Alice Garg has boundless energy. She left the strapping, young Divas crews exhausted — but inspired — after a day of chasing her around.
She gives Mother Teresa a run for her money. Straying far from her aristocratic roots, she alienated her family by marrying the wrong guy-next-door, becoming a teacher and setting out to work with kids in rural areas of Rajasthan where books were a pipedream and homework time a fantasy.
It wasn’t long before she was taking in scavengers’ kids and giving them a couple modest meals a day, a safe place to sleep and half a chance at a future.
“I left my job in ‘72 and started Bal Rashmi with 4,000 rupees. With four children in my own house — and those children were from scavengers, so-called ‘untouchables,’” Alice remembers. “And for one year I was teacher for them, I was cook for them, I was the caretaker for them, everything, because we didn’t have any money at that time to start with.”
She begged for old newspapers so she could resell them and hawked her bangles as collateral. Some 30 years later, Bal Rashmi (First Rays) has injected promise in the lives of thousands of kids.
She’s devoted to fighting the atrocities of the caste system, especially on behalf of “fourth-world” women facing the double-whammy of caste and patriarchy.
In her trademark red sari — she streamlined her wardrobe to make life simple — she’s a familiar face in hundreds of villages around Rajasthan where Bal Rashmi is running an orphanage and schools, helping slum residents get water and maintain their paltry holdings. The group also challenges practices like abortions of girl fetuses and sati, in which women are burned alive upon their husbands’ deaths.
“When you don’t have a right to be born, you don’t have a right to live, you don’t have a right to decide for your future, it is so difficult for women in all walks of life,” she says.
Despite its Gandhian, non-violent tactics, Bal Rashmi has managed to provoke the powers-that-be, who have retaliated with a slew of trumped-up criminal charges in the wake of the death of a girl in Bal Rashmi’s orphanage.
“We were booked for four rape cases, one murder and one threat and three misuse of funds,” Alice reports. “Fifteen of us were booked, and I was booked in all the nine cases. But I’m very happy to tell you that the in the reinvestigation they did not get anything out of it and they have put out a final report in favor of us. But, you see, four people were there in prison for 17 months. My colleagues. And one fellow died — a young boy, leaving two daughters and one baby in the womb — out of shock.”
Meanwhile, the kids in the orphanage had to find another place to stay.
The experience has, if anything, steeled Alice Garg’s determination. “We will do this good work now again more strongly and with full strength. Let them do what they want to do.”
From the Interview
“I have seen poverty, extreme poverty, I’ve seen people suffering, you know, without any complaint. That motivated me.”
“Our world is the fourth world. We women in Asia are not even living in third world; we are living in fourth world.”
“So I think Gandhian way of life is, like for example, non-violence, it is needed all over the world, the way we are going, the ways of weapons and whatnot, it is going to bring destruction, depression, these kind of things to the people, not happiness.”
Contact Bal Rashmi:
Bal Rashmi Society
A 48 Shanti Path
- Top Cop
- Economic Revolutionary
- Classic/Pop Diva
- Tabla Maestra
- Coming Back
Returning to India
- Modern Women
Feminism is Relative
- Leaves and Thorns
- Hard Labor
Slideshow: Sweating it Out
- Tackling Caste Oppression
Protesting Bias in India
- Global Gigs
- Trip Guide: Cuba
Practicalities, Packing, & our Fave Books, Flicks, Music