The caste system still shapes society in rural India and determines the status and standing of every single person. Attacks, social exclusion and degradation of people of lower caste are commonplace and are tolerated. This is doubly the case for women, who suffer degradation because of where they come from, as well as experiencing the general disdain that Indian society has for women and girls.
Lower castes, such as the ‘untouchables’, are required to live outside the village and may not participate in social or political activities. Marriage across caste boundaries is unthinkable. Outside the family, neither adults nor children have contact, let alone friendships, with members of the opposite sex.
A village like any other? Not quite
At first glance, Farhada in the state of Chattisgarh appears to be a typical Indian village. Wattle-and-daub houses with straw roofs and corrugated metal doors line the dusty street. The local population is made up of higher, middle and lower Hindu castes as well as Muslims. But there is something different in Farhada. Cyda, one of SWISSAID’s partner organisations, started to set up a youth group two years ago. 86 young people, 40 of them girls, got together here to bring about change.
Initially, the young women and men who took part were mainly from the higher castes. Engaging in discussions, games, songs and information events, the members formed the view that there was a need for social change in the way they interacted with one another. The young people then convinced other parents to allow their daughters to go to the get-togethers. They brought the lower caste and Muslim communities on side by going from house to house and asking to talk to people.
But that was only half the battle. The vital thing was their ability to bring the key people like teachers and village elders over to their way of thinking. Creativity became the order of the day: the young people organised street theatre, street games and demonstrations on issues like violence and social exclusion. This influenced public opinion, and people became generally persuaded that the activities of the young people were having a positive impact.
Celebrations for everyone
It has now become common practice in Farhada for young people to visit one another’s homes and even to eat together. And the fact that Muslims and ‘Untouchables’ are now permitted to take part in celebrations and community gatherings is unprecedented in this region. Both youth group members and community leaders are highly motivated. They are now continuing their work in other villages in the surrounding area.
- Project code: IN 2/13/08
- Duration: 24 months
- Project costs: Fr. 74'947.-
- Beneficiaries: 1100 young people in 41 villages