Meet Subhadra Khaperde

Meet woman's rights activist and PulseWire member Subhadra Khaperde. A Dalit woman from the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Subhadra empowers rural women to challenge oppressive societal norms. Together they have won many battles including securing forest and water rights and shutting down dozens of illegal liquor stores that feed alcohol abuse among their husbands.

World Pulse: Why women and why now?

Subhadra Khaperde: The feminist historian Gerda Lerner has shown in her book "Creation of Patriarchy," that women were the first to be subordinated and the last to realize that they were subordinated. It is women who have to fight the hardest, and they have to fight immediately as waiting will never get us justice.

WP: What does it mean to grow up as a Dalit woman in rural India?

Subhadra: Dalit women are doubly oppressed as they face social discrimination in society and also patriarchal oppression at home. I had to fight with my brothers for education and later for my property rights. Even within the social work organization that I joined there was discrimination against women and so I had to resign and start work on my own. Today I have to fight for my rights with my husband, men in my masters’ courses, and the state authorities.

Women are not considered as equals by men and are instead made to work and are subjected to physical and sexual chastisement as if they are slaves. Apart from the psychological stress, women also suffer from anemia and reproductive health problems as a consequence of this oppression. Thus mentally and physically most women lead a dreadful existence.

WP: What adversity did you face in completing your degree?

Subhadra: The university degree course was in a very difficult language and the assessment was also very strict. It took me seven years to pass it after failing once in some of the subjects. With the help of a tutor, the money to invest in the course and with sheer perseverance, I succeeded in the end. However, the average rural woman is poor and oppressed by men, so it is next to impossible for her to even think of pursuing higher education, let alone passing.

WP: What role have you played in securing land, forest, and water rights for the women of Madhya Pradesh?

Subhadra: I have organized women to fight for their rights. I found early on that even if there are laws and policies in favor of women, they will not be implemented unless women raise their voices and demand it. I have led many efforts in organizing women to improve our condition and have even undertaken hunger strikes and gone to jail with the women of Madhya Pradesh in protest of our injustices.

The Bhilala tribals of about 30 villages in Madhya Pradesh have fought together for the restoration of their rights to land. The women were at the forefront of this battle. We faced the forest department staff and went to jail. After a decade-long struggle, we managed to get the de facto rights to the forest and ensured that these rights will be given jointly in the names of both the husband and wife. For the first time - Bhilala women will have legal title to the land in their own name.

The same women have organized themselves into small groups and taken over the protection of the forests near their villages. Over a period of two decades these forests have been regenerated and they yield timber, fodder, and other fruits and nuts which all enhance their livelihoods. The women go around in small groups patrolling the forests to ensure that they are not cut down. They have also built soil and water conservation projects on their land to increase agricultural productivity, which further improves livelihood of their community.

The most important aspect of this movement was to get the women organized and ready to fight and work together. Once that happened, even the men had to go along with it because of the huge rewards that such communitarian action brought. There even are instances where the men have taken on the responsibility of domestic work so as to free the women to take part in rights actions, community afforestation and soil and water conservation work.

WP: What is the greatest lesson you have learned as an activist for women's rights?

Subhadra: One must never give up, even in the face of heavy odds. Fighting for gender justice is a thankless task given the huge opposition from men, but I will continue the fight. And the future is bright – because with every passing day, more and more women are fighting for their rights. Now in the local government system there is 50% reservation for women which opens up a new vista of empowerment.

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Comment on this World Pulse News


Namaste Subhadra, I am very impressed with the work you do and your strength to persevere women's rights and stewardship of the forests. Is there an organisation that you belong to or have formed where we can learn more and support your efforts? Keep up the fight. Only good can come of it in the long term and hopefully in the short term. Suzanne

There has to be an organisation even if it is a small one to systematically work for justice. So I am associated with many organisations. Specifically for women's rights there is the organisation "Kansari Nu Vadavno" which means in the Bhilali language - Felicitation of the Goddess Kansari. Kansari is the symbolic Goddess for the staple cereal Sorghum and is considered to be the giver of life and the most important deity in the Bhil pantheon. An epic hymn is sung in her praise during thanksgiving festivals after harvest. Even though the Bhil society is highly patriarchal their most powerful deity is a Goddess. That is why the organisation has been named after her to stress the importance of women and agriculture in the culture of the Bhils. Apart from this there are also broadbased mass organisations called Adivasi Shakti Sangathan, Adivasi Morcha Sangathan and Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath. Then there are two NGOs - Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra and Aarohi Nyas through which we source external Indian funds to support our work. However, we do not source funds from outside India because that requires submitting to police surveillance and extensive accounting procedures which we do not like. Instead we take small cash donations from people abroad in my name from time to time which keeps things very simple. So far we do not have any website. My husband Rahul has a blog which is dedicated to the struggles of the Bhils including those of the women. I propose to develop my journal in worldpulse as my own publicity arm for my gender justice related work ! So watch out for my posts there.

Subhadra Khaperde India


It is wonderful and inspiring to hear about your efforts.

I work with an organization that has been working to help poor communities - particularly tribal and dalit communities, and especially women and girls - get secure rights to land in India and elsewhere. It is an incredibly complex and difficult environment to work in and make positive change, so your efforts are all the more amazing!

Keep up the great work. We all have much to learn from you.

Radha Friedman Global Center for Women's Land Rights at RDI

Radha Friedman

Subhadra, I am new to World Pulse, and your's is one of the first blogs that I have read. I was deeply moved by your words and efforts on behalf of the women of your country. Being a white woman that was born and raised in the U.S., I often think of how much we women of the States take for granted. When I hear stories of abuses of women around the world, I get angry, but also frustrated. I am not a wealthy woman, so I can not donate money; I am also a mother, wife, and student who is struggling to keep her family housed, fed, and clothed, while striving for a better future for myself and my family, so time is also a precious commodity that I have little extra of. But in writing these things to you, they start to sound like excuses, not to mention menial when held against the struggle you and women like you face every day. What ways can I, and other women who feel as I do, help support yours and other women's causes? Sincerely, Heather Frazier Molalla, Oregon U.S.A.

Dear Heather, I am sorry for the delay in replying but I had not checked this article for quite some time and so did not know about your post. Your sympathy and support for our work is itself of immense value. It gives me great strength to know that someone in America is morally supporting my work. Money and time are not always available to women given the subordinate status we have in society but solidarity is something that we can provide each other in abundance. Once again thank you for the moral support it is precious for me. regards Subhadra

Subhadra Khaperde India