Learning skills, asserting rights

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Nandini of AID-Boston who visited dalit communities in Uttar Pradesh and Social Development Foundation writes……

Many Dalit communities in Uttar Pradesh are still forced to engage in manual scavenging, despite it being banned by the Supreme Court. This is a result of poor sanitation in our villages and exacerbated by deeply entrenched caste hierarchy within our society that refuse to offer an alternative to the marginalized oppressed communities.

Social Development Foundation (SDF), an organization founded by Mr. Vidya Bhushan Rawat in 1998 works with underprivileged communities in Uttar Pradesh and neighboring states to fight these prejudices and promote an understanding of human rights and humanitarian values among local communities.

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AID-Boston has been supporting one of the SDF projects ‘Humanize India’ since 2014. This project is based in two districts of Uttar Pradesh, a state with high percentage of Dalit population and one which is highly notorious for a feudal patriarchal structure, caste atrocities and discrimination.The project aims to train women from manual scavenging communities in skills like sewing, embroidery to help free them from their traditional occupation. Alongside through conversation and debate, women will discuss human rights.  The eventual goal is to strengthen the voice of Dalit women against caste discrimination.

In Dec 2014, I visited the project center in Ghazipur (about 2 hours from Varanasi); the other center is in Deoria. On arrival, I was greeted by women from local communities who get together at the center regularly to talk about issues and also make pickles that they sell. We walked to the center where girls from ages 10-17 were taught the basics of stitching.  Admission to the center and regular attendance is monitored by the local coordinators. Sewing is a traditional occupation and is a desirable income-generating skill, making it easier for coordinators to convince parents to send their children to the center. At the center, the girls come together to learn a new skill. In addition during workshops, center coordinators engage students and local communities on leadership, women’s issues and their rights.

Currently about 40 girls are enrolled in the two centers. The center is well received by the local community. The eventual goal is start training in other skill sets like computers, embroidery etc. The mission of SDF is a long-term one but the first step has been taken in the right direction.