Vijayawada (AsiaNews) – Gaddala Mary Venkulamma is a 22 years old woman living in Telangana. Her half-brothers forced her to pick cotton instead of completing her education. She did what she was told in order not to displease them and not worry her mother, who had been physically abused by her father.
Gaddala is also a capable young woman with an innate talent for science, so much so that she was always the top of her class. In the end she managed to save herself thanks to the help of the Salesians of Don Bosco and now dreams of opening a home for the elderly, because no one should ever suffer her mother’s sad fate: spending their final days without no one to take care of them.
Fr Thomas Koshi, national director of the Don Bosco National Forum for young people at risk, heard her story. Here it is, edited by AsiaNews.
My name is Gaddala Mary Venkulamma and I was born on 10 June 1996 in Gosaveedu, a village in Krishna district (Andhra Pradesh). Gaddala Nagalakshmi, my mother, was the second wife of Gaddala Kutumbarao, my father, who was a widower with two sons and a daughter.
My mother came from a very poor family and for this reason her parents had consented to give her to a widowed man. My father drank a lot and poured out his violence against my mother, through torture and physical abuse. I have often had the misfortune of being a silent witness to such ill-treatment.
On 19 April 2007, my father died of a heart attack. His sudden death shocked us. At that time, I was attending a Telugu-language government middle school, and I was not a keen student. It was only when my father died that I realised that I was the only one who could take care of my mother, who had started to have kidney problems related to the torture she endured during her marriage.
This is why I understood that I had to study hard. I worked at it and managed to pass the Class 7 exams and the admission test to the Government Social Welfare Hostel for Girls in Andhra Pradesh. It was a moment of immense joy for me and my mother when the results came in. I could go to the hostel where everything was free. I had to take advantage of such a great opportunity and study hard. In the end I passed the Class 8 exam with a 91% score. I topped the class. I received a certificate of merit and a cash prize.
But the joy did not last long. Although we all lived together as one family, even after the death of my father, my mother and I were never really treated as members. We had a small piece of land where we grew cotton. After the exam, my half-brothers decided I had to work and prevented me from continuing my studies. In the meantime, I had also passed the test for a polytechnic course, but they did not want to hear about it. I had no choice but to obey and work, losing a precious year of study.
The principal and the teachers at the school, wondering why I was not in class after getting such high marks, started asking questions about me. But they too could not get me out of the trap of my half-brothers. Finally, with my heart in hand, I spoke with my mother and told her that my only wish was to study. I contacted the principal, who introduced me to Fr Koshi, head of the Krishna District Children’s Welfare Committee. Without thinking twice, he immediately took me to Navajeevan Bala Bhavan (a home for children in need of care and protection in Vijayawada). I eventually completed my computer studies.
Later I chose to go to an engineering school, where at the end of the course, in June 2018, my score was 81%. Unfortunately, in the meantime my mother had passed away and my brothers were still trying to segregate me, but this time I managed to escape with the help of the Salesians.
Today I live in Hyderabad, Telangana, where I was welcomed to a relative’s house. I am looking for a job in the field of robotics and, in the meantime, I am a cashier at a restaurant. This job allows me to earn a living in such a difficult world.
In recent days I received a proposal for an interview at a company and I hope it goes well. Even though I know that work is necessary to survive, there is a deep desire in my heart. I’ve been thinking about it since my mother died, when I was at university and could not take care of her, just when she needed it the most. This dream is to open a home for the elderly, so that no one is forced to spend the last days of their life with no one by their side.
(Fr M C George Menamparampil, head of the Missionary Offices of the Congregation of Don Bosco, contributed to this article)