Project India: Hands of Hope

Literacy only way out for Dalit women

By Brooke Hines
Chart Reporter

A.J. Prabhakav
A.J. Prabhakav

For the lowest caste in India, life can be brutal, hard work. But other dangers remain for the women of these “untouchables.”

“For Dalit women, the day begins at four or five a.m.,” said Rev. A.J. Prabhakav, a professor at Anhra Christian Theological College.

“Before sunlight, they sweep, go to the well, grind grains, go to wash clothes in the brook, prepare children, feed the husband and children, then follow the husband to the fields to work. Then, it’s time to start cooking again, boil the water for baths, then go to sleep until another day begins.”

For women who wish to escape from this lifestyle, literacy is the only safe way out. There are many dangers for an illiterate woman trying to find a job in the city — one of these being the vulnerability to traffickers.

Primary education for children in India was made compulsory by the national government in 2009. However, it’s often difficult for girls to attend college in a predominantly male setting. Sometimes the demands of the family compete with the education of the girls.

“Boys at the age of 12 and girls at the age of 8 are eligible to get a wage to help their family,” Prabhakav said. “Sometimes, girls must look after babies while mothers are in the field.”

Clay cups
Clay cups can be seen in chai stands all over India.
The one-use chai-wallah favorites are used by Dalits
to prevent the contamination of upper castes.

Prabhakav said girls in this culture also tend to engage in early marriage. This practice (as soon as a girl reaches puberty) can result in major health problems. Injuries can result in early pregnancy, abortions, and even deaths of these underdeveloped girls.

Prabhakav, a Dalit himself, has done extensive work within the communities where he was raised. He encourages families to educate their children to their fullest ability and prolong time before marriage. There are growing risks for Dalit girls now that there is a greater draw to urban areas.

“Trafficking is a recent challenge that has come with globalization,” Prabhakav said. “Sometimes girls are cheated by urban women promising them jobs, then selling them.”

It is seen as a fairly rare occurrence for rural Dalit girls to be trafficked, but urban Dalit girls are more vulnerable to entering the trafficking industry.

“Similarly to trafficking in America, low-wage, urban women of certain ethnic groups are more vulnerable to being tricked or volunteering to join the sex industry,” Prabhakav said. “It is similar here.”