Interview with Anuradha Bhosale

Posted by on Nov 3, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

Interview with Anuradha Bhosale of AVANI originally published at the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute Blog: AVANI is one of the stops the Gandhi Legacy Tour of India makes each year.

Anuradha Bhosale Interview by Lynnea Bylund

Anuradha Bhosale is a highly cherished hero to thousands of impoverished children and their families. Ms Bhosale is a renowned grassroots women’s rights and anti-child labor activist based in Kolhapur, India where more than 35,000 children are involved in daily labor for local industries. A former child-laborer herself at the age of six, she has spent the past 20 years fighting for the prevention of child exploitation, labor, trafficking, and female infanticide.

Anuradha Bhosale is a highly cherished hero to thousands of impoverished children and their families. Ms Bhosale is a renowned grassroots women’s rights and anti-child labor activist based in Kolhapur, India where more than 35,000 children are involved in daily labor for local industries. A former child-laborer herself at the age of six, she has spent the past 20 years fighting for the prevention of child exploitation, labor, trafficking, and female infanticide.

Owning to her heroism and accomplishments Anuradha has been called the ‘Bandit Queen of India’s Social Movement’, likened to India’s legendary ‘Bandit Queen’, Phoolan Devi who went from ordinary village woman to seasoned bandit of northern India and finally an elected member of Indian Parliament before being gunned down by unknown assassins.

As founder of the WCRC (Women and Child Rights Campaign), Anuradha has educated, trained and empowered thousands of widowed, divorced and deprived women in the rural areas of India to stand up and fight for their rights as allowed by the Indian constitution. 52,000 of them now receive some $714,000 in monthly government pension checks ro which they were previously unaware of being entitled.

Lynnea Bylund Interviews Anuradha BhosaleAs founder of the AVANI organization, Anuradha has facilitated the rescue of 541 child laborers, provided 5,604 nomadic migrant children and school drop outs the right to health care and education, organized the construction of schools inside the brickyard labor camps and established a residential home for migrant children.

If you ask Anuradha these days about her ultimate goal her response is often simply, “To rid (the Indian state of) Maharashtra of child slavery.”  Catalyst House founder and GWEI board member Lynnea Bylund had the opportunity recently to engage Anuradha in a deep dive interview, beginning here with part one.

LB: Much of what you do involves going up against and trying to change deep cultural beliefs and norms, isn’t it?

AB: The Caste system is a significant aspect of Indian social structure. lt is divided into four parts or compartments. They are hermetically sealed from one another. They are vertically placed, one above another, they represent four levels of quality. The people belonging to the top three classes or castes are placed one above the other. That is, within these three internally there is inequality. The topmost, the priest class rules the roost. The second caste, the warrior class defends the realm and defends the caste structure and the rights of the privileged classes from external aggression or internal discord. lts place in society is only second to the priest caste.  The third caste is of the agriculturists and merchants. All the, three enjoy property rights. In the feudal set up the top two owned nearly half of the social wealth, which in preindustrial days was counted in terms of land and livestock.

Anuradha Bhosale is a local hero interviewedThe fourth class is made of the dispossessed and the downtrodden. They were reduced to a subhuman, slave – like existence. They had no rights, most of them had no independent source of livelihood. They were condemned to live by selling their labour and by rendering services and providing the needs of the agrarian society. In this class of the underprivileged are included the nomadic tribes. Their number nationally is 11% of the total population. At present they are the most deprived. 

In spite of industrial development and rise of the industrial working class and the middle class and spread of education, Indian society’s basic character still remains feudal.  Since independence that is, from 1947, movement in the opposite direction is taking place. Feudalization of the society is happening.

Therefore women are still not treated as equal.  Which means the society is based on inequality and women still do not have equal rights.  Therefore, my work among the socially backward communities and women can be regarded as reformist in character.

LB: You are Catholic now. Did you grow up Catholic or converted to Catholicism and when? How does being Catholic personally empower you and your mission?

