Justice for Workers and Marginalized Communities in India

UU Holdeen India Program

Five years ago, UUCSJ participant Laney Ohmans volunteered for two months as an English teacher at Vidhayak Sansad’s school. Here with our delegation, she re-learns some of her Marathi vocabulary with multiple patient teachers. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
UUCSJ co-leader Mahesh Upadhyaya receives a blessing from the priest at the ancient sacred site we visited near Usgaon. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
UUCSJ Director Kathleen McTigue with Hindavi, one of the Vidhayak Sansad organizers. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
Leslie Runnels is greeted at one of the SEWA facilities designed to support self-employed women from a variety of trades. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
The human right to water was a central theme of our visit to the small villages several hours outside of Mumbai. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
A woman sifts through threshed grain, near Denganmal. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.
On the last evening of our one-week stay with the union organizers and the school at Vidhayak Sansad, we participated in a gala celebration with performances from both UUCSJ participants and from the students. Here, the girls wait for the festivities to begin. View the entire slideshow on Flickr.

Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, India

This congregational trip to India takes place January 18 (arrival day) to January 30 (departure day), 2015. Participants will explore the work of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in the central state of Madhya Pradesh and Vidhayak Sansad in Maharashtra. These organizations are among the oldest partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP). The trip will take participants to Vidhayak Sansad’s center in a verdant valley 50 miles outside of Mumbai. This center is home to a training center for activists advocating for social justice in India’s state of Maharashtra and a residential school for over 200 tribal girls. Participants will interact with students, shadow activists, and exchange stories and strategies of social change.  In neighboring Madhya Pradesh, we will visit the state’s member organization of SEWA. The SEWA movement, spread across India, organizes impoverished working women to secure sustainable livelihoods and social empowerment. It is considered one of the world’s preeminent women’s organizations.

UUHIP and UUCSJ will work with your congregation to craft an itinerary that meets the needs of our partners in India and your group. We are looking for congregations that have an established social justice ministry that would benefit from working and learning alongside grassroots Indian justice organizations.


We currently have two congregations that are traveling with us January 18–30, 2015: Jefferson Unitarian Church and Unity Church-Unitarian.  We will know if there is extra space available on this journey at the end of June. Priority will be given to applicants who applied for last year’s India program but were unable to participate. In addition, due to the nature of this program, we are only accepting applicants with previous organizing and activism experience. If you are interested in being placed on the waiting list, or if your congregation is interested in a 2016 India program, please fill out this short trip inquiry form. We will get back to you shortly.

Cost: $1,900 per person, not including airfare. Price includes all ground costs — food, lodging, transportation — as well as pre- and post-trip resources, interpreters, and the guidance of experienced program leaders. Participants who are accepted are required to put down a $400 non-refundable deposit.

Please note: Parts of this journey will be physically rigorous, including stairs, walking on unpaved streets and pathways, extensive time outside in 85 degree + temperatures, and sleeping for several nights in villages without plumbing. If you have doubts about your physical stamina please contact a member of the UUCSJ staff before completing your application. In addition, most meals will be comprised of simple, traditional Indian food, which is often spicy; special dietary needs cannot be accommodated.

If you have any questions, please contact us.


For general orientation to and understanding of India, we ask that you read two books before the trip. They are quick reads and very informative. In addition, we have a study guide for participants to engage with before the program takes place.

In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, by Edward Luce

We Are Poor But So Many: The Story of Self-Employed Women in India, by Ela R. Bhatt (available directly from UUCSJ on request, $15 including shipping)

UUCSJ’s Study Guide, a resource for cross-cultural engagement


Our Partners

The UU Holdeen India Program

The UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) is a powerful expression of Unitarian Universalist values in action. Since 1984, UUHIP has been partnering with grassroots organizations in India to support their work for social justice, equity, and dignity. Their groundbreaking achievements have brought hope and empowerment to millions. Rev. Meg Riley has said, “In my opinion, the Holdeen India Program has done the most effective work for social justice in the history of Unitarian Universalism.”

Vidhayak Sansad

Vidhayak Sansad (VS) was established in 1979 to support the development of marginalized communities in rural Maharashtra. The organization’s programs and campaigns emphasize universal education; women’s empowerment; training in advocacy; and economic development. Its work strives to advance the development of self-reliance and empowerment among the rural poor alongside facilitating effective government interventions.


Since 1972, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has been organizing impoverished working women to secure their dignity and a fair livelihood. SEWA’s members labor in the informal, unregulated sectors of India’s economy—the seamstresses, embroiderers, scrap collectors, street vendors, agricultural laborers, and others who drive the country’s economy but face often severe poverty. SEWA organizes these women to ensure secure and stable working conditions and fair wages; access to government anti-poverty programs and banking, health and other services through community-run cooperatives. Most importantly, SEWA is a sisterhood that offers solidarity and support for impoverished working women. From SEWA’s beginnings in Gujarat, it has now spread across nine states of India and has a membership of nearly two million women. It is widely acclaimed as one of the most effective institutions working to relieve poverty and build empowerment in India.

Program Leaders

Derek Mitchell, UUHIP’s director, has lived and worked in India for much of the last 10 years. Before his current position, he was a researcher and writer in India who earned fellowships from the Institute of Current World Affairs and Fulbright Program.

Mahesh Upadhyaya is director of the Solidarity Center, a program to cultivate and develop labor-union leaders around India. Currently a seminarian at Meadville Lombard, he is a recognized mentor of social activists throughout India.