Deepa began working as a social activist when she was 14 years old. Belonging to a nomadic tribe (de-notified tribe) who are extremely vulnerable socially, politically and economically in India, she has closely seen, experienced, fought against and overcome gender-based and caste-based violence. It is this background that has driven her activism, taught her strategies and developed her leadership since a very young age.
As she started developing lenses of gender, class and caste oppressions, Deepa realised that the people who are affected by these are best suited to solve them in the most equitable way possible. She thus began working to develop grassroot leadership.
While she consistently grew and overcame deep challenges in her personal life, professionally she began forming youth groups and started mentoring / training them. She also identified that these young people must work in collaboration with other stakeholders such as their parents, peers, community leaders as well as government systems. Deepa therefore started forming women’s groups who can support the youth’s initiatives in their areas and started participating in campaigns – networks of NGOs and individuals who advocate with relevant government departments to bring about systemic and policy level change to solve a certain issue. She made sure that the youth and women’s groups were also engaging with relevant government bodies, officials or elected members so as to collaborate with the democratic system and bring about concrete change.
During this work, Deepa met other like-minded women who were working in the grassroot for organic change. All of them shared the common experience of being socio-politically active since a young age. Anubhuti was thus formed. In the last two years, the organisation has reached over 10000 people with its programs on Youth Leadership, Sexual & Reproductive Health, Mental Health, Women's Economic Empowerment and sensitization of Boys & Men.
Today, youth leadership forms her core expertise area. In almost two decades of work, she has formed youth groups who have gone on to form their own organisations and be one of the accepted leaders in their areas whom people approach when in need. Young men in these groups mentored by her have taken difficult stands in family and community for rights of choice, education and career for their sisters and wives. Some have given up abuse of drugs. Both young women and men in her mentorship have helped stop public sexual harassment in their community. Local leaders and community religious leaders have changed their views on gender rights having been influenced by the work of these youth. Young women living in a home for trafficked and homeless have overcome severe trauma and started pursuing avenues for their development. Youth mentored by her are part of national campaigns for equal rights of sanitation, food and dignity and they are successfully bringing these campaigns to the grassroot by implementing them in their own communities.
Deepa is a core team member of the national and internationally acclaimed Right to Pee campaign which is a grassroot young women-led campaign for safe, accessible, dignified public toilets for women, girls, trans persons and the disabled. Similarly, she is also part of various rights-based campaigns such as for food, water, housing, unorganised workers’ rights and so on. She is invited as an expert trainer by other organisations, corporates and government departments. She writes in newspapers and magazines, speaks on news channels about issues, and advocates with government officials and political leaders for their sensitivity and support. Her work has been recognised nationally and internationally such as by the CII Foundation’s Women Exemplar Award 2018 in which she was a finalist in the area of Health, and by UC Berkeley’s Tell Her Story contest, in which she is the Grand Prize winner for her work in sexual & reproductive rights.
Deepa has worked closely in the area of economic empowerment of women and girls, which is from the perspective of developing women and girls’ capacities, their understanding of rights in the workplace, and their leadership in attaining these rights as well as advocating with relevant government departments regarding the same. It is also from the perspective of social justice for vulnerable populations, equitable development of marginalized regions and communities and advocating for safer and more accessible workplaces which shall enable the overall social and economic empowerment of women and girls. As the rest of her work, this is also informed by the principles of grassroot, collective and feminist leadership.