Lancy Dodem, so called “untouchable” living life to the fullest. Photo Credit: African Press Club
Dateline: Eixample, Spain
By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu
I met Lancy Dodem for the first time at a concert in Barcelona hosted by an organization called Good Bites, for the benefit of children in India. We would meet again, this time at a fundraising soiree for the same cause, invited by a mutual friend Nuria Gelabert. On both occasions, he came across as a laid-back, easygoing, deeply self-aware individual.
Lancy caught my attention by sharing the story of his life. By the time he had finished, the hairs on my body stood on end. His story knocked the wind out of my sails that day, leaving me deep in thought.
I’ve heard about the caste system in India before. I never really paid attention to it. After our meeting, I flipped open my laptop to do quick research on the subject. I was mortified by my discovery, especially because it seemed more real now, having met someone that was at the worst end of the stick.
Lancy Dodem was born an “Untouchable” otherwise known as “Dalits” in the South of India. As you may or may not already know, there are different caste systems in that country namely the Brahmins who are on top of the pack as Priests; the Kyshatrias (warriors, administrators); the Vaishyas (Merchants, business people); and the Shudras (labourers).
The Dalits are actually outcastes. They are not in the caste system because they’re considered so low and less than human as to not merit anything good that life has to offer. They are the ones that are perpetually condemned to menial jobs such as clearing the roads, working in the mortuary, toilets, etc. The constant thing among these people is that they are darker complexioned. It would appear that the darker you are, the more the discriminatory practices.
Do you know that more than 130 million people live as Dalits? That’s a huge number that is condemned to misery just by virtue of the families they’re born into. Chai! Man is truly evil. In the midst of this, we bow down and pray to God. How can God approve of this?
Lancy tells me the system was abolished in 1951. But as we all know, old habits die hard. He confirms that people are still trapped in cultures that have been handed down for centuries saying that ‘it’s very hard to marry in a different religion and caste.”
The story gets interesting for the better. Lancy now lives in Barcelona. He is married to a Spanish woman, has children and lives a totally different life. How did that happen?
In 1952, a Spanish Jesuit Priest named Vicente Ferrer went to India. He came in contact with Dalits. He was moved with compassion. Like any sane person would think, the classifications are completely unjustifiable. He became an activist of sorts, fighting to help lift the Dalits out of wretched poverty. As expected, he clashed with the authorities. They wanted him banished. He was asked by President Indira Ghandi to go on leave for three months to allow tensions to cool down. He flew back to Spain.
He was later allowed to return but to another region. He started the Vicente Ferrer Foundation to help Dalits gain access to education in order to improve their lives. Ferrer left the priesthood later, married an English woman and had three children. He dedicated his life to this cause, living in India until his death in 2009.
Lancy Dodem was born in Vicente Ferrer’s household in India. Lancy’s father was a driver for the organisation while his mother worked as a cook. He was privileged to receive an education, which opened up opportunities for him. Today, the foundation works in 3,700 villages in India on several projects ranging from education to construction, women development, health, poverty and, disability. It has at least 100 workers and volunteers in Spain alone.
The foundation’s office in Barcelona is equipped with a store that showcases products made by women in India. Proceeds from sales are sent back to them. “I feel very lucky and I am happy that I’m giving back what has been given to me. Poor people’s dreams are my dream. I believe I’m here to help others. We should not concentrate on our egos,” Lancy observes. Profound!
I don’t know about you but this story touched my life. When I was growing up, my father taught us to respect everybody irrespective of one’s station in life. His reasoning was that we’re all human beings. He often argued that the day the cleaner or garbage man fails to turn up for work, you would understand that nobody is more important than the other.
Life is truly a wonder. There’s a lot of nonsense going on.
Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comment box.