The Sakthi Center team works tirelessly to help and empower Dalits in India. Equality and Unity are central themes in both the academics and the art of the Sakthi Cultural Centre. The problem of inequality in India is deeply entrenched. The caste system has been in place for over 2000 years. The problem is complex, so its resolution will require sophisticated solutions. The excerpt below, taken from another website which is raising awareness on this issue, illuminates how desperate the situation is for the Dalit people and how difficult it can be to come up with workable solutions.
The word “Dalit” means broken, or crushed. After meeting some of the people from Sakthi Center here in America, most would agree that the term really does not fit these people well. It is true that the Dalit people were subjugated through political and religious discrimination around 2,000 years ago. In July of 2011, some of us here on the East Coast of America had an opportunity to meet and become acquainted with the Sakthi Dancers and Sr. Chandra. The trait that is most strongly observed in these Tamil speaking people is their joy. The are always smiling, and working to express hospitality and friendship. Even the smallest gestures of kindness on the part of the Americans brought overwhelming gratitude. The people we met are warm, caring and gracious people. They believe in family, and unity, and love. When you consider how often they have been marginalized and mis-treated, it is impressive to see that they possess such kind and caring spirits.
Please watch this video of an Mr. Matsui interviewing family members of two of the Sakthi Dancers. You will surely get a glimpse of the goodness of their culture.
Discrimination against Dalits — India’s constitution seeks to protect Dalits against discrimination, and prescribes measures to improve their social and economic status. However, the relevant provisions of the constitution conceive Dalits as Hindus, with the result that non-Hindu Dalits are further disadvantaged over and above their outcast status.
Despite legal protection, social taboos prevail to perpetuate discrimination against Dalits, particularly against those who still live in rural areas. They face social exclusion and are even threatened with physical abuse for not performing the menial work that is regarded as being their domain. There are numerous forms of discrimination against Dalits, which in turn have further implications for their well-being. In localities that have no piped water, they have limited access to wells. Dalits are commonly prohibited from eating with other people and they drink from separate glasses in village tea stalls and eat with separate utensils in restaurants which have discriminatory seating arrangements.
The Situation of Dalit Women
Most Dalit women experience triple oppression: “as Dalits, as women and as poor”. Not only do their caste and gender converge to disadvantage them but they are also likely to be poor and have little or no formal education. About 76% of Dalit women cannot read and write. This high illiteracy rate has tremendous negative implications for the progress of Dalit communities.
Their social and economic status precludes them from making choices that would improve their situation. With the increase in mechanisation of farming processes, along with an emphasis on the cultivation of cash crops at the expense of food crops, women have been deprived of jobs. Moreover, communal resource areas in villages, where women used to harvest fish and vegetables, have been converted for the production of commercial cash crops.
Dalit women are vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rapes, and they face numerous barriers in seeking redress for injustices perpetrated against them. Under the devadasi system young Dalit girls are frequently dedicated to a temple deity, a practice which violates multiple rights, including their sexual and reproductive rights.
Harsh economic conditions have compelled Dalit men to migrate to towns and cities, leaving behind households headed by women. Social and economic conditions mean that these women and their children are further impoverished. It should be noted that mcro-financing loans are a problem in India, where some unscrupulous people loan money to unsuspecting aspiring entrepreneurs, and then charge exorbitant interest. Part of the empowerment strategy of the Sakthi Centre is to assist young women with funding to buy sewing machines or other equipment needed to start small businesses, but as a not-for-profit organization, the loans help and enable the young women rather than exploit them. You will read that there are for-profit entities which charge high interest, and actually complicate the plight of the women rather than assist them. The Sakthi Centre is a not-for-Profit organization, and exists solely for the women’s benefit.
The Sakthi Center strives to bring about equality and unity through education, through drama, song, and dance, and through dialogue with people of influence. The center is relatively young, only in existence since 2006, but Sr. Chandra has been working on the foundations of this powerful initiative for over twenty years. The Center is having significant success both in training and empowering young women, and in stimulating dialogue and raising public awareness. In an area where 76% of women are illiterate, all of these young women have the opportunity to become literate. In conditions where Dalit people are not consulted or informed about the dynamics which affect their lives, these young women become highly aware of the political, social and cultural dynamics which have oppressed their people for millenia. In a society where women do not have a voice, these young women are trained to be spokespersons, and given the opportunity to speak and perform before large crowds of people. In an area where economic opportunity for women is virtually non-existent, all those who successfully complete the program receive the training and the opportunity to become successful entrepreneurs.
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To watch a short video which shows Sister Chandra speak about the Joy of the Dalit people, click below.
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This website has been launched to support the Sakthi Center because we friends of Sakthi Center here in the U.S. have a strong interest in helping worthy causes. If you are interested in helping non-profit organizations, please visit http://www.squidoo.com/fundingraisingideas and also the sister page to this site, http://www.squidoo.com/charity-for-india