Empowering young Australians to be a clear Christian voice
Vishal Mangalwadi and his wife Ruth left urban India to live with the rural poor outside the village of Gatheora in 1976. There, they tried to help a dying little girl named Sheela. They were astounded when Sheela’s parents refused help.
Here’s the story, extracted from Vishal’s book, The Book that Made Your World:
When we arrived in Gatheora, Ruth decided to visit every family in the village. Every day she would visit a few families to find out how we could serve them. On one such visit, Ruth met Lalta, a ten-year-old girl from a low-caste family. She asked Lalta, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“Four…or maybe three,” Lalta replied.
“Is it three or four?” Ruth was curious.
“Well, three. The fourth is almost dead.”
Ruth eventually met Sheela, an 18-month-old living skeleton, lying on a bare string cot, pus oozing from sores covering her body and head, with flies swarming over her because she could not raise her hand to chase them away. Her thighs were only as thick as an adult’s thumb. Sheela was so weak she could not even cry. She only sighed.
Ruth urged the mother to bring Sheela to the hospital, but she protested, citing lack of time and money.
Ruth and I offered to pay, and again they refused.
“Why are you bothering us?” the mother asked. They were irritated by our persistence. “She is our daughter.”
“Are you killing this girl?” I asked them bluntly in a slightly raised voice.
“Look. If you don’t take this girl to the hospital tomorrow, then I am going to the police to report that you are killing her. How can you be so cruel? Why don’t you pick up a knife and stab her? Why make her suffer in this way?” Then I turned to the neighbours. “Why don’t you say something? Don’t you care for this helpless girl?”
I had expected the neighbours to offer moral support. But they looked as me as though I were a fool.
Eventually, Vishal and Ruth took Sheela to the hospital, and began caring for her at their home. But it didn’t last long. One morning her mother came grumbling, “The village folk are saying that you are corrupting our daughter. If she eats in your home, our caste will be polluted and Sheela will become a Christian.” Her parents took her back, and she died.
Sheela’s parents starved her to death because they saw her as a liability. Vishal and Ruth could not understand Sheela’s parents because their worldview was so different from theirs.
They looked at children as assets or liabilities, conveniences or burdens. We looked at them as human beings with intrinsic worth. We believed that God’s command, “You shall not murder” gave to every human being a fundamental right to life. We did not expect to gain anything from Sheela. We believed that loving God required loving her.
From the perspective of their own culture, Sheela’s parents were not wicked people. They were ordinary human beings, as good or as bad as anyone else. They loved their children as much as anyone else did. If they had had an American lawyer, he would have argued that they killed their daughter out of love: it was “mercy” killing – euthanasia – and no different than what practically every woman does who aborts her unwanted baby. The parents knew that Sheela’s life as an unwanted girl in their caste and culture was going to be especially miserable; her future was doomed to be dark. therefore, out of their deep compassion for her they shortened her suffering. This, I believe, was indeed the case. The lawyer would have gone on to argue that people in a more privileged position have no right to judge Sheela’s parents, who were trapped in a closed circle of poverty.
Sheela’s parents believed that, like themselves, Sheela was trapped inescapably in the clutches of poverty. They held to traditional Hindu fatalism. They did not believe they could change history – that they could transcend fate and karma, nature and culture. for them it was too revolutionary to think that as human beings they were history shaping, culture creating creatures and that Sheela’s future was not fated to be bleak. Thus our conflict was not merely over ethical principles; it was a clash of worldviews.
Sheela’s life and death tells us: religious beliefs have consequences, and they matter. Book now to hear Vishal Mangalwadi speak in all Australian capital cities in August 2013!