Kottayam: Sister Sudha Varghese, regarded as a spokeswoman for the marginalized, has been chosen as the ‘Vanitha Woman of the Year 2017.' The award, instituted by the Malayala Manorama Group, carries a purse of Rs.1 lakh. It recognizes her tireless efforts to empower Musahar, a community in Bihar which lies at the bottom of India’s hundreds of Dalit sub-castes.
A native of Kanjirathanam in Kottayam district, Sister Sudha, who is attached to the Notre Dame Sisters Society in Patna, gave up her cloistered life as a teacher to serve the poorest of the poor.
When she started working among Musahars twenty-one years ago, caste discrimination and child marriages were rampant in the community. She lived in a sparse hut in Jamsath, a remote village in Bihar, helping to organize women from marginalized communities to stand up against caste and gender atrocities.
In 1987, she launched Nari Gunjan, a non-profit organization to help Dalit women become aware of and access their rights. Nari Gunjan runs several educational institutions and self-employment schemes to ensure that these women lead a productive and dignified life.
Balika Vidyalayas or residential schools for girls at upper primary level belonging to backward communities, were opened at Lalkotti in Danapur and Gaya. The other institutions run by Nari Gunjan included Mata Samiti for mothers, around 40 anganwadis across Bihar, care homes for girl children and elderly who were pushed to beggary on the streets, snacks manufacturing units, sanitary napkin production plants etc.
Physical and mental torture from a section of local people and authorities did not deter her from working to empower the socially and economically backward sections.
In 2006, Sister Sudha was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest Indian civilian award, for her significant contributions to society.
She is also the recipient of several prestigious honors including the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Shiksha Puruskar, Godfrey Phillips India Social Lifetime Achievement Award, Icon of Bihar Award, and Good Samaritan Award.
The latest edition of ‘Vanitha’ will feature a detailed story on Sister Sudha’s life.