Dr. Beryl D’souza

Dr. Beryl D’souza is the woman leading the project to raise awareness of the plight of the Dalits in India, in particular highlighting the plight of the millions of young girls subjected to state sanctioned prostitution and poverty.

She leads the newly emerging and multi-faceted Good Shepherd Healthcare Initiative, a stream of the India Group of OM Ministries dedicated to bringing human rights to the Dalit people of India through restoring health and well-being through medical services and preventative treatment. Both passionate about her cause and eloquent in her expression, Dr. D’souza is quickly becoming one of India’s prominent global campaigners for equality-based healthcare for all of India, especially women and children.  Specially concerned with the issue of human trafficking and the out of control HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping through India at present,  Dr. D’souza works with other Dalit acitivists and medical professionals around the globe to bring together the required resources to battle mortality and morbity rates and see the Dalit people of India achieve health and well-being in this generation.

  • She is the leader of the Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, HIV/AIDS clinic which has been servicing thousands of patients with medical treatment and counselling for the last decade.
  • She recently inaugurated the Belgaum, Karnataka, HIV/AIDS clinic among the Devadasi (temple prostitute) population battling both disease and human trafficking.
  • She successfully designed and implemented GSHI’s Community Health Worker programme which has placed nearly 60 Community Health Workers in needy communities around India in conjunction with OMIF’s Dalit Education Centers.  Pilot Projects have proven the Health Worker model effective in improving health among the Dalit people in the villages in which CHWs are placed in just a one-year time.
  • She travels widely speaking to a variety of audiences about health and welfare issues in India, as well as her own personal experiences, literature and her faith.

I met with Beryl on a recent visit to Glasgow and she explained just why this cause is so important.

The Dalits, more widely known as “Untouchables” are a broken, crushed, oppressed people. There are 250 million Dalits who contribute immensely to India’s manual labour force and they frequently, virtually always in fact, operate under conditions of physical, sexual, spiritual slavery. In India Dalits are considered worthless.

They are impoverished, excluded, abused, humiliated, exploited and denied justice.
Dalit women are thrice discriminated:
  • treated as untouchables and as outcastes, due to their caste,
  • they face gender discrimination being women and
  • face economic impoverishment due to wage disparity,  only being able to find low or underpaid labour.

The health of Dalit women is often dreadful,  with high incidence of maternal and infant mortality as  Dalit women are often unable to access health care services.

Due to the complete denial of, or at best the provision of sub standard,  healthcare services the life expectancy of Dalit women is as low as 50 years. and  infant mortality  is as high as  90 deaths in every 1.000 births.
Due to poverty, Dalit women are malnourished and anemic. Early marriage and multiple child births causes the women to suffer from many conditions, including prolapsed uterus.
Continuous bending when working, for example while sowing and harvesting,  causes acute back pain. Women working in the fields also develop skin irritation and allergy due to excessive use of pesticides. As they work barefoot and the soil is damp and wet, the women develop sores.
Due to lack of awareness and poor medical care, many women suffer from reproductive health complications, including STDs and cervical cancer.
Trafficking is a reality which faces every Dalit.
There are 100 million victims of trafficking in India , almost half of whom are children.

 

A microcosm of the trafficking problem is that of the Devadasi.  This is religiously sanctioned prostitution which often translates into straightforward prostitution.

Devadasi translates as  “servant of god” and is a religious tradition in which girls are “married” and dedicated to a deity  or to a temple. The devadasi system was outlawed in all of India in 1988 however over quarter of a million devadasis still exist in India today. According to a 2004 report by the National Human Rights Commission of the Government of India report, “after initiation as devadasis, women migrate either to nearby towns or other far-off cities to practice prostitution”. A study from 1990 recorded that 45.9% of devadasis in one particular district were prostitutes.

There are 250,000 Devadasis who endure physical, sexual and spiritual slavery and amongst whom there is a growing problem with HIV and AIDS.

Young girls are initiated into Devadasi practice without their consent, are not allowed to marry and are forced to support their family by prostitution. They are subsequently discriminated against by all parts of society because of their status and suffer from social isolation and stigma. This is magnified when they acquire HIV and AIDS, which is increasingly common.

Despite the fact that it is now illegal, the situation is actually getting worse and the age of the young girls initiated is decreasing and there is increasing demand for their services.

So what is being done to help?
In general terms this falls into four categories;
– Education
-Awareness
-Economic Development
-Advocacy

 

We are promoting awareness through self help groups and networking-with government and non governmental organizations. Our medical work includes home based care, integrated counseling and testing centres and improved access to government ART centres.

 

I am grateful that Dr D’Souza took time out of her busy schedule to talk to me last month and look forward to supporting her in her work.
The images reproduced here are copyrighted © to Rachel Robichaux and may not be sold/reproduced for profit without explicit permission from Rachel.
(First published April 2011)

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