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A passion for social work empowered these women in India to speak up

A passion for social work empowered these women in India to speak up

India is a country rich in culture and traditions. However, factors like ethnic, gender and caste can influence people's access to education, opportunities, and health.

According to an article from Devesh Saksena, from the Faculty of Law of University of Allahabad in India, more than 260 million people worldwide are affected by caste-based marginalization, most of them residing in India. The Scheduled Caste system marginalizes those that belong to a lower caste, breaching essential human rights such as economic, social, political, civil and cultural boundaries. Individuals assigned to a lower caste have high numbers of illiteracy, and physical segregation results in unhygienic and inhabitable living conditions.

The Scheduled Tribes are other groups that face structural discrimination in the country. With a population of around 84.3 million, this group suffers from ethnic marginalization, which results in reduced access to healthcare services, intense poverty and low levels of education.

Anima Baa, founder and chief functionary of Ashray South Vihar Welfare Society for Tribal, says that the existing caste system is filled with diversity, rich culture and traditional practices and everyone has great respect for each other’s traditions. As Amina explained, each caste system has its own traditional system. Those residing within the system practice the challenge of fighting against injustice and social discrimination, but they also practice finding a solution, using what she describes as the 'we feeling' of togetherness.  "There are traditional social leaders in every particular group and they take a lead with the support of others to fight against injustice and social discrimination if any situation arises," Baa said. "However, if the situation gets out of control then the help from Indian law enforcement has been accepted. Otherwise, community-related problems have a solution within the community itself."

Ashray is a non-profit social organization located in Jharkhand, India. Since 1998, it advocates for the rights of tribals and vulnerable communities, with special concern focusing on combating human trafficking, child and women rights, women empowerment, education, health and nutrition, food insecurity, agricultural development, capacity building, natural resource management and tribal rights and also tribal identity and culture. Baa explains that the Hindi word ashray means a type of supportive shelter home that works to provide an opportunity along with the basic necessities required to live a dignified life. "The word has been chosen because ashray speaks to each of our activities, such as sensitization, community mobilization, capacity building through education and skill enhancement, life coping skills, vocational training, rescue, and rehabilitation," Baa said.

Everything started with a group of young professionals. Armed with a passion for social work, and the realization that injustice, social discrimination, and economic inequality did in fact exist, the group got together to address the tough life struggle of these groups in order to help. Ashray has many programs that address all of its concerns, through community mobilization, skills enhancement, networking and collaboration, lobby advocacy and research work. They encourage women and children to build the skill sets necessary for playing a role that removes inequality and injustice from society. The organization has accomplished many great achievements since its foundation, including more than 500,000 people sensitized on human trafficking through meetings, seminars, conferences, and other programs. 

Baa says that Ashray works as a facilitator within the community, with its work adding value to the existing system. "We do believe that people's participation is equally important for high social impact," Baa said. "Neither we nor society stands alone to face the challenges." The most popular projects are the ones that support sensitization and mobilize the community. They also have two new projects coming soon, Education and Skill Enhancement for Urban Livelihood and Shelter for Homeless in Urban supported by Government of Jharkhand.

The biggest challenge that the organization faces is to collect donations as well as fundraising for social causes, and often require support to continue their work. To learn more about Ashray's current and upcoming projects, please click here