Sudha Varghese, an epitome of sacrifice, who has dedicated her life to the Musahar community of Bihar
I have lived a thousand lives and died and a hundred deaths in these 50 years that I chose to spend in Bihar – Sister Sudha Varghese, Padma Shri Award winner.
For a visitor, girls from the village of Jamsaut, studying in a local school will not be an unusual sight!! But the journey that Sudha Varghese has taken up to educate these girls, belonging to Musahar, one of the most impoverished and marginalized groups in Bihar, is something very exceptional and indeed commendable.
Padma Shri Award winner Sudha Varghese, also known as Sister Sudha has had a long persevering journey of over five decades. But she not only struggled to create a better life for herself, but also struggled to give a better life to others as well. For the last 20 years, sister Sudha Varghese is reaching out to girls from the Musahar community in Bihar, in order to educate them. Her institution, Nari Gunjan, an NGO with over 50 centres has more than 1,500 girls enrolled. Nari Gunjan empowers the marginalized women in Bihar.
In 1965, Sister Sudha, who was then 16 years old, came to Patna’s Notre Dame Academy with the nuns working for the Roman Catholic School. She came to Bihar against her family’s wishes. Since she was born and brought up in Kerala, the language barrier made things a little more difficult for her.
The misery of the poor people in Bihar disturbed Sister Sudha to a great extent. So, she decided to fight for their cause and for their betterment. But, to break the stereotypes in that remote corner was not at all easy for her. She was even given death threats, for which she had to leave her home in Danapur and was forced to live in a rented flat at the Bailey road.
I was unaware about the evils of caste system,and the miserable state of poor in Bihar. In the last five decades that I have spent here, I have grown as a person. I have overcome my fears. There were days and nights when I feared that I could be killed any moment. But then the realization dawned upon me that I can’t fear to lose my life to some goons who don’t own my life. God has given me this life. It was after that I moved back to my home in Danapur.
With the help of UNICEF, Sister Sudha is reaching out to girls who have faced decades of exclusion. Sister Sudha is also setting up a girls’ hostel in a building provided by the government, where Musahar girls will stay in their pursuit of higher studies.
I have seen their pain, their suffering, their lifestyle, their customs. I notice their life every day. The children hardly go to school, especially the girls; they cook, clean and wash at home. I wanted to work for the cause of girl education.
Sister Sudha lives in a small house made of bricks covered by a thatched roof. She has also acquired a law degree to fight cases for women who have faced abuse. For her selfless devotion and works, Sister Sudha Varghese was awarded with Padma Shri, fourth highest civilian award in 2006.