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Home / Education / They are beacons of hope

They are beacons of hope

Meet these unconventional women who fought all odds to create a better future not just for themselves but for entire communities. Learn more about the organisations they work for and their commitment to social change.

education Updated: Apr 02, 2014 11:20 IST
Harini Sriram
Harini Sriram
Hindustan Times

Breaking social taboos, empowering women

It would be an understatement to say that Lata Mane has had a tough life. A recipient of the CII Woman Exemplar Award 2014 in the field of health, Mane has been working towards restoring the dignity of female sex workers, besides creating awareness about HIV-AIDS in the slums of Ghatkopar in Mumbai. She, however, had to fight social stigma herself when she was forced to become a sex worker around two decades ago.

“My husband sold me for Rs. 40,000 sometime in 1994 in Mumbai,” she says, “I had two girls and I had to sustain a living and show them a brighter future. I started off as a sex worker, because I had no other choice, but somewhere along the way, I got engaged in working for Vijay Krida Mandal (VKM), an NGO involved in creating awareness about HIV, among others.” She joined them as peer educator and has, over the years, reached out to more than 500 female sex workers.

When her daughter turned five, Mane was determined to leave her past behind. “My children could not study because of my background as the stigma associated with sex workers is hard to shake off. Thanks to some well wishers from VKM, I managed to put my children in school,” she says. She has, since then, been helping other female sex workers find good schools for their children. Mane is now an outreach worker with VKM and has been instrumental in mobilising female sex workers to form close to 20 self help groups (SHGs) in the community. “We train them in jewellery making, perfume making and other income-generating activities such as preparing and selling food,” she says.

Mane is associated with the Clean Mumbai Project and works closely with the municipal corporation, besides heading awareness campaigns.

Vijay Krida Mandal
VKM was set up in Mumbai in 1979 and has since then, been working towards empowering and creating opportunities for marginalised communities. They have set up balwadis (nursery schools) and organised medical camps across Maharashtra. To know more, log on to

Towards a sustainable and secure future

From struggling to make ends meet in the harsh heartland of Madhya Pradesh to transforming the lives of tribes in the forest belt, Devti Baiga has come a long way. Part of the Baiga tribe in the Bandhavgarh National Park region, she and her family struggled to survive. “There was no water in the area, and the land was parched. It was almost like the region was under a perennial spell of drought,” she says.

Cultivation was impossible due to the weather and landscape, and the tribes in the neighbouring villages had little or no water. Baiga’s repeated attempts to meet the authorities and get them to understand the magnitude of the problem proved futile. She got the tribes organised into self help groups and pooled in resources to adopt the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method to facilitate organic cultivation of a variety of cash crops, becoming the first farmer in the region to use this tech
nique. She also sought financial assistance and set up her own micro-financing project besides making villagers aware of public welfare schemes.

Thanks to her efforts, around 700 households in across six villages in the tribal belt have been able to breathe easy. She was nominated by Indian Grameen Services, an NGO, for the CII Exemplar Award in micro-finance.

Indian grameen services
IGS, set up in 1987, is engaged in livelihood promotion through capacity building, research and development. It has also been promoting strategies and solutions to promote a large number of sustainable livelihoods. To know more, visit

Transforming lives through theatre

Although it has been over 60 years since India’s independence, the denotified tribes (DNT) of the country continued to fight for their freedom long after August 15, 1947. Kalpana Gagdekar is from one such tribe. She became aware of the problems of her community as she grew older. “I realised that all DNT members were regarded as criminals, and were punished for no reason under the Criminal Tribes Act. In fact, my community was branded criminal by law since the days of British rule,” she says.

In 1998, when Budhan Theatre was established to create awareness about the condition of these tribes, Gagdekar joined them in their mission. Her family resisted but her husband supported her in this endeavour. “I got married when I was in Class 10,” she says, “But my husband motivated me to complete my education, so I graduated in social work and devoted my time to my theatre group.”

Through Budhan, Gagdekar was able to reach out to people across all sections of society and make them understand the importance of education, women, besides highlighting police atrocities against DNT members and the condition of tribal women and children. “I believe that theatre has the power to change people’s mindsets and sensitise them to the issues we face,” she says. Thanks to her efforts, tribal children in Gujarat were allowed to continue with their education, through a Supreme Court ruling.

Gagdekar has acted in various plays across a stream of issues, but her first ever play on the real life of Budhan Sabar, a tribal who was murdered in West Bengal, is close to her heart. “That play is popular even today,” she says, “ We have done over 800 shows across the country.” Gagdekar, who also teaches children about arts and their impact at Budhan Theatre, is a recipient of the CII Exemplar Award in the field of education.

Budhan Theatre
Founded on August 31, 1998, the Budhan Theatre has been working towards raising awareness about the denotified tribes of India, besides highlighting a number of issues concerning women, children, environment and teaching children to use theatre as a medium for empowerment. For more details, visit