Satyam Chummun – Mauritius

Satyam Chummun – Mauritius

Date: May 29, 2012
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The role of a priest or priestess is not only to pray, celebrate weddings, or have prayers for the dead. For me, being a Councillor and a Priestess have come together to allow me to help vulnerable women. Being a Councillor, I know all the problems of Triolet, and have to make sure that my community lives in a secure place. Being a Priestess lets me use prayer to help women heal from the trauma of gender based violence.

In 2001 a Sanskrit Scholar from India came to Mauritius and I was among the 10 participants selected to follow a five year course. After the course I still felt there was something missing; my audience in prayer sessions would just listen. I was prepared to accept any challenge, and that’s why I sat for the village elections of 2005 and became Village Councillor.

I am among very few Indian women who have been fortunate enough to meet somebody who appreciates my work. When I got married, contrary to other Indian husbands, mine encourages me in all my social work; I couldn’t have done everything without his support. In 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 we could not sell would go to the neighbours. But 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 ” Arya Sabha,” a religious organization, and followed a three year course to become a Priest. I passed my examinations and, coming first in my class, I became a qualified Pandita meaning that I could practice.

I know that women suffer more when there are problems in their localities. As a Village Councilor, people would knock at my door at any time of the night when they have problems and it was my duty to find solutions. I work to help survivors of GBV recover from their traumatic experience through prayer. 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 crime. As a woman, a Village Councilor and a Hindu Priestess I wanted to help the lady. I got the blessings of my religious organisation to go ahead. Together with a few colleagues we went to see her. She was inert 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 healing, and has started to talk. She is staying with her neighbour and her case is in the hands of the police.

On another occasion, I received a phone call in the middle of the night from a 35 year old lady who was eight months pregnant. She was being beaten by her husband. When I went there 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, telling 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 that any shelter would be prepared to take his wife. He agreed to talk, but blamed his wife for everything. I visited them a few times, and when the baby was born I did a special prayer where the husband caresses his wife’s head. I could feel the emotion in his eyes and see how this prayer helped to bring back love and care. During the prayer he promised to look after his wife and baby.

In 2009, Gender Links facilitated a four day workshop for women in the ruling Executive Committee of the Labour Party. At the workshop, I told my story as a councilor; part of my work is ensuring my village has proper lighting, so that women are not subject to GBV. People in the village were shocked when, for the first time in their lives, they saw an 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.

It was after telling this story that I met Loga Virahsawmy, and my life completely changed. She 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 Councilor in a regional Summit 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 were the thousands of survivors of gender based violence who very often do not have a space to talk.

Before the four day workshop by Gender Links, I did not have an e-mail address, and had never touched a keyboard. After the workshop I felt really empowered to have my own e-mail address; I didn’t have to count on my two sons to send messages. I prepared my own power point for my project at the 2010 LGGJ Summit, and have continued building these skills.

Being a Councillor and a Priestess, I was connected to the community, but without the training that I got from Gender Links I never would have felt so confident. I got the skills and techniques from Gender Links to transform myself, and by transforming myself I am now transforming my community. Priests must be aware that prayers can be a therapy for survivors of GBV.




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