For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment
Dr. Maxine Berntsen delivering VI Dr. Neera Desai Memorial Lecture on 24-9-2015
Sharda: A Dalit Woman Reconstructs Her Self
This is the story of Sharda, a Dalit woman caught in the confusions of change. Inspired by Ambedkar her father decided to educate his children, including his daughter Sharda. However, when she was in the third standard he suddenly arranged her marriage. Shortly afterwards, he sent her to study in an ashram in Pune. When she came together with her husband, she fell completely in love with him. Meanwhile, she was imbibing the ethos of the ashram, that a woman’s husband was her all-in-all.
After leaving the ashram she went to live with her husband and his family. For several years she stayed there, but with frequent visits to her maternal home. Finally, however, her husband refused to take her back. For twenty years she struggled to get him to acknowledge her as his wife, but to no avail. Meanwhile she learned tailoring, got a bank loan and set up a shop. The nadir of her life occurred when she was informed that her husband had remarried; and the same week her shop was burned to the ground in a caste riot.
The question I have tried to answer is how Sharda coped with this crisis – not only immediately but from then on. Borrowing informally from the conceptual framework of Erik Eriksen and Robert Kegan, I have attempted to trace the process of her defining and redefining her identity in the dialogue with herself, her family, and her social environment.