Written by: Carla Menezes, Khushbu Pandya, and Fara Rodríguez, CRHP volunteers
Asha and other Village Health Workers pose after a farm seminar.
Asha is a Village Health Worker who has been working with the neighboring slum of Indiranagar for the past twenty-one years. She was born into an Other Backward Caste (OBC) family, and therefore, had trouble seeking assistance for treating the leprosy her mother contracted. Priests and local black magicians demanded money and told Asha that her mom had contracted leprosy because “she stayed in someone else’s religious house.” When Asha was in the ninth standard, her mom’s leprosy became very severe that Asha decided to leave school to take care of her. Much of the trouble Asha and her mother faced was due to the superstitions that surrounded the skin rashes and side effects of the medication, such as red urine. As a result, Asha’s mom decided to stop taking her medication until Drs. Raj and Mabelle convinced her to continue.
Asha dreamed of having a big, beautiful wedding, marrying the perfect man, and living without poverty. In reality, her parents struggled to find a husband for her because of her dark complexion, and she ended up marrying her cousin in a simple wedding. Soon after her wedding, she realized that her in-laws were not the kind of family she dreamt of having. They tortured Asha psychologically and physically. They were very lazy, working for only two days of the week and mostly sitting around the house all day. Due to the lack of money in the household, Asha did not have any food to eat. She often found herself waiting by the trash and eating food thrown away by others. Her in-laws began demanding a larger and larger dowry from her family. In addition, whenever she had visitors, her in-laws began to suspect her of adultery. Asha was not menstruating at the time of her marriage and was, therefore, unable to get pregnant, which further fueled these suspicions. Meanwhile, her father-in-law, whom she described as a monster, tortured Asha, badly beating her. She received no support from her husband who never intervened on her behalf. Despite the terrible living conditions, Asha did not return to her mother’s home because, at the time, she was taught that “it was better to die than to bring pain into her mother’s house.” Asha was expected to endure the oppression despite the negative effects it had on her health and life. Asha soon became too terrified to talk with others in her village or venture out of the house. Feeling helpless, Asha decided to commit suicide by hanging herself. Luckily, a neighborhood man saved her. Seeing what she was doing from the space left by the open door, he dismantled the roof of the house, freeing her from the noose.
To recover, Asha returned to her mother’s home, however instead of showing her support, her parents and village members asked her to return to her in-laws. Asha decided that she would not return to her husband and would, instead, come to the CRHP campus and attend the Adolescent Girls Program. Through the Program, she received support and encouragement from the social workers and other students. Eventually, she returned to her in-laws with more courage and higher self-esteem. Soon after, she gave birth to a baby girl.
Inspired by the work of her local Village Health Worker, Asha again returned to CRHP and began the Village Health Worker training. Soon Asha was able to start a small business, raising goats and selling clothing that she had sewn from her own earnings. Asha was able to educate her daughter, who eventually studied to become a nurse, and Asha’s younger son is soon to be married. She and her husband continue to live in the slum of Indiranagar. Her favorite parts of being a Village Health Worker are delivering children and working with infants and children under the age of 5. When asked about the future, Asha said that she will continue to be a Village Health Worker until her final days and cited CRHP as a source of encouragement and strength in her life.