Mauritius: The Hindu Priestess who climbed on lorries in her sari

Mauritius: The Hindu Priestess who climbed on lorries in her sari

Date: March 9, 2012
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The role of a priest or priestess is not only to pray, do “hawans, kirtans or bhajans” (different forms of prayers) or celebrate weddings and prayers for the dead. Satyam Chummun, who is among the few female Hindu Priestesses in Mauritius, tells how after attending gender training sessions has raised her awareness levels with a leading regional gender NGO. She now helps survivors of gender-based violence to overcome their trauma.

At the age of 16, I worked with needy and handicapped children so that they could be reintegratedinto society and into the education system. Among the children that I have worked with, one was in a wheel chair and another one had only one arm while the rest were vulnerable children badly needing help.

I also worked as a social worker in my village of Sebastopol. My pride today is seeing all my “protégé” who are now adults and have made their full integration into society. I was fortunate enough to meet somebody who appreciated my work and when we got married, he encouraged me to go even further. My husband was different from most Indian husbands and he never discouraged me when I went out on my own to attend social gatherings.

My in-laws were very understanding as well. My father in law even went through religious books with me. When I started to read these books on my own I felt like I was setting foot in the water of the first time and the water was carrying me away. While going deeper into the water my mind also was going deeper into how I could help my community.

During my free time, I used to sew for people. I turned old saris into dresses for poor people. My husband and I grew vegetables and the surplus thatwe could not sell would go to the neighbours. I felt that helping with the family budget by selling vegetables was not enough for me.

In 1998,I felt that the water was calling me again. I joined the “AryaSabha” (a religious organisation) and followed a three-year course to become a Priest. I passed my examinations with first position in my class and became a qualified Pandita. This meant that I could practice.I went further and completed a one-year refresher practical course before starting to practice.

In 2001, a Sanskrit Scholar from India came to Mauritius. I was among the 10 participants selected to follow a five-year course. It was a residential course but I was allowed to come back home once a week. My husband took over the household chores including looking after the children. After the course,I went all over Mauritius to share the richness of our culture and human values.

I still felt there was something missing as my audience was a traditional one who would just listen to me. I was prepared to accept any challenge, sat for the village elections of 2005, and became a village councillor (local government). I know that women suffer more when there are problems in their localities.

As a Village Councillor, people would knock at my door at any time of the night when they have problems and it was my duty to find solutions. People in the village got a shock when for the first time in their lives they saw a Indian woman in a sari climbing a lorry. Climbing on a lorry was important to make sure that the technicians were doing their job properly so that women and children do not suffer because of dark streets and dark alleys.

But the day I met Gender Links my life completely changed. The Gender Links Mauritius and Francophone Office Director gave me the chance to present a paper at the Local Government Summit. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that one day I would be able to share my experiences as a Village Councillor in a regional summit in 2011 and in front of so many people. I learnt so much at the Summit that on my return to Mauritius I wanted to put everything into practice. But what I retained most was the thousands of survivors of gender based violence who very often do not have a space to talk.

I also had the chance to follow a four-day workshop with Gender Links in Mauritius on media literacy and leadership skills for women in politics. After this intensive training, I realised that we cannot dissociate culture, tradition, religion and the media with gender violence. I read the newspapers and the watched the news with new eyes. I listened to the radio with new ears.

I am so proud that now I am helping survivors of gender violence to come out of their traumatic experience through prayers. Among my many experiences there are two that I will always remember. After learning from the media that a 72-year-old woman was raped, the first thing that came to my mind is that it is humanly impossible to come out of such an atrocious experience. As a woman, a village councillor and a Hindu Priestess I wanted to help the woman.

I got the blessings of my religious organisation to go ahead. Together with a few colleagues, we went to see her. We found her inert and sitting under a tree. We told her we wanted to do a prayer at her place so that she could give us her blessings. After the prayer, she started crying but did not talk. I have since been to pray and talk to her a couple of times. She is now much better and has started to talk. She is staying with her neighbour and her case is in the hands of the police.

My other experience is the telephone call I received in the middle of the night from a 35 old woman who was eight months pregnant. Her husband was beating her up. When I arrived, I saw a heavily pregnant woman sitting, crying and waiting for me. By then the husband had left the house. While I was still there he came back furious asking me to mind my own business. I was firm in telling him that I was reporting him to the police before adding that the child could be born handicapped and any shelter would be prepared to take his wife.

He agreed to talk but put all the blame on the woman. I visited them for a few times and when the baby was born I did a special prayer where the husband had to caress his wife’s head. I could feel the emotion in his eyes and how this prayer has helped to bring back love and care. During the prayer, he also promised to look after his wife and baby.

Through the various gender training programmes, I have been able to use them to empower women in my community.


0 thoughts on “Mauritius: The Hindu Priestess who climbed on lorries in her sari”

Aarti says:

Feeling proud to be the daughter of such a country where brave women like Mrs Satyam Chummun is doing so much for the needy women n children. May god bless u always in your every endeavour.

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