India - Caste and Outcast

India: Caste and Uncast

On a 2005-2006 Fulbright Fellowship to India, Berkeley documented with her camera and recorder the lives of Indian women living in poverty. She focused on self-employed workers, those without any benefits, often earning just enough to buy that day’s food. These “informal workers” comprised 93 percent of all the work force of India. The majority – some 60 percent – are women.

Berkeley worked with four female founders of organizations helping impoverished women -- Nobel Prize Nominee Dr. Kiran Bedi of India Vision Foundation, Padmashree winner Lila Poonawalla of the Lila Poonawalla Foundation, Magsaysay (known as the Asian Nobel Prize) winner Ela Bhatt of Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and Sister Lucy Kurien of Maher. They introduced her to the women shown in this portfolio.

Berkeley asked each of these women about low and high points in their lives. “A poor person’s life is like a water bubble,” responded Roshan. Her life’s high points were moments when her children gave her hope. “When I came back each day and would see my children sitting at the door, waiting, and there was nothing to eat, they told me, ‘don’t worry, let’s drink water. We can have something tomorrow.’”

When Berkeley’s time with SEWA was ending, she interviewed Ela Bhatt, SEWA founder and Magsaysay winner. Bhatt described what she has learned in her half-century of work with these women.

“There is so much resilience, so much tolerance, so much wisdom… giving to their parents, to their community, and to God –- being spiritual in a way. And they don’t have high words, but they are so very well rooted in the soil. So I haven’t seen them get easily disturbed or deterred from work. I think they have a great sense of hope that things will change, from better to worse and from worse to better in their own life all around. So they don’t get broken easily."

As Ela Bhatt spoke, Berkeley felt tears flow. “She was putting words to my confusing jumble of feelings during my visit with them. In verbalizing their gifts to her, Bhatt was describing for me what I knew in my heart to be true.”