Since spring 2020 SBW Berlin has been cooperating with India Trust to support the construction of a school residence in southeast India.

This cooperation was initiated by Dr. David Pankiraj. He is the pastor of a Catholic parish near Pforzheim and one of the co-founders of India Trust – Home for the Children. He was kind enough to give us this interview:

Who or what is behind the name India Trust?

“In the Tamil language India Trust means the same thing as Charity (Caritas). Behind this name stands a non-profit organization. In India every non-governmental organisation (NGO) has to be registered. Its income and expenses are checked every year by the Ministry of the Interior. Our school residence is run by the India Trust association. To make things easier, we named the school residence after the association.”

What was the reason for founding this initiative?

“It is obvious that the members of the lower castes need better educational opportunities. They make up more than half of the Indian population, but are still oppressed and far from getting equal opportunities, even today, especially in the countryside. Only 20% of the population belongs to the 3 highest castes but they occupy around 75% of the jobs in new branches of economy such as information technology.

In my native diocese of Sivagangai / Tamilnadu in southern India live around 3 million people, including about 226,000 Christians. Most of them belong to the so-called low castes and earn their living as day laborers in agriculture. The parents are illiterate. Since their wages are barely enough to feed their family, they cannot afford school fees. So their children have no other option than to become day laborers themselves. Because of their poverty, many children have to drop out of school at a young age.

Their only hope is education. These poor children want to get a school education so that they can look after themselves. They desperately want to learn basic professional skills so that they can make a living because they don’t want to be dependent on other people their whole life. That’s why we started our India Trust aid project.”

What is India Trust advocating today?

India Trust provides education to Indian girls, including many orphans, half-orphans and poor girls from the low castes. These children are selected and taken to the school residence to give them a good education. 65% of the children come from Dalit families, the means from low, oppressed caste groups. The children are selected by pastors and nuns from different parishes who know the family‘s situation well. If the children would not stand a chance to get an education without us, we take them in. Before the start of the school year, our team visits the respective families and carefully checks on site whether the family indeed needs support so desperately.

The parents are allowed to visit their children regularly. Once a month they come to the school residence and are informed about the current status and situation. The orphans and half-orphans are visited by their the grandparents from time to time. On these days we also talk with the parents – about women’s rights, support in the family, development opportunities, education, etc. From time to time external speakers come and train the mothers and other family members.

Some parents who lack the means for a dowry send their girls to child labor. We want to prevent that. Other girls have to stay at home to help their parents in agriculture – as day laborers. As a result, they remain illiterate and have no chance of going to school. That is why we invite such girls from the surrounding area to our school residence and bring them to school from there. Thereby, the girls receive accommodation, food and instruction.”

What are the girls doing during the Corona crisis and what are the effects of the pandemic on the girls’ lives?

“As you probably know from the media, India is one of the countries that has been most severely affected by Corona. The school residence is also affected, of course. Since March the school is closed and the girls have to stay in our residence. Not only are they missing classes; the Situation also affects them psychologically. We try to offer them various activities outside of the curriculum (e.g. learning on the computer, English grammar, handicraft, gardening). Nevertheless, Corona has a great impact on their mental well-being, because it brings fear and uncertainty into their lives That is why we have now started some training courses of our own.”

What do most people in Germany ignore about the people in India?

“According to the 2011 census, India is currently home to more than 1.3 billion people. Due to its enormous population growth of more than 15 million per year, the country will soon replace its neighbour China as the most populous country on earth.

Despite its enormous dimension of almost 3.3 million square kilometers, the country is relatively densely populated. India is a country of many contrasts: an emerging economy, a nuclear power and the most stable democracy in the region. There are many things that Germans may not know:

The motto “Unity in Diversity”, which is used again and again in India, is intended to represent the large number of people, cultures, religions and languages. A major problem of this expansion are the drastic consequences for Indian women. According to the 2011 census, there are 943 women for every 1,000 men. Among the children which are less than 15 year olds, the gender ratio is 1000 to under 800. Studies show that around 12 million girls have been aborted in the last 20 years.

From a linguistic, cultural and religious point of view, today’s Republic of India is a tremendously diverse country. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians (Parsees) have lived together for thousands of years. And the respective religious communities are by no means monolithic blocks, but are in turn fanned out internally.

In India 2 million children die of malnutrition every year. There are approximately 330,000 gods in Hinduism. The left hand is considered unclean in India because it is often used as a substitute for toilet paper. 70% of all spices in the world come from India. With 1.6 million employees, the Indian railways is the largest employer in the world and 11 million travellers ride Indian trains every day. Every Sunday and on all public holidays, the one palace in Mysore is illuminated with 80,000 lightbulbs. The Sari is India’s signature piece of clothing. It is one of the most famous garments in the world and combines the traditional culture of the subcontinent with an elegant appearance. Women have been wrapping themselves in Saris since the third millennium BC.”

What is planned in the future?

“We encourage more respect for the human dignity of the outcasts who do the basest work and cannot change their fate on their own. In India these are the Dalit, the so-called untouchables, the outcasts and the casteless. India Trust intercedes where help makes most sense – with education.

Creating better living conditions:
These people have not yet given up hope. They want to change their life. And with your support we want to help them.
In addition to the lack of training, the living environment is also decisive. The Dalits did not choose their fate. They were born into it. That is why it is important to give them a chance! We can currently accomodate 69 girls between the ages of 6 and 18 in our school residence.

Education and skills pave the way:
The Christian association India Trust exists since 2013. It supports Dalit women and children through education and handcraft. The women learn to make products like candles and clothes. Training as a seamstress gives them new perspectives.”

Who supports India Trust and with what?

“Our parish started with great moral support from our pastor Norbert Bentele, who passed away two years ago. Even today, the project is financed exclusively by our parishioners and my friends in Germany. They support our project primarily with monetary donations. In the last three years several German students travelled to India to help the girls in the school residence for a few months or a year. On the whole, however, our school residence lives on donations from generous people in Germany, for which we are very grateful.”