The Untouchable Women


Words & Photos by Keely McMillan -

As we drove into the village, we passed a sign in a language I could not read. Divya, the Indian man accompanying us explained that this sign marks the village of delits or “untouchables.” Lowest in the Indian caste system, this people group has traditionally been classified as less than animals. We intended on visiting the widows of this village to check on how the roofs that Divya and his family have helped provide are holding up. The widows, seen as cursed and responsible for their husband’s death, are cast out to live in villages like this one. What look like piles of mud covered in trash are actually houses—mud walls fitted with makeshift roofs of tarps, old billboard coverings, and garbage bags, not fit for keeping out the monsoon rain. For this reason, Divya’s family works to provide the watertight roofs of woven palm fronds, but even these are not a permanent solution and must be frequently repaired or replaced. Even so it is the best they have; the villagers don't own the land, so permanent structures are not an option.

The first hut we came upon a woman stood outside, the vibrancy of her fuchsia sari contrasted against her sun darkened skin, but not against her beaming smile. Her arms stretched wide in our direction, she beckoned us, perfect strangers, into her storage-closet-sized home. She owned less than the ground she slept on, yet she delighted in sharing with us what she had. She counted nothing as her own, but thought of everything as a gift and wished to give to others out of her deep joy. Gathered all around her house were the children of the village. Many, I’m sure, whose families had not yet received one of Divya's family’s roofs slept on her floor by her side; they came to her because they knew that they would not be rejected. Where she was, there also was safety and assurance.

This discarded woman who spent most of her days hungry had a truly nourishing spirit. Her riches were found not in what she owned, but in her deep gratitude for the simplest things, such as a roof over her head. Instead of harboring bitterness towards a society that called her cursed and expected her defeat, she chose joy. She withstood her circumstances through gratitude, positivity, and generosity. She radiated contentment, because she fought for it.

On days when I am tempted to allow the weight of resentment and fear of failure to overcome me, I remember the Indian Widow. I think of the vibrancy in her smile and the strength she needed to face each day. The thought of her reminds me of true endurance; it is worth the battle. She calls me not to pity, but instead to inspiration. One day I hope to have a well of joy as deep as that of this Indian woman.

For the dreamer - For the adventurer