Restoring Dignity to India’s Most Oppressed

While the economic and social status of women may be improving marginally worldwide, the life of the Dalit women in India remains unchanged. “Dalit” is a word from Sanskrit and Hindi that literally means oppressed or broken. Dalits are forbidden to draw water from the common well, from entering temples, are given the leftovers thrown away by the higher caste and are barred from the right to education. 

Formerly known as “untouchables,” the Dalit women, who make up nearly 16% of the female population, face not only gender bias but also caste-based discrimination and economic injustice.

For Smitha Krishnan, this cruel existence was an everyday reality. A trained seamstress, Smitha was left as the sole provider for her family when her husband died just before India’s last tsunami. Not only did she lose her husband, but she also lost their thatched and mud house and everything in it — including her only means of making a living, her sewing machine.

“The destruction of my old sewing machine, which was my only source of income, and the death of my husband, leaving me with five kids to take care of, made life extremely tough for me and my kids,” she said.

Thanks to a grant to provide shelter and sewing machines among other essentials from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to the Society for National Integration through Rural Development, or SNIRD as it’s known, Smitha and her family face a more hopeful future.