For mental health in India

„Roshni ", meaning  „new light“, is the name of a Difäm-funded project at  Duncan Hospital in the city of Raxaul, India. People in difficult life situations are to regain hope for a more dignified future, like for example women who have had to experience that they are considered inferior.

When the lifeline begins with sadness

Patient enrollment numbers were alarming: Three times more boys than girls were admitted to the pediatric ward of Duncan Hospital. Also, twice as many boys were taken to hospital for vaccinations as girls. Project team members working on health projects in Raxaul and the surrounding area wanted to know why and asked people in the surrounding villages for an explanation. Their answers showed how strongly Indian society is still dominated by patriarchal norms. Sons are preferred to daughters, and women are seen as inferior. „When a boy is born, there is great joy in the family“, some villagers said. "There will be a celebration. But when a girl is born, there is sadness.“ Certainly they did not directly admit that girls are given less food. But they reported that a boy would be better cared for.

The reason for this lies in tradition. The practice of dowry is prohibited by law, but it is still practiced. If they want to give their daughter in marriage, the family must meet the often high demands of the groom. Many parents therefore see their daughters as a financial burden and invest little in the girls. This means that anyone who has a daughter loses money and property and is often indebted for years. With a boy, on the other hand, there will someday be another woman in the house – and she will bring a dowry. It is not for nothing that an Indian proverb says:"Raising a daughter is like watering the neighbor's garden."

Parents also give different medical care to their children. When a girl falls ill, the first thing to do is wait a few days to see if she survives. Only then, a drug will be bought in the village pharmacy, or a health station will be visited. On the other hand, in the case of a son's illness, medical help will quickly be sought in a health centre or hospital. Technically, a law is supposed to guarantee that boys and girls, men and women have equal rights. The Indian economist Amartya Sen compares the life of a girl with "a candle in the wind". In the northern Indian state of Bihar, where the small town of Raxaul is located, girls are married very young. Without a husband, a woman is worthless, they say. Her "value" depends on the birth of a son, because in the Hindu tradition, only a son may light the pyre in cremation after the death of his parents.

Suicide attempt by a mother of two children

Roshni "(" new light ") is the name of the Difäm-supported project at Duncan Hospital, which promotes mental health in communities in and around Raxaul. One employee found 23-year-old Krishna standing on the grounds of the hospital, crying. She was taken to the emergency room and examined. It was found that she had drunk a fertilizer to kill herself.  Krishna told her story to the employee:  

She was given in marriage at the age of 15. The first years of her marriage went well and peacefully. She gave birth to two sons who are now seven and five years old. After some time, however, her husband's family began to harass Krishna massively because her own family had not yet paid the dowry for Krishna. But her parents were poor and could not fulfil the demands of her husband's family. Krishna's husband also began to treat her unfairly. Krishna gathered all her courage and reported her situation to the police - without success. As the situation worsened and she was beaten and abused, she saw no other way out: she drank the fertilizer. Neighbors discovered her and forced her to throw up. They took her to the hospital. There she was given spiritual counsel and gained new hope.

23-year-old Guriya learned about the Roshni project, went to see a staff member and told her her sad story. Guriya was 14 years old when she was given in marriage and moved to a village outside of Raxaul to live there with her husband. They had two children, a boy and a girl. Soon after the wedding, she was beaten and abused. Together with her children, she fled again and again back to her parents, who informed the village council of elders. They discussed the problem with both families. But after a short time Guriya became  a victim of domestic violence again. Now she fled to her parents without her children. With the help of Roshni staff, Guriya filed charges with the police. All her efforts to get the permission to provide at least for the nine-month-old girl failed. Guriya's husband kept the children and married again.

Have an eye for the needs of others

Roshni employees encouraged Guriya to attend a literacy course. Then she learned to sew and got a loan to buy a sewing machine. Guryia has joined a prayer group in which she can communicate with others, feels understood and valued and where she is prayed for regularly. She now works as a cook for an Non-Government Organisation. This organisation helps children who are victims of human trafficking. Although Guriya mourns her own children, she uses all her energy for the children entrusted to her care. She not only makes sure that they get good food, she also gives them hope for a worthwhile life.

In spite of the cultural, social and societal structures that consider girls and women as inferior, there are people in the remote areas of Bihar who have an eye for others. The fates of Krishna and Guriya are examples of how important the Roshni project is. Because , if there is someone who notices them, who appreciates, loves and supports them, this will fill people with new hope for a dignified life  even in an adverse and difficult situation. And this is the aim of the Roshni project – new light.

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