Indien: America Devi

Initially, not many people were willing to take a few uneducated women-protesting without the support of their husbands-seriously, but America Devi changed all that.

— America Devi

America Devi, from the Mushar community in Dalit Bihar's heartland, started her journey in activism as part of the Lok Shakti Sangathan. Becoming part of their campaign was only the first step, as America later took on the Bihar government-first, a state minister who had taken over a village pond belonging to the Dalits, and then the government, which had denied the Dalits employment. She won both fights, and even forced a re-examination of government policy.

America Devi spent the best part of her childhood and youth as a bonded agricultural laborer, first at her parents' house and then at her husband's. She came into her own only around the time the Lok Shakti Sangathan (LSS), a people's organization working among Bihar's downtrodden, came to her village calling out to women to join their campaign for a better life. America had her first brush with education after joining the LSS; she learnt to read and write, and her work involved introducing women from her own village and neighboring villages to the LSS process. America also contributed by creating a Gramkosh (fund for village development). Her first involvement with activism came when she fought for the rights of her villagers in connection with a village pond belonging to the Dalits, which had been illegally taken over by a state minister. She led the protests against the minister and his cronies along with the rest of the women in the community, even as the men held back for fear of a backlash. Some years later, the Dalits were allowed to reclaim possession of the pond. The Mushars are employed through a government policy when there is any big government project that needs laborers. In 2002, the Bihar government began repair work on a particular river embankment: even as the Mushars waited to be informed about work, things started going wrong. The government replaced the men with machines, and the Mushars were left in suspended anticipation. But the series of protests America initiated forced the government to re-examine its policy, and 150,000 Mushars finally got the employment they needed.

Lok Shakti Sangathan (LSS)