were converted. I wish the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, who said the other day in Madhya Pradesh that the missionaries were employing different stratagems to convert people, had visited this place and seen the kind of work that the sisters have been doing.
When I visited the centre in 2012 I asked them why they were doing the work. What they told me was that they saw Jesus suffering on the cross when they saw a child struggling to get up from the bed or unable to turn her head. “I will not be able to do this job for money. I can do it only for Jesus”.
The sister took us to the wards. The first ward she took us to had only two residents. One is a boy (see picture). Om Ashok is eight years old. He does not talk to anyone other than the sister who takes care of him. If she is accompanied by another person, he won’t even speak to her. He wants privacy to speak!
He has an ulcer on his back which despite all the medication has not been healing. He has to sleep on his stomach. There is only one more boy at the home. He is Harish. He is also bed-ridden. Ashok has a roommate Tashi who had multiple blocks in her brain. She also needs constant care. One of the seven sisters looks after the two on a full-time basis.
The sisters did not take us to the first floor of the building because there were some mentally challenged children. Some of them have an aversion for clothes and won’t wear them. That is why we were not taken there. There are also some children who are violent by nature. They have a liking for things that are sanguinary. That is why we were not taken there.
Come to think of it, they are the kind of children whom the sisters had allegedly converted. It is easy to make allegations and tarnish the image of the great work the sisters have been doing. All the children there are orphans and they have no other place to go to. I wish the RSS had run such a facility and looked after the children in the same manner the sisters did.
It is not easy to run the institution. The licence has to be renewed periodically. The poor sisters have to visit government offices multiple times to get the paperwork done. The government does not provide any services to the children there but it creates roadblock after roadblock for them.
If the facility is closed, there will be no one to look after the children. As many of them have become adults, this creates its own problems. I remembered a child whom I lifted up. No, there was no way I could identify the child. They were all there except those who had been called to eternal rest.
Many of the children born with deformities of the kind they have do not live long. They are also susceptible to seasonal diseases. While we were there, most children had a cold. “When one catches a cold, others also catch it. That is what I have noticed,” said a sister.
Medical treatment is one major problem that the Centre faces. Most of the money they get is spent on providing medical care to the children. Luxury is something alien to the sisters of LSDP. They need about Rs 1 lakh per month to meet the basic needs of the centre. They depend on the goodwill of the people.
Last time when I wrote a column in the Indian Currents, a senior government officer started paying a monthly amount from her salary. It is now 11 years since she started paying. There are some regular contributors like her.
They need support in terms of money or provisions like rice, sugar, wheat flour, pulses, oil, tea, sanitary napkins, bedsheets, diapers for children, pillow covers, etc. I request all those who can afford to spare some money for these hapless children to send it at the following address:
Name: Little Servants of Divine Providence Charitable Society
A/c No: 716110110003206
IFSC Code: BKID0007161
Bank of India, Nagina Branch