Krishna is forty, but looks older after years of hard physical work. He is a field labourer close to the Karuna-funded ‘Bhaja Rural Retreat Centre’, where his wife Nanda is the cook. Krishna went to school for a few years but his wife is uneducated. They are from a tribal fishing caste that moved inland to find work in a village a few miles from Bhaja. Although they could earn more elsewhere, Krishna and Nanda are happy at the retreat centre, where they are treated well and enjoy working in a supportive and friendly atmosphere.

Because they don’t have a ‘caste certificate’ they are unable to claim state entitlements – such as school placements and government jobs – or social security. For certification they need to show fifty years’ worth of evidence that their families have lived in their village, but they fear that if they hand their documents over to the government they might not get them back – a predicament that has already befallen some of their neighbours. The community at Bhaja Retreat Centre is helping them to get their certificate, and has also helped their daughter Savita stay at the Karuna funded Vishrantwadi Education Hostel for the past three years. Krishna and Nanda hope that through education she will grow to be an independent woman, free to make her own choices.

Savita, now thirteen, states quite clearly, ‘I don’t want to work in rice fields. This won’t give meaning to my life. I want to become a computer engineer.’ Prior to being at the hostel, Savita had walked four hours each day to attend school. At home, she had to help her parents work in the fields. The village had limited electricity, so after dark it was hard to study. Now, however, she has supportive conditions and is doing well at school. She is also learning yoga – and karate!

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