Vanitha (woman), the largest circulated magazine in India, has selected a Catholic nun for its prestigious Woman of the Year Award.
The fortnightly magazine published in various Indian languages announced the annual award on March 7, the eve of the International Women’s Day.
The magazine, a publication of the Malayala Manorama newspaper group, said it chose Sister Sudha Varghese, for the 100,000-rupee award in recognition of her meritorious service among the lowest among the Dalit groups in Bihar, eastern India.
The 68-year-old nun, who insists to be addressed only as Sudha, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame congregation based at Patna, capital of Bihar state. She has focused on educating Musahar people, especially girls, for the past three decades.
Sister Suddha left her teaching job to work full time for the socioeconomic advancement of Musahar (literally rat eaters), who lived like slaves under the oppressive caste system. The nun’s work has helped end child marriage prevalent among them and check their exploitation by higher caste people, the magazine says.
She founded “Nari Gunjan” (Women’s Voice) as an umbrella organization in 1987 to coordinate her multilayered activities such as education, advocacy and welfare schemes. Her organization coordinates 1,020 Self Help Groups for Musahar women in Patna and Saran districts. Each group, comprising 10 to 15 members, educates its members about their rights and helps them become financially self-reliant through thrift societies.
She has so far helped some 2,250 girls to graduate from high school or skill training centers.
Sudha’s work among the low caste women, braving threats even to her life, has won her several awards. In 2006, the Indian government presented her Padma Shree (lotus honored), the fourth highest civilian award in the country.
The same year, she was chosen for the Social Lifetime Achievement Award from Godfrey Philipps and the Ideal Village Award from the Bihar government in 2008. She became the Pride of Bihar in 2009. Four years later, she received the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Award for Education in Bihar. She won the Icon of Bihar Award in 2016.
The Bihar government appointed her vice chairperson of the state Minority Commission in 2012 for three years. She represented Bihar at National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and coordinated a two-year study on “violence of Dalit women” in 2005. She is a member of the National Dalit Human Rights Campaign since 1998, the Bihar unit People’s Union for Civil Liberties and National Alliance of Women.
Vanitha, which awards people in various fields, had average qualifying sales of 687,915 copies in December 2013, according to India’s Audit Bureau of Circulations.