Missionary Sisters from the Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS) congregation, popularly known as the Holy Spirit Sisters of the Udaipur Diocese, have become an integral existence in the Jalimpura village of Banswara district in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan. Gone are the days when women in these villages had to depend on the men in their families for basic facilities, within the bonds of their veils.
“I had to always cover my head and face with my pallu. I was not allowed to talk to men, even men of my family, except in an emergency. Even then, I had to ensure that my face was not seen and head bowed, as face-to-face conversation was not the norm then,” said Hatu Devi, 48 who was married off at the age of 13.
She reiterates that it was the constant effort of the sisters, that helped women like her to raise about the societal pressures and live an independent life.
Missionary sisters have undertaken multiple activities to make life easier for the villagers. Few pioneer projects were building up water channels for the village. Rajasthan being in deficit of water, it was a heavy task for the sisters to fulfill. Sr. Jaisa Antony reported their biggest challenge was to retain the people in villages in Rajasthan, as many used to migrate to Gujarat, an industrially developed neighboring state. [There] they lived in unhygienic and subhuman conditions and could not send their children to schools,” the nun said.
The migration peaked during the summer because of water scarcity.
“Our study in villages convinced us that poverty and distress migration would stop if we could find a solution to the water crisis and encourage people to cultivate their farms,” St. Jaisa continued.
Following the success of bringing water to the village, the rate of migration reduced to a great extend. The nuns also educated the villagers about techniques to enhance farming, aiding in sustaining life in the village. Further the nuns opened options for community job forums, helping the women in creating their own identity.
One of the villagers, Mrs. Kamala Devi recounted that even women couldn’t see each other’s faces until the sisters came into their village. “We recognized each other with the help of our sari or legs, plus our voices. This worked only with close neighbors and family members,” she said with a smile.
While walking her home, her husband walked in front, and she followed him, head and face covered.
“I never talked to anyone on the way,” she said.
The nuns’ intervention has freed them from strict veil norms. They have not given up wearing veils, but they do not cover their faces now.
“Now we do our work in the house and outside without any interference from the male members,” Kamala Devi said.
Her husband, Kamalesh Garasiya, said they never imagined “such a wonderful life” until the nuns arrived in 2012 and their work began to show fruit.
Not just practical solutions to demographic problems, the sisters have also cured the social evils that were present in the villages. Child marriage is one of the many such evils that has become extinct with the intervention of the missionary sisters.
The SSpS sisters serve multiple villages that fall under the radius of 3 miles within the nuns’ Rajasthan Bhil Child-Focused Community Development Project office in Goeka Baria village. Since their arrival, the nuns have touched the lives of more than 10,000 people in the Banswara district of Rajasthan.