If you’ve ever felt lonely because LDS kids are in the minority at your school, imagine how Santosh Ramish, age 14, of Hyderabad, India, must feel. After all, he’s one of a handful of Saints in a country whose population is greater than that of North and South America combined.
Almost one out of every seven people in the world lives in India, the world’s second most populous country next to China. And of the 750 million people, 83 percent are Hindu, 11 percent are Muslim, and the remaining 6 percent are divided between Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, in that order.
But does Santosh feel alone or discriminated against?
Not at all. “There is freedom of religion,” he says. “Although the kids do tease me for not drinking coffee. It is a land of many languages, cultures, and traditions.”
That probably sums up Santosh’s homeland in a nutshell. India features 14 major native languages and over 1,000 minor ones. He speaks two of his country’s 14 major languages, and is fluent in English as well.
When it comes to culture, most Western teens would find the world of Santosh very foreign. People do not date in India. Youth socialize only with members of the same sex. Parties and dances for youth are unheard of, and husbands or wives are usually selected by agreements between parents.
But what if you fall in love with someone else?
“In India, you can’t leave parents or disobey them,” says Santosh. Even after marriage, a young couple often lives with the parents of the groom. These days, however, more and more couples are getting out on their own.
There are some things that form a common bond between Santosh and other teenagers all over the world. One of those things is the gospel. Santosh was introduced to the gospel via his uncle, Dr. Edwin Dharma Raju, who joined the Church in Samoa when he was on assignment from the government of India.
When Dr. Raju returned to India, he wanted his family to hear the gospel message, and he wrote to Church headquarters for missionaries to be sent to his family. Instead, Dr. Raju and his wife went on a short-term mission to teach the family themselves.
Santosh was eight years old when he and several family members accepted the gospel. The water tank on the roof of his Uncle Henry’s building was scrubbed and painted to serve as a baptismal font. The men and boys who attended the baptism were dressed in traditional white, loose-fitting Indian jackets and trousers. The women were dressed in white saris, the standard dress of Indian women, consisting of a long piece of cloth draped over the shoulder and wrapped around the body. The newly baptized family was to form the nucleus of the branch in Hyderabad.
Santosh is now a teacher in that branch. He and his brother Sanjay, 12, and sister Sunitha, 16, are the only youth there, but they take a very active part. Santosh arrives at the mission home, where church services are held, a half hour early each Sunday to prepare the sacrament. He is always ready to give a talk or teach a lesson to any age group. Sunitha is the branch chorister and teaches a Primary class, and Sanjay takes on various assignments and is often the first one to bear his testimony on fast Sunday.
Santosh is also preparing for a mission. “I have thought a lot about a mission,” he says. “I used to dream of going to a very remote island or a place where I could convert and baptize everyone. Now that they are calling Indian youth to serve in India, I would like to serve a mission here.”
His dreams also include medical school, which is extremely difficult to get into in his country. Of the 50,000 students who take examinations each year to apply, only 2,000 will be accepted. Only those with the highest grades can enter medical school.
Santosh, like many Indian children, has been going to school since he was three. He will graduate from “college,” the equivalent of American high school, at 17. In the meantime, he carries a stiff academic load.
His day starts before 6 A.M., when he hurries off for an hour session with a tutor. Since his classes at the private Christian school contain anywhere from 40–70 students, the time he spends with his tutor and four or five other students is essential.
He then comes home, prepares for school, reads the paper, and hops on the school bus. Once there, he attends eight classes, among them math, physics, biology, and three different language classes.
Santosh is in the 10th class, where it is crucial to be at the top. He has even had to give up most of the sports he likes so well, like cricket and badminton, in order to excel. He has to take major tests every month and exams every three months to determine his position in college.
After school, Santosh does homework and a little recreational reading until it’s time for the evening meal at 8:00 P.M. Then at 9:00 he’s off for another hour and a half with the tutor.
Although school takes up a major portion of his day, he still finds time for the Church and for scripture study. “I have a very strong testimony,” he says. “I thank my Heavenly Father for it. I know that the Book of Mormon, the Holy Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are companion scriptures and the word of God.”
That knowledge, plus the support of his family, are enough to sustain him in his minority status. “I hope I will have the strength to resist the temptations,” he says. “I love this church, and don’t ever want to go away from it.”