Anuradha and Lynnea chillin in San Clemente CaliforniaAB: I inherited Catholicism from my parents.  My paternal grandfather first was converted to Catholicism. He was a Hindu by birth, but he belonged to the lowest level in the caste hierarchy. He belonged to the so -called outcaste, or subhuman category. People of that category were denied entry into Hindu temples, they were segregated from the main village and forced to live in ghettos.  They were denied entry into schools.  They had no independent source of livelihood.  They were condemned to a life of slavery.

A converted Christian of any denomination technically at least becomes an outsider in Hindu society.  Therefore the taboos do not formally apply to him; and he is formally liberated from the shackles of Hindu caste systems.  The Christian missionaries treated these formerly outcaste people with sympathy and human warmth.  I grew up as a Catholic and had no inferiority complex.  The Catholic mission in my area had established schools and hostels where I could be educated without difficulty and I did not face discrimination.  Catholicism with its emphasis on love and compassion for your

fellow beings and the doctrine of serving humanity being equivalent to serving God must have laid the foundation of a service – oriented attitude in me.

LB: Tell me a little about how you became so involved in the mission to rescue exploited women and children?

AB: I know the agony of deprived childhood first hand: Since I was six I have slogged as a domestic help. I had to serve in four households. My routine started from six in the morning and continued till 11 am and then I rushed to my school.  Sometimes on half – empty stomach. lt was heavy manual work, like cleaning of pots and pans, washing of clothes, sweeping and rubbing of floors. My employees however treated me sympathetically. Some of them gave me food. Later on the church supported my higher education, because of which I could obtain a university degree in social work. Education has enabled me to get gainful employment.

My personal experience was enough for me to understand the vulnerability of women and children who hail from the economically weaker sections. My life experience also proves the fact that given a fighting chance for self – improvement makes a world of difference for them.  The experience of my married life became another school which gave me raw lessons about the vulnerability of women in a tradition – bound society like India. Mine was a arranged marriage.  It was one based on mutual understanding. My friends and my collogues suggested me to marry him. lt was an inter-caste marriage, my husband hailed from an underprivileged caste.

I became a part of a joint family consisting of husband’s mother, husband’s grandmother, his elder sister and her three children. There were eight members in all.  Mother-in-law and my husband’s sister started harassing me and my husband did not defend me.  Later I came to know about his love affair with another woman. That added fuel to fire: Matters came to a head and one night he threw me out with my two small children.  For three weeks I lived in the make shift shed of a destitute woman in the neighborhood.

An educated and earning woman like me saddled with the responsibility of children could be thrown into a helpless position. I could imagine what must be the plight of women who are in more vulnerable position than mine. Patriarchal society drives women to utterly desperate situations. My background and my experience and the stated aims and objects of AVANI are on the same page. lts mission as laid down in its constitution is to work for the enabling of the deprived sections of society to meet their basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, useful education and healthful living. I got consent and encouragement from the AVANI board in my present activities.  This factor strengthened my resolve to work for the upliftment of deprived children and their mothers.

To Be Continued

lynnea2 The Board

Lynnea Bylund is managing director of Gandhi Legacy Tours, Director of Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, founder of Catalyst House and has nearly three decades of experience in administration, marketing and business development. She was a nationally recognized spokeswoman for the emerging alternative video and information delivery industries. She has a degree in holistic health-nutrition from the legendary and controversial health educator and activist Dr. Kurt Donsbach, she is the founder of two not-for-profit small business-based wireless trade associations and has lobbied on Capitol Hill and at the FCC where she has spoken out strongly against the cable TV monopoly, illegal spectrum warehousing and ill-conceived congressional schemes to auction our nation’s precious airwaves to the highest bidder.

Ms. Bylund is a founder and former CEO of a Washington DC telecommunications consulting and management company with holdings in several operating and developmental wireless communications systems and companies. In 1995 Lynnea became the first female in the world to be awarded a Broadband PCS operating permit – she was one of only 17 winners, along with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in the biggest cash auction in world history, raising a whopping $8 billion. Lynnea also spear-headed the successful effort to launch the first cable TV network in the South Pacific islands.
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