Indien: Tiliya Devi

Tiliya has managed to bring dignity to the people of an entire community, rallying them to fight for their rights against traditionally superior forces.

— Tiliya Devi

A Mushar (Dalit community) woman, Tiliya Devi fought opposition from all quarters-including within her home-to bring about a better life for her downtrodden community. Along the way, she succeeded in rallying together hordes of women in search of a better life, and took on the might of the upper-caste Yadavs who had encroached upon agricultural land belonging to the Mushars. After contesting the Panchayat (village council) elections, Tiliya has, since 2001, also been working as a Panchayat Samity (village council group) member.

Tiliya Devi (born 1963), from the Mushar community in the Dalit heartland in Bihar, grew up as most Mushar girls do: slaving as a bonded laborer. She was married off at 14, and continued being a bonded laborer-at her husband's house. The lives of the Mushar women took a turn for the better when the Lok Shakti Sangathan (LSS) came to their villages, promising them training in developmental work, and improved living conditions. Tiliya joined the campaign despite opposition from her husband. The Mushars were all farmers, but because of the lack of land in their settlements, they were forced to be "bonded" with big landlords. Tiliya discovered a 156–acre plot of land in her village belonging to the Dalits which upper-caste Yadav landlords had encroached on. Initiating a series of protest rallies, Tiliya spread the word for the imperative to reclaim the land that was rightfully theirs. The men refused outright, although the women stood beside Tiliya. There was such outrage that Tiliya's husband evicted her from the house. The reason: fear of a backlash from the upper-castes. And the upper-castes, obviously, vented their fury, attacking the Mushar men, women, even children. They looted the Mushars' cattle, and torched their houses. But Tiliya was not about to give up, and neither were the rest of the Mushars. Supported by the LSS, Tiliya led a protest and charted out their demands. The agitation finally bore fruit in 2004, when the land was legally handed over to the Mushars. In 2001, Tiliya contested the Panchayat elections and was appointed member to the Panchayat Samity. Her victory came almost undisputed. No justice could have been sweeter.

Samajik Shaikshnik Vikas Kendra (SSVK)