A Moment

I am always in awe of the moments that criss cross my days.

Waiting for a taxi in front of the red light area, I smiled a woman standing nearby who was waiting for a customer to come along.  She smiled back and we chatted a bit. I asked her where she lived and she told me she lives on the same lane as Sari Bari.  I asked if she knew about the business and if she would every be interested in working with us. She said she had thought about it. (yes!) She asked if we only hire women from the line (sex trade), the bad women, or if we hired good women (women from outside the area) too. I responded that we hire women from the area who want freedom from the trade or who live in the area who might be vulnerable.  A few moments later two more women came over (who also live on the same lane as Sari Bari).  They began to grill me about a job and what the salary was and what training was like etc.  They kept repeating over and over that Sari Bari only hires “bad women”…they saw this as a good thing, a place just for women like them.  So eventually I interrupted them to say that we don’t consider any women “bad” or “ruined”, we hire women from the area who are seeking something different for themselves. I said in fact, at Sari Bari, we think all woman are “valuable” and created by God. They got that, smiled and agreed with me. (Win!)  Maybe they will show up for an interview, maybe not.  But I am thankful that a smile always opens the door and that I had the privilege to say to these beautiful women in a very subtle way that they are “beloved”. I hope it sunk in and that they remember that their lives are valuable regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves.  Fingers crossed they find their way to our door and not only experience a glimpse of their identity as women but a full blown reality of being the Beloved!

The pathways of Justice

I had to go to court today.  I was summoned as a witness for the prosecution of a man who sexually assaulted my friend.  Two years later the court was finally convened to prosecute the offender and maybe bring justice to the victimized.  The friend victimized is no longer even here.  But better late than never right?

The Kolkata court buildings are a mess.  I could not help but metaphorize my walk along the broken path, littered with trash, filled with seemingly aimless people standing in groups.    After asking no less than 5 people how to find the actual courtroom, weaving through filth, a trash filled stairwell and an even more trash and refuse filled area I found the courtroom.  This was the path to justice, treacherous and messy and unlikely to result in much of any actual justice.

The courtroom was quiet at first,  I had arrived at 10am as required but of course the judge, the lawyers and the police had not, so I thought maybe I’ll write a blog about that broken path into the halls of Kolkata’s center of justice, the iconic and rigorously bureaucratic system of law left by the British. An almost laughable, if not so heartbreaking, reminder of colonization and of the educated wealthy India, in many ways, taking on the mantle of oppressors from their former British ones.  The court paper work is in English, not Hindi or Bengali, somehow the language of the oppressor remains.  The system of law was inherited from the oppressor.  A system of law that lacks innovation and actual justice instead settling for a painfully slow something that is  even less than the the lowest status quo.  There are no computers, files are stacked to the ceilings, messy, apparently disorganized, though much cleaner than the hallways to be sure.  Undoubtedly the courts suffer from a lack of financial resources and a state government that is complicit in Injustice and even a perpetrator of it.  I am sitting here thinking how is justice even logistically possible here?   Two years later I am being called as witness and being advised by the prosecutor to lie.  I did not.

Then returns me to my own despair of the last few weeks as I see Kolkata again without the dark glasses of compassion fatigue after a break in May.  And I look for justice in my own heart and I find it just as messy, ineffective and paralyzed.

“Do justice love mercy and walk humbly with God” has been tattooed on my ankle for almost 20 years and yet doing justice is still so difficult to live, to embody.  My job is about justice, my whole life dedicated to seeing justice embodied in mercy for women, and yet I still struggle to reconcile my daily encounters with injustice.  I am talking about day laborers working for barely enough money feed their families, I am talking about children begging, I am talking about the people sleeping outside my home on the street, the drug users who run up and grab my trash so they can see if there is anything worth recycling for money in it, and the fresh faces arriving daily in the lanes of Sonagacchi.  I am talking about economic injustice, racial injustice, gender injustice, the injustice that people both passively and actively participate in toward one another.     I am talking about the wretchedness of my own heart.  I am complicit.   There is no us and them, there is only we.  There is only in what way am I complicit: with my silence, my messy paralyzed ineptitude at responding, at reaching out, speaking out to make difference.

Like I said I have a job seeking  Justice, and I tell myself the lie that it is enough.  I am like one of those lawyers I met today participating in system that seeks Justice but so rarely finds it within and rarely seeks it outside those walls. The injustice in my own heart broke me today, reminded once again as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “that I cannot be free until all men and women are free.”  So I begin again with God to seek out the injustice within my own heart as I press into seeking freedom and Justice around me as I walk this broken path, through this mess of broken heaving beautiful humanity .

Until we are all free.  May Justice reign down from the heavens as strong as a Kolkata monsoon thunderstorm.