From her youngest days, she was labeled a burden to the family, a conduit for bad luck, and cursed. Superstition in her home and village made her hard life even harder as she was systematically excluded from all social life… But after years of misery, Jaya’s life suddenly changed.

By Kate Bartels

In India, it’s common to see girls and women stringing fresh jasmine blossoms onto delicate thread, laboriously joining the buds into sweet smelling garlands.  These garlands are worn in a girl’s hair to symbolize joy, celebration, and beauty. When I saw girls stringing jasmine blossoms in India, they always did so in giggling groups, chatting as they worked.  When I preached in India once, my Indian hostess crowned my hair with a jasmine garland and I felt like a queen.

But not every girl in India gets to join the circle of neighborhood girls stringing jasmine…or even wear any jasmine in her hair at all.  Jaya Lakshmi was one of those girls, never having been allowed to have jasmine adorn her hair. Jaya was born deaf and mute and in her household, that meant she was unlucky.  From her youngest days, she was labeled a burden to the family, a conduit for bad luck, and cursed. Superstition in her home and village made her hard life even harder as she was systematically excluded from all social life and never allowed to attend family or village celebrations.  Girls who bring bad luck don’t get to wear flowers in their hair.

After years of misery, Jaya’s life suddenly changed.  God moved on her behalf and sent Grace Moses to her. Grace is our NCCC partner running Sangita Ministries in Chennai, India where Jaya lives.  As part of her ministry, she runs a thriving women’s micro-business program, training destitute women to sew and bead, allowing them to earn an income.  Grace identified Jaya as a hidden gem and invited her to join the program to the surprise of her family. After all, deaf and mute girls weren’t supposed to be able to learn and contribute to society.  Furthering the family’s reluctance was the fact that a few months prior, Jaya had been sexually assaulted on a city bus but had been unable to cry out. This caused the family to refuse to allow Jaya to ride the city bus to the program each day.

Still, Grace persisted.  She went back to the family over and over, pleading Jaya’s case, even offering to provide rides for Jaya so she could avoid the city bus.  Finally, after much prayer and patience on Grace’s part, Jaya’s family relented and Jaya joined the program. Once there, it took time for Jaya’s shyness to wear off as she was unused to working in groups, not having been allowed before.  But in her new environment, Jaya was an equal partner on a team of women working hard to better themselves and their families, and within a few weeks she bonded with the group. After a time, Jaya brought home her first paycheck, contributing to the family’s shaky finances.   Jaya was now not a source of bad luck, but of provision. Through work and community with the other women in the Sangita Ministries program, Jaya reclaimed the dignity she was born with as a child of God.

Shortly after bringing home her first paycheck, a village member got married and all the women of the town strung jasmine for their hair to mark the celebration.  For the first time, Jaya was invited to the wedding. And when she went, she wore flowers in her hair.

A recent photo of Jaya (center)

Learn more about Sangita Charitable Trust and buy tickets to upcoming Bollywood Night; a mock Indian wedding celebration.

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