Karuna works largely in India, where hundreds of millions of people suffer lives of grinding poverty and oppression, excluded from the region’s economic boom.
Dalit, Adivasi and other disadvantaged communities struggle as landless day labourers, in constant danger of violence and exploitation, with little or no recourse to the law or police. At best their children receive a few years of substandard schooling. In the teeming cities, such people live in cramped, dirty slum huts, so oppressed by the daily struggle to survive that they can offer little means of escape to their children.
Karuna works with community based organisations that are helping thousands of people to escape the hell of poverty and discrimination and take their rightful place in society.
What We Do
Under the traditional Indian caste system, dalit and tribal children were denied access to education. Today, in spite of the government's pledge to provide education for all, children from disadvantaged backgrounds still face massive obstacles. All too often children, especially girls, are taken out of school for early marriage, domestic work or child labor. Karuna supports thousands of children from disadvantaged dalit and tribal backgrounds to remain in school as long as possible so that they can realise their aspiration for a better life.
As a result of gender inequality and discrimination, women and girls are the most vulnerable, marginalised and economically disempowered group in Indian society. The situation is even worse for dalit women who also suffer discrimination on the basis of class and caste. This double discrimination leaves dalit women disadvantaged in terms of education, access to land and other resources, social rights and basic services, security and access to justice. Karuna aims to support partners and build a strong dalit womens movement, enabling disadvantaged women to become effective agents of change, claim their rights and improve their lives.
Capacity building and training
Karuna partners with locally based community groups who are working to challenge the prejudices and practices that keep people trapped in poverty. Very often the leaders and staff of these organisations come from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves and need training and support to enable them to work effectively.
Karuna funds a programme of skill building workshops and encourages community groups to form effective networks for sustainable social change.
Empowerment and advocacy
The Indian Constitution and legal system provide many safe guards to protect the rights of the most disadvantaged. But very often people from dalit and tribal communities are not able to access these rights at a local level because of deeply ingrained caste prejudice. For example in many rural areas dalit women are very vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse and often are unable to get protection and justice from local police and courts despite the legal frameworks being in place. Karuna aims to empower and enable dalit, tribal and other vulnerable communities to access their rights as defined within the Indian Constitution and other relevant legislation so that they can take their rightful place in society.
Health and wellbeing
As a Buddhist organisation we believe that all beings have an equal potential for growth and development. But in India, more than 250 million people are considered so low in the social hierarchy that they are considered inherently inferior and impure. Once called 'untouchables', now known at dalits (downtrodden) they are routinely discriminated against and denied access to education and healthcare. Millions of dalits grow up suffering from the crippling psychological effects of this legacy of untouchability. Karuna works with its local partners to improve the confidence, health and wellbeing of people from these communities to enable as many as possible to make positive choices and live happy, fulfilled lives.
Under the caste system each community would be identified by its occupation. Traditionally dalit and tribal people were forced to carry out the most menial and degrading work and even today many communities are expected to fulfill their caste duties by carrying out activities such as manual scavenging for rubbish, cleaning toilets by hand or making bricks out of mud. Karuna supports its partners in challenging traditional caste based attitudes, enabling people from dalit and tribal backgrounds to develop vocational skills so that they can access decent, dignified and better paid employment.