UnionAID Fact Sheet 3 Supporting real change: India
A true life story of a union member Kaleeswari (left) is one of the leaders of the Tribal Agricultural Workers’ Union in Tamil Nadu, South India. The UnionAID project has enabled more than 30,000 Dalit (untouchable) and Tribal (indigenous) workers like Kaleeswari to unionise and improve conditions for themselves, their families and their communities. This is her story:
My name is Kaleeswari and I live with my family in a small village on the lower hills of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu in South India. There are 32 families in our village. We are all poor and own no land to grow our own food. Because
Lack of roads, transport, and
of this we work for higher caste people, collecting and selling
water are some of the basic
wild grass, berries, honey, gum, nuts and herbs. I take my
features of poverty. Roads and
children to the fields as there is no school and we need them
transport keep people in touch
to work for the family. Our village has many health problems and many children die before the age of five due to malnutrition. Because water is scarce and dirty, we get sick from common illnesses like diarrhoea, measles and chicken pox. Often there are no doctors, nurses of medicines available to help. We felt that no one cared about us because we are untouchables. But now things have changed.
with one another and also increase the prices people can get for crops and products. Roads, even just to the next village give people more choices and also provide access to services like schools and health care.
I am President of the village women’s committee and we meet regularly to discuss and make plans to solve village problems. We learn about basic rights and the government services which can help us. We organise rallies and protests to demand equal wages, education for children, health care services and clean drinking water. We have also formed a women’s bank so we don’t have to borrow at high interest rates from money lenders. We now have a voice and we are changing our lives by taking part politically and economically.