From my window I see a woman bent over a mound of sand. With her hands, she scoops the sand into a large metal bowl which she later balances on her head. She walks away carrying her load to some distant construction site.
I drive past a woman who stands and irons in the same place every day, all day. She uses an iron that looks like something from the turn of the century. The only protection from the sun’s heat is the tree that she stands under while ironing.
One day I witness a woman, maybe 30 or 35 years old, holding out one hand, palm turned up. The other hand secures the back of a baby sleeping on her shoulder. The moment I encounter her, a man was pulling a few coins out of his pocket to give her. In her eagerness, the woman released the hand that had been supporting the baby and the child flopped back in a sudden and unnatural way. She quickly repositioned him on her shoulder. He never woke up and she offered no soothing words or hugs. She was busy working. Her job is to beg.
All I know of these women is what I can see. I try to imagine what their lives are like, but all I am left with is banal sentiments like “that must be really hard,” or “that’s just so sad.”
I am conducting an ethnographic project, interviewing women in India and listening to their stories. As I do this, I am aware of the women who may never share the circumstances of their life with anyone--not husband, family or friends. The story of who they are, what they have experienced, and how it affects them will be be lost forever. This is not acceptable. Our lives are stories. To erase someone’s narrative from history is to negate their life. Every life is a story to be shared, but the reality for many women in India is that they have no one interested in listening to them.
During my time in India, I interviewed a variety of women from young mothers to elderly widows, many of them surviving on the thin margin between life and death. I would ask questions on topics like childbirth, a universal experience for women. As they responded, I’d ask, “Have you ever told this story to anyone before,” only to hear the same answer: “No, this is the first time.” Now I have these stories and the responsibility of sharing them with others. When women’s voices are absent, we fail to value them for who they are and what they contribute to society. Although my project has the practical benefit of informing members of our organization on the ways of women in India, it has the primary goal of valuing women by listening to their stories.
I may never know the situation that led one mother to the streets of Delhi to beg for a living. But I know that her life is more than what I can see. She has a story to tell and if we would listen, it might change the future for other women forced to follow in her path.
Matthew 26:13 - Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”