Justice for Workers and Marginalized Communities in India
UU Holdeen India Program
Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, India
This congregational trip to India takes in January, 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: Jefferson Unitarian Church and Unity Church-Unitarian, in addition to a few other participants. The program is now full. If an individual or 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.
In preparation for your journey to India we ask you to use the Study Guide for Cross Cultural Engagement available on our website. In addition, please read the books annotated below. Each Unit of our Study Guide includes a discussion outline for use in a Learning Circle, to help you “unpack” these resources. We hope that within or outside of your church you can form such a circle in order to reflect with others on what you’re learning.
We realize that your time is limited and precious, and that this may seem a great deal of preparation. We are confident that your time in India will be of immense value to you in proportion to how well you understand what you see, hear and experience there. The resources we recommend will give you a great start!
UUCSJ’s Study Guide, a resource for cross-cultural engagement
The Study Guide consists of eight units, of which six are designed for use before you travel.
Produced in 2007, this documentary provides a crucial understanding of the lives of India’s millions of dalits, formerly called “untouchables”. Most of the partner organizations we work with in India are involved with securing the rights still denied many people in this lowest caste.
In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, by Edward Luce
This is available in paperback and is a clear, concise and straightforward introduction to modern India. Though we recommend the full book, the most essential chapters are the Introduction through Chapter 4.
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)
Ela Bhatt is the founder of SEWA (the Self-Employed Women’s Association), a key partner of the UUA Holdeen India Program and one of the most effective women’s rights organizations in India. This account is filled with personal stories and offers a vivid understanding of why such an organization is so profoundly needed. Though we recommend the full book, the most essential chapters are the Introduction and Chapters 1, 4, 9 and 10.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo
Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction, this book is a beautifully written glimpse into the reality of the immense unofficial communities that exist as the “undercities” throughout Indian urban communities.
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 (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.
Charis Boke is a PhD student in anthropology at Cornell University, and she conducts fieldwork with community organizers and environmental activists.
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.