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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
25 October 2011
Erin Edwards




A little girl at the nursery the Nirmala Dasi sisters run in Dharavi, a slum in the center of Mumbai. The children there are mainly from families that have working mothers. (photo: Peter Lemieux)

Saturday in Mumbai, 285 girls participated in a district renaming ceremony, which aims to “give the girls new dignity and help fight widespread gender discrimination that gives India a skewed gender ratio, with far more boys than girls.”

The girls — wearing their best outfits with barrettes, braids and bows in their hair — lined up to receive certificates with their new names along with small flower bouquets from Satara district officials in Maharashtra state.

In shedding names like “Nakusa” or “Nakushi,” which mean “unwanted” in Hindi, some girls chose to name themselves after Bollywood stars like “Aishwarya” or Hindu goddesses like “Savitri.” Some just wanted traditional names with happier meanings, such as “Vaishali” or “prosperous, beautiful and good.”

“Now in school, my classmates and friends will be calling me this new name, and that makes me very happy,” said a 15-year-old girl who had been named Nakusa by a grandfather disappointed by her birth. She chose the new name “Ashmita,” which means “very tough” or “rock hard” in Hindi.

We recently reported on life in Mumbai in the July issue of ONE. The Nirmala Dasi Sisters in Mumbai work with the poor, the marginalized and children. One priest explains:

“The sisters have been in Dharavi for over 20 years. Their commitment has never wavered. And from that, we as an eparchy have gained confidence and expanded our social services throughout Mumbai. It’s worked out well and has been an excellent boost to the eparchy. We never got enmity from anyone.

“And we’ve learned a lot of things from them — involvement in the community, simplicity, commitment. They get up and do it,” adds the priest.

Five days a week, the sisters operate a nursery school and day care center that enrolls more than 60 children with working parents. The center offers meals and a structured program of educational activities. It has earned a reputation as the best day care provider around; even Dharavi’s more affluent families clamor to register their children on its long waiting list.

For more from this story see, ‘Slumdog’ Sisters by Peter Lemieux and for more about the renaming ceremony in Mumbai see, Name changers: 285 Indian girls no longer 'unwanted' on MSNBC.com.