In India a disenfranchised group of the population known as the ‘Dalit’ or ‘untouchables’ reside in a place that deems them ‘lesser’ than other members of society. Born into a caste system whereby your worth is pre-determined by your status at birth, the Dalit men and women face ingrained prejudice on a daily basis.
Not only are they often denied proper access to health care and education, but their ‘untouchability’ means that often women have to walk hours out of their home towns, because they are denied access to the village water taps.
Although constitutional measures were put in place to end the practice of ‘untouchability’, the caste discrimination is still practiced widely and freely by members of society and the government.
In Sanskrit, the word Dalit, means suppressed, smashed – broken to pieces.
The Dalit make up 15% of the population (or 167 million people), which is huge when you consider the levels of disenfranchisement that these men and women face.
Within a nearly impenetrable world however, there is one group of women who are attempting to make a dysfunctional system, function – in a way that allows for a semblance of autonomy in an otherwise pre-determined life.
The Dalit women of Pune make up 90% of the rubbish-picking work force – a job that is often one of the only prospects that the Dalit have. Most of these women are the sole income earners for their families.
In an effort to improve working conditions for these women and in turn their families, a group has formed a union called the Kagad Kach Patra Kaghtakari Panchayat (KKPKP).
The union has so far managed to improve their working conditions, raise their pay and decrease their workload. The union has also managed to enlist the support of the local government who have agreed to supply work uniforms, supplies and protective gear.
Considering their caste moniker literally translates to ‘broken’, these women are successfully rebuilding their lives and taking control of the hand they have been dealt in life by standing up for their rights and reclaiming their autonomy.