Contextualizing My Theology with Domestic Working Girls
During my theology studies at Vidyajoti, Delhi, India from July 2007 to October 2010, I had to go for ministry with people as part of contextualized theologizing. There were many options given to us from among whom we had to give three choices in the order of priority and wait for the final word from the ministry coordinator. I was totally surprised when my name appeared in the list against the ministry for domestic working girls. It would not be out of place for me to mention that this ministry was nowhere in my list of priorities. In fact I did not want to work with the 'Domestic Working Girls', because I had heard a lot of stories about them and I was prejudiced about them.
The only consolation was that I was going to work with a Jesuit headed organization Adivasi Jeevan Vikas Sanstha (Tribal Development Society). It is directly under the care of Social Apostolate Coordinator of the Assistancy, JESA Secretary, at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.
The first day was shocking and surprising. My predecessor Fr. Rajenius Barla accompanied me to the hall along with the JESA Secretary, where almost around 100 girls were gathered. I could not believe that such a great number of girls worked as Domestic maids. In fact, I came to know later that there are around 200,000 such girls working in Delhi alone, most of them being tribal Christians. I wanted to almost back out and run away, which I could not. We were given a warm welcome and thus began my journey with the domestic working girls. Though initially unwilling, I decided to put my heart and soul in my ministry and decided to be a true brother throughout my stay and work with them. I thought 'what if these girls were my own sisters'. This helped me to identify myself with them and became friendly.
I had various roles to play some of which were of teaching, advising and sometimes being a parent. I gave special attention to the ones who looked lost, lonely and sad. Whenever I spotted them needy for attention I reached out to them and made them feel at home. I found them cheerful after every such personal interaction. Almost all the girls were Tribals from the States of Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Chattisgarh. I, being a tribal myself, was able to understand them and enjoy being with them, listening to their life stories. The most significant need was to give them a listening ear. It helped them a lot to overcome their hurt feelings and emotions. Many a times I had no words to say but just give them an empathetic hearing and a few words of consolation showing them that I was with them. That's all I could do. As days passed, most of them started trusting me and would approach me without any hesitation and ask for help. More than anything else I became their brother and they were no more Domestic Working Girls but my own sisters working as domestic helpers.
The following year I was assigned the prison ministry, which was on weekdays. So I requested that I continue to work with the girls and the prison ministry. In my theology class this ministry helped me contextualize my theology studies and raise relevant questions. This ministry with the domestic working girls has helped me to improve my personality, temperament, spirituality and my theology. It has also taught me to deal with the persons of complimentary sex, to behave maturely and to make plans and implement them.
The peak experience was when I went back to these sisters of mine to offer my Thanksgiving Eucharist as a priest. The joy and happiness I saw in their faces was a great encouragement to live my priestly life. I thank God for the gift of many sisters who formed me in becoming who I am today. In return I pray that they live a happy life in spite all the hardships they face.
Fr. Vijay Pratap Toppo SJ