Indien: Sharda Devi

I love this work; it is a part of my life. It gives me happiness, satisfaction, and connects me to so many women like me. Their love and blessings give me the inspiration and strength to continue.

— Sharda Devi

Sharda Devi grew up in an orthodox and conservative family, whose displeasure she braved in order to take up a job outside the home to support herself and her family. She is a pillar of strength and commitment and continues every day to fight on behalf of women, with dignity, perseverance, and courage.

Sharda Devi, affectionately known as Sharda Behn, was born in 1936 to an affluent, but very conservative and orthodox family of landlords in Uttar Pradesh. She grew up in a typically feudal environment characterized by enormous differences in the status of men and women. Sharda barely completed elementary school: after finishing the fourth grade she was compelled to leave school to look after her young siblings, learn household work, and prepare herself for marriage. However even as a young child, Sharda did not believe in differences of class or caste. Her family's attitude of caste discrimination irked her and led her to begin thinking about unequal power relations in Indian society. Marriage brought Sharda to Delhi. The economic condition of her marital home was not good and Sharda often thought about going out to work. However it was only in 1974, after 28 years of constant struggle, that she was able to break the shackles of patriarchy and take up a job to support the family. In 1976, she joined Action India and through her work with the organization, she succeeded in persuading women to take control of their lives and question their subordinate status and roles. It was at this time that she facilitated the formation of Sabla Sanghs in the slum and resettlement colonies in which she worked. She herself faced a lot of hostility, abuse, and threats from men in the communities in which she worked. Undeterred by these obstacles, she continued in her mission.Through Sabla Sanghs and Mahila Panchayats, Sharda has reached nearly 3000 women and their families who have been in situations of crisis. She is actively involved in a campaign to promote a national domestic violence bill which, if passed by parliament, will go a long way toward ensuring the safely of women.

Action India