Community Correspondents

Alka Mate

Alka Mate is a social worker since 1992 and a human rights activist who focuses on issues predominantly faced by women and by those who belong to Dalit, indigenous, nomadic and semi-nomadic communities. 

In May 2014, she singlehandedly investigated an incident where Dalit rights activist Sanjay Khobragade was burned alive in his sleep, allegedly by ‘upper’ caste members. Initially, the local police and many community members accepted the claim that Sanjay was murdered by his wife and neighbour to hide their extramarital relationship, and the two were arrested. Alka sensed foul play and decided to do more than being a mute spectator. She probed the police and community members despite a curfew having been imposed in the village. “I could tell by people’s body language that his wife could not be at fault,” she says. She acted quickly; getting a lawyer’s panel on board, moving the case to a higher court in Nagpur and finally succeeded in bailing the deceased’s wife and neighbour. Alka remembers the incident as her most important experience, one that was also featured in Huffington Post and Newslaundry. But despite her efforts, the accused did not appear in court and the family later decided against pursuing the case, “they told me that they needed to take care of their daily needs,” she says with remorse.

During her time in college, Alka discovered her commitment to social justice issues. She would tutor students, including the children of garbage cleaners; “They would work during the day and I would teach them at night,” she says. In her dedication, she’s often stayed outside of her home overnight, an act that’s uncommon for women in her community. “I wanted to do something different, everyone takes on a usual job. Seeing people’s and especially a parent’s joy makes me incredibly happy. I can’t explain it in words,” she says.

Alka’s father is a small time labourer, and growing up, money was limited. Her mother was allowed to study only until the second or third standard and she was defiant to change things for her daughters. “If (my mother) had a hole in her saree, she’d tie it. Any money we had would first go to the daughters’ education (is what my mother had decided).” Community members questioned her mother’s defiance but today, Alka and her two sisters are the first in the Mate household to not just pass 10th grade but to complete a bachelor's, setting a precedent for women in her community.  

Alka specialises in gender training in her community. After watching videos and discussing issues in her Gender Discussion Clubs, there’ve been marked differences in people's understanding of gender. For example, daughters-in-law in many families no longer eat in a separate room when they are menstruating. Alka notices a growing understanding of women’s rights in the many communities that she works with:  “Women now know that god didn’t decide [that women must be subordinate to men]. It was men who said this and have enforced it. We’re not supposed to be puppets,” she exclaims. Alka makes a concerted effort to include women from OBC and SC communities as well. On a lighter note, she remembers Valentine’s Day with her gender discussion club where “discussing their plans for the day, many charmingly spoke of wearing red sarees and roses for their husbands.”

Alka aims to continue engaging with women, particularly those from semi-nomadic communities, towards self-empowerment. Once her son is settled, she’ll further her social involvement. “I hope I die while I’m in conversation with someone-- bringing change. I just don’t want to die inside my house.”

Videos from Alka

Inside the Staff Quarters of a Nagpur District Hospital: Defunct Toilets, Filth and Stench

/ October 29, 2018

The sanitation workers of the TB centre at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur have no option but to live in unsanitary conditions.

Gram Dhara Chitrotsav – An Organic Festival Celebrating Life

/ May 3, 2017

An organic festival, Gram Dhara Chitrotsav, literally an arts festival for village and earth is India’s first Land Art Festival in Nagpur.

Sanjay Khobragade Case Update: Devkabai Khobragade speaks out against police brutality

/ September 8, 2014

In May 2014 Community Correspondent Alka Mate reported on the murder of Dalit rights activist Sanjay Khobragade from Kavalewada, Maharashtra.  Six ‘upper caste’ individuals had murdered him over a land dispute. As Sanjay fought for his life and his family tried to get justice, they found that the law and...

Police ignores dying declaration, Accused out on bail: Sanjay Khobragade Murder Case

/ June 19, 2014

At 2:30 am on 17th May six people from a ‘higher caste’ tried to kill Sanjay Khobragade, a Dalit rights activist, over a caste based land dispute. They set him on fire while he slept in his house. With over 80-85% burns on his body, he passed away while at...