Indien: Yashoda Sharma

We women have to spend all our life in the kitchen inhaling this smoke. Through my work I will do my best to make my life, and other women's lives, smoke free.

— Yashoda Sharma

Yashoda Sharma (born 1950) is a trailblazer. By stepping out of her conservative Brahmin home to take up a range of social causes, from installing smokeless stoves in village kitchens to campaigning against alcoholism and domestic violence, she has transformed her own life and is helping change others'. A woman who never went to school, and weathered considerable unhappiness in her personal life, has become a role model for other women in a traditional rural community in Himachal Pradesh.

A young girl in Himachal Pradesh is abducted. Her father goes to the police to lodge a report. The police illegally charge him 500 rupies. When a social worker hears about this, she mobilizes local women's groups and launches an agitation against the police. The women block the national highway, and demand that the erring officials be suspended. The police are forced to return the money; the station house officer is suspended. The girl is tracked down in another district. The social worker in question, Yashoda Sharma, is a farmer's unschooled daughter and daily wage-earner's wife. Yet, she has led one struggle after another in her traditional rural community. Yashoda has helped women combat domestic violence, demanded justice for rape victims, advised women on legal issues in open courts organized by the district administration, and forced liquor shops to close their shutters. Sharma has not only changed the lives of other women, but her own as well. Trapped for years in an unhappy marriage, she has won over her husband and built a secure home and life for her children. The turning point came when, living away from her husband with her parents, she trained as a smokeless chullah (stove) mason. Becoming an expert in her job, the smokeless chullah experience led to a full-time job in 1987 as a fieldworker with Sutra (Social Uplift Through Rural Action), the voluntary agency that had facilitated the training. Yashoda revitalized women's groups set up by district officials, began working on the legal rights of women, and persuaded Sutra to start a legal aid program. Yashoda was nominated to attend the International Conference on Women in Beijing, where she spoke on the status of women in India's hill areas. It has been an amazing journey for a woman whose life could so easily have become another litany of frustration and misery.

Social Uplift Through Rural Action (Sutra)