14  Set my people free - Fr. Myron Pereira sj

posted Apr 19, 2018, 9:15 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 19, 2018, 9:15 AM ]
Jeanne Devos, ICM is a religious sister who has spent her adult life serving women most in need in India. She founded the National Domestic Workers Movement to organise one of the most powerless segments of society - houseworkers - and to publicly advocate their cause.

Born in Belgium in 1935, Jeanne entered the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (better known as ICM Sisters) in 1958. In 1963, she was sent to India.

A 1978 survey on the conditions of domestic servants in India revealed the harsh conditions these women endured all across the country. As a result, in 1980, Sr Jeanne began to organise small groups of domestic workers and to work with them in whatever way she could. These women usually came from the poorest segments of society and worked in conditions close to slavery.

In 1985, she founded the National Domestic Workers Movement, based in Mumbai. It organises women and girls and takes up their cases for public redress. NDWM now operates in 18 States of the country and works in 28 different languages.

The world has not been slow to notice Jeanne's contribution to the empowerment of poor women:

In 2009, she was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown by King Albert II of Belgium.

In November 2017, she was specially felicitated in Mumbai by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium on their state visit to India.

Sr Jeanne, now 82, lives in Belgium. But she still has links with the NDWM Team for the rights of domestic workers, and against the trafficking of women and children for forced labour (often domestic work).

Fr Myron Pereira, sj interviewed Sr Jeanne Devos for JIVAN (published February 2018):

When you look back at your life, how do you feel?

I really enjoy looking back at my life. I experience a sense of gratitude, as well as a sense of wonder. Why wonder, you ask? I wonder at the pattern of my life, how it grew from one thing into another. A bit like what Dag Hammarskjold wrote, "The threads are already there, the shuttle is in our hands, and as we let it pass through, the pattern becomes clearer to us." That is what I experienced. All my life I've been searching for a way, looking for models and patterns. The wonderful thing is that the "way" comes to us. When I was a teenager, reading the writings of Gandhi and Tagore opened a window in my soul, and I made my first contact with the mysterious land which is India. I've often asked myself, "Is this what Jesus meant when He said, 'I am the Way'?" He puts us on the right path which leads to Him in ways we would never imagine.