02/14/2006, 00.00
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An outcaste will address the United Nations

by Nirmala Carvalho

Girija Devi, a dalit committed to fighting alcoholism in her village in India, will address the UN at the end of the month. The woman can barely write and speaks only in a local dialect. Her organization against alcoholism has changed the life of her local community.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A dalit – Indian outcaste – woman will address the United Nations about her anti-alcoholism drive. Girija Devi, 59 years and illiterate, will talk about her experience in Bhojpuri, a language of Bihar state, held to be a sub-variation of Hindi.

On 30 January, she was invited to intervene in the 15th session of the UN division for the Advancement of Women and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The meeting will be held at the end of February in New York.

Girija comes from the village of Bhirkhia-Chipulia, in north-east Bihar in India; her life has been marred by abuse and humiliation suffered at the hands of members of her family, including her husband, Singheshwar Manjhi, who would get drunk and take his anger out on her. Six years ago, Girija, a mother of four, set up an organization called Mushar Vikas Manch against alcoholism. She works closely with an NGO, Action Aid, through which the invitation to address the UN was channeled.

Members of the Mushar Vikas Manch patrol liquor shops around the village and when they find men drinking, they shave their heads and garland them with shoes. According to volunteers, the humiliation suffered prompts even the most hardened alcoholics to abstain.

One such man, now detoxified, says "there were drunken brawls every day. Men used to return home from work drunk, having spent their days' earning on liquor. Things have changed now, thanks to Girija".

Girija can barely sign her name and speaks only Bhojpuri. At first she was reluctant to accept the invitation from the United Nations: "At first, I did not want to go. I was afraid, not knowing what to say or do. Then I thought I would raise my voice against the evils of drinking even in foreign lands."

Interviewed by AsiaNews, John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, who has long defended the rights of outcastes, touched upon the "irony of the fact that an illiterate dalit will speak to the whole world." Added the Catholic activist: "Surely this woman represents the hidden India, hidden so far from the eyes of the world and from local and central government and from political structures. Let us listen to what she has to say and bear her words in mind in the future."

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