India: Mahalir Sakthi

Our partner, Mahalir Sakthi, means ‘Women Power’ in English. It is a thriving hub in the slum areas of Madurai in India with a clear goal of empower children and women largely Dalit and Adivasi backgrounds to break the cycle of poverty, unemployment and discrimination.

We partner with Mahalir Sakthi to:

  • Improve education outcomes for children, most of whom are the first in their families to attend school beyond primary school and who often lack the privacy, lighting and support to study at home. Mahalir Sakthi runs a network of after-school tuition centres which meet daily after school and focus on children and young people at risk of dropping out of school.
  • Build women’s economic independence and leadership through training in tailoring and typing.
  • Protect rights of women working through their Domestic Workers Union which empowers women with information about their wages and conditions and links women to certified employers.
  • Improve health outcomes, through regular health lectures and quarterly free GP clinics.

Defending human rights for Dalit and Adivasi communities

Mahalir Sakthi’s centre is a welcoming hub for all people and religions in the slums of Madurai but a large part of their work is advocacy for Dalit and Adivasi rights, traditionally at the bottom rung of India’s outdated caste system. Tradition assigns Dalit and Adivasi communities to precarious and dangerous work in society, including gutter cleaning, manual scavenging, toilet cleaning, and garbage removal. Dalits and Advasi communities, particularly women and girls, continue to face discrimination, degradation, and higher rates of violence. Due to high rates of alcoholism and poverty, women are often the main bread winners and the responsibility of taking care of their families rests upon them.

Dalit children have very high rates of drop out from schools. This results in children often becoming child labours and inheriting the same demeaning tasks their parents performed. They are forced to continue to remain bonded to money lenders to pay back the loans raised by their families.

Meet Mahalakshmi, one of the young women that Mahalir Sakthi has work. Mahalakshmi is now 18 years old and grew up in the slum areas of Madurai. With the help of Mahalir Sakthi, she has completed year 12 in 2021. Her home life has been complicated; her mother’s ill health and her father’s alcohol abuse and violence have meant that she has had to look elsewhere for the stability and support to get her through her studies. Mahalir Sakthi helped her with her studies, including the supply of study materials and education support through after-school tuition centres. Over time Mahalakshmi gained the confidence and leadership skills to become a Mahalir Sakthi tutor for younger children and an activist for the rights of young women like her. She is now looking forward to studying a Bachelor of Education in the future.

Watch the video to meet Guna, Director of Mahalir Sakthi, and some of the tutors and students that Mahalir Sakthi works with