India: Shanta Devi

Not for nothing is 75-year-old Shanta still revered as "the dharna (protest) lady" and "Shanta toofani" (thunderous)-indefatigability on a huge range of issues defines her work.

— Shanta Devi

Shanta Devi's work with nonformal education is driven by her conviction that education is essential to a person's understanding of the world. She worked alone, and then with the Ankur-Society for Alternatives in Education, trying to reach out, particularly to women, children, and youth. Beside having supported human rights issues, Shanta campaigns for slum dwellers' rights, supporting HIV+ persons, sexual minorities, and fighting for nuclear disarmament. At 75, she is revered as "Shanta toofani" (thunderous).

Shanta Devi (born 1929) grew up watching-and was deeply disturbed by-the prejudice of her upper-caste Brahmin family against other castes. When she was 33, her husband died, leaving her to fend for herself and seven children. What followed was a period of abject poverty and ceaseless toil. Through her concern for her children's education and efforts to educate other children, Shanta was taken by the need to complete her own studies. Joining an adult education center for women, she completed her high school. Bitten by the bug, Shanta began teaching children informally after she completed her education in 1960. Her move to Delhi in 1977 pointed her in a new direction: she came in touch with Ankur, an NGO that provides nonformal education to economically deprived children, and joined it two years later. Beside her work with the Ankur nonformal education centers, Shanta spent extra time every evening at nonformal education centers for women, children, and youth. When her children grew up enough to be autonomous, Shanta began working full-time. She fought for the rights of slum dwellers, laborers, factory workers, rickshaw-pullers, autorickshaw drivers, street-children, hawkers and vendors, fish workers, blind children, and many more. Over the years, Shanta has been involved, in every capacity imaginable, a wide range of issues-the Mathura Rape Case, the Roop Kanwar Sati (widow self-immolation), the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, the 1984 riots, housing-rights issues, child labor, domestic workers, jhuggi-jhonpri (slum cluster) issues, discrimination against HIV+ people, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, gay-lesbian rights, the antinuclear bomb campaign, and unemployment. At 75, she is still active in protests, demonstrations, seminars, conventions, and workshops. There is enough reason why she is known as the "dharna (protest) lady" and "Shanta toofani".

Ankur-Society for Alternatives in Education