'Untouchable' Boy Finds Acceptance, Love

It was 6 a.m. and the start of a new day for 6-year-old Nihal. He woke up knowing the first thing he had to do was feed the family pigs. It was a menial chore, and it would be his responsibility for the next six years.

He headed out the door, grabbed a bucket and filled it with the thrown-away food he had collected from the nearest hostel. In about an hour, he’d walk a little over half a mile to a nearby pond with his father to let the pigs feast on roots before heading to school.

Nihal enjoyed this work because he was proud to be like his father. But as he grew older, the realities of discrimination stole his joy.

He arrived at school after feeding the pigs looking dishevelled and smelling a little like the animals he helped care for. When he tried to make friends with the young boys in his class, they pushed him away.

“You are a person who feeds pigs,” the kids at school mocked. “It’s better you don’t come to us. … You are a very untouchable person and not clean people. So don’t come with us and don’t join [us in our games].”

Their words stung Nihal’s heart. He went home and lamented, “Father, why am I born into this family?”

Clash of Classes

Nihal’s father, Santavir, had inherited the trade. Santavir’s father and grandfather both reared pigs for a living. It was all they knew to do.

“I can’t say whether I like raising pigs or not,” Santavir says. “It has been passed down the generations. Now I am doing it as part of my professions and identity. I don’t know any other work.”

But in this particular region where they lived, rearing pigs was for the lowest of the low on the social ladder.

Those who belonged to the lower social classes weren’t allowed to drink water from the same well as those of higher social classes. They weren’t allowed to join in any community activities or visit anyone who had a higher social standing. They were considered “untouchable” and allotted the most demeaning jobs in society—which only perpetuated the discrimination.

“When people look down on me or ill-treat me,” Santavir says, “I say to myself, ‘If only my father or grandfather had chosen a better job.’ … I am not able to do anything in changing the minds of those people … [But] I can teach my children and I can help them change their career, their future.”

Pushing Against the Norm

Nihal was 8 when Santavir enrolled him in a GFA-supported Bridge of Hope centre, and the young boy carried over the wounds he had acquired from the hostility he faced at school for being “untouchable.” He found a corner to sit in and kept to himself, believing the rest of the children wanted nothing to do with him.

“I was so scared to go to the other students and sit along with them or eat with them,” Nihal says. “I used to [think],If I go and sit along with them [during] eating time, they may say some words to me.”

At Nihal’s Bridge of Hope centre, his teachers took measures to tear down the walls of discrimination. Aarit, the Bridge of Hope center’s coordinator at the time, remembers the challenges they faced.

“In the beginning, we faced issues … because some of the children who come from higher [class], they don’t want to mingle with the children who come from [the lower class] community,” Aarit says. “But over a period of time, we created a new thinking in the minds of the children. We even talked to their parents … and we have tried to teach them that the children, irrespective of their [social standing], colour and faith, are the same in our project centre.”

Acceptance Brings Change

As Aarit and the Bridge of Hope teachers continually taught about the importance of treating people equally and with love and respect, they noticed that the children who once complained that they did not want to sit near Nihal were now developing friendships with him.

And they saw Nihal changing, too. He started coming to the centre bathed and smelling clean. His fear and insecurities began to vanish, and he no longer sat alone in a corner. He came to know that at the centre, he was truly accepted and loved.

“Here I feel so happy,” Nihal says. “Everybody treats me equally. … Now I have many friends to study with me, and I have many friends to play with.”

No longer stunted by discrimination, Nihal also found himself able to concentrate on his studies and began excelling in his classes—especially with the help and support from his Bridge of Hope teachers.

“I was so weak in my studies,” he says, “but because I am coming to Bridge of Hope, today I am able to study very well. And not only in my studies; I got so much moral support from Bridge of Hope staff.”

A Future of Hope

Now 12 years old, Nihal continues to help his father feed the pigs, but he’s not fearful of what people may say or think about him. Instead, he lives in the peace of knowing he’s loved and accepted. Through Bridge of Hope, walls of discrimination are being torn down for good, and Nihal’s future will be better than the generations before him.

“By changing a child, we are changing his or her family,” Aarit says. “By changing a family, we are changing our society and community. This impact will last long. In a way, we are trying to build our community, our nation through Bridge of Hope.”

Meet more Bridge of Hope children like Nihal

This is Nihal. When he was 6 years old he began helping his father to rear the family pigs—their source of income—by feeding them slop in the early morning hours.

Nihal often accompanied his father in the mornings before school to walk the pigs to a nearby pond where the animals could feast on roots.

Every day, Nihal collected whatever thrown-away food he could scavenge from the local hostel to feed the family pigs.

This is Nihal’s father, Santavir. Santavir grew up rearing pigs. It was the profession handed down to him from his father and his father before him. “I can’t say whether I like raising pigs or not,” Santavir says. “It has been passed down the generations. Now I am doing it as part of my professions and identity. I don’t know any other work.”

In the region where Santavir lives, rearing pigs is considered a job for the lowest of the low. Because of this, Nihal would often get picked on at school. His schoolmates labelled him as “untouchable.”

Nihal’s mother (in blue) collects trash for a living.

She scavenges, looking for anything deemed worthy of reselling, to help provide for her family.

Before attending a GFA-supported Bridge of Hope centre, Nihal endured insults and rejection from the kids at his school because he helped his father feed pigs. When he started at the Bridge of Hope centre (pictured), he expected the same kind of treatment. He was surprised to discover that the kids at the centre were very different than the kids at his school.

The first few weeks and months Nihal started in Bridge of Hope, he kept to himself and wondered what the children would say to him if he sat with them or ate lunch with him. But over time, as his teachers ministered to him, he felt more comfortable in interacting with his fellow students.

Nihal’s Bridge of Hope teachers lovingly and patiently taught the children at their centre how to break down walls of discrimination and to look at one another as equal. Though others in the community may deem some people as inferior, Nihal’s teachers faithfully shared lessons of love and acceptance.

One of Nihal’s greatest fears upon enrolling in Bridge of Hope was eating with the other children. In school, his schoolmates had often told Nihal to stay away from them, but in Bridge of Hope he found fellowship.

The children at Bridge of Hope don’t consider Nihal as “untouchable.” Instead, they welcome him into their fun and games as their equal.

Santavir enrolled his son in Bridge of Hope knowing it would offer his child a different future than his own. Today, Nihal experiences the joy of being one of God’s creations—loved and accepted by those around him.

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*Names of people and places may have been changed for privacy and security reasons. Images are GFA stock photos used for representation purposes and are not the actual person/location, unless otherwise noted.

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