June Leavitt


I was the photographer/ journalist on an international medical education team, sponsored by The Center for Asian and International Bioethics of Ben Gurion University of the Negev that went to Kadalur, in Tamil Nadu, India to teach rural Untouchable women basic mother and child health care. Two violations of human rights which came to my attention, one an Untouchable child’s, and one an Untouchable widow’s are the focus of this documented photographic essay which explores the historical, social and religious roots of the repression of the Untouchables of India today.

Though male Untouchables are certainly victims of this oppression, female Untouchables are victimized even more. For this reason, having a girl-child in the Untouchable population is considered a calamity. Untouchable mothers and fathers deal with this in extraordinary ways. One way inspired the title of this essay, “To Marry a Dog.”

Although to an outsider the patriarchal Untouchable society may seem to have made desperate adaptations to its structural, historical, and religious confines, Untouchable women have played a role in shaping these adaptations. Nonetheless, there is much about Untouchable women to be admired. It is truly the women who hold Untouchable families together. They are bright-eyed, strong and optimistic. Strangely enough they love life, and taught me, a spoiled westerner, how to find happiness in little things.

This essay is a tribute to them.

Author Biography

June Leavitt was born and raised in New York. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, and spending five years in the woods as a homesteader, she immigrated to Israel with her husband and young son. In Israel, caught in the violence which wracked the country, she raised her five children, and began writing and publishing her novels and diaries: Flight to Seven Swan Bay, Feldheim 1985; Vivre A Hebron, Laffont 1995; Cocav Nophle, Aviv 2000; Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary, Ivan Dee 2000. Esoteric Symbols: the Tarot in Yeats, Eliot and Kafka (forthcoming from University Press of America, late 2006.) Her articles, essays and excerpts from her diaries have appeared in major newspapers and magazines.