Originally written September 7, 2011
I had never been outside of the United States until the summer of 2005. I was on a mission trip with 15 other college students from my university. We boarded the plane with high hopes that we were going to change the entire country of India. We were going to make a difference. We were going to love all the orphaned, feed all the hungry and teach everyone about the love of God. Maybe our ambitions were a bit too high, but our hearts were in the right place.
We were traveling by train from Kota to Cochin (Kochi). I was standing outside the railway in a very foreign train station surrounded by hundreds of people. The station was run down from the amount of traffic and the lack of maintenance. The concrete floors and walls were aged and cracked from weather. The stench of human waste filled the building. People were waiting for their trains to arrive, others had no place to go, and some were forgotten by their families and left to die.
Amongst the hundreds of people was a little girl about the age of seven. She was accompanied by her brother who was around five years old. Their brown skin was tinted gray from the layers of dirt and grime and their clothes were tattered and barely held together at the seams. They tightly held on to the plastic cups they used to collect money they received from begging. The little girl had almond shaped brown eyes that seemed hopeful. Maybe my mission team could be the answer to her prayers. Maybe we could spare a little change and some food. I remember feeling sad for her and I wondered where she and her brother slept at night. The mission team leader discretely placed money into her cup along with a small bag of Swedish Fish. A smile consumed her face. Hope was found.
As quickly as her hope was given, it was taken away. I watched as a man in his 30’s passed by and snatch away her cup. I was in complete disbelief in what I had witnessed. I had never seen such a thing! How could a grown man steal money from a child? Did he have a ounce of compassion? I couldn’t wrap my mind around this heinous act.
The little girl spun around, latched onto the man’s shirt tail, and began screaming in Hindi. The man tried to walk casually down the sidewalk, but too much attention had been drawn to him. A group of men began to congregate around the thief. One man grabbed the cup and gave it back to the girl. She quickly escaped from the crowd, but the thief was forced to remain. More and more men surrounded hm, 40-50 in total.
During this time, our train had arrived. “Do not stare. It’ll draw more attention to our group. I need you to quickly get on the train,” instructed the trip leader. We all nodded in agreement, but what happen next would make it difficult to not turn away.
I saw one man question the thief, but he was clearly dissatisfied with the answer as he began to yell. I imagined the altercation went something like this:
“Why did you steal from that girl?!”
“I didn’t steal! She gave me the money!”
“Liar!” The man yelled. The mob agreed with his verdict.
As I turned away to load my luggage onto the train, I heard a loud thud followed by yelling from the crowd of men. I turned around to see the thief being lifted up from the ground only to be knocked down once again with a blow to his jaw. The mob yelled with satisfaction and took turns releasing their anger on the thief.
I quickly jumped onto to the train. I look around to see the reactions of the native people. Nothing. Was anyone else worried about the violence that was taking place? No one seemed concerned or showed empathy for the man. Were they numb to what happened? Was this a daily occurrence? The cabins were quiet with occasional murmuring and small talk. As the train pushed forward, I stared out the window watching the rallied mob moved out of sight and I caught a gimps of the little girl skipping to the next group of people in hopes they may spare some change.
Sometimes I think about that girl. Who is she now? Where is she? Is she even still alive? I will never forget the beauty of India that is found in her people, land, and culture. I will also never forget the harshness of poverty that has afflicted so many. I will count my blessings and pray as I remember India.