People’s Kitchen: connecting lives with stories 

Blog by Asha Kowtal

My stay in Rotterdam as the very first shelter city guest was brought to a beautiful culmination at the ‘Stories House’, Verhalenhuis Belvédère on Saturday, June 8, 2019.

It was indeed special not just because of the unique opportunity to share my story but also the wonderful healing space created by the hosts and the amazing new friendships that have embraced me with warmth and love.

The aroma of spices blended with the laughter, curiosity and excitement of the energy at the Belvédère House on that day. The honest conversation thereafter almost brought the sweetness of the Mango lassi to a halt. Breaking down structural inequalities and talking about the #DalitWomenFight brought in the power of resilience even as we tackled the hot and spicy meal that was prepared and served with love. The delicious dessert of vermicelli payasam came in the time when the conversation steered towards dismantling the lopsided – dominant caste narratives of India by ushering new perspectives on our life, food, music, art and history of oppressed communities in our country.

Celebrating diversity and feeling “at home anywhere” was only possible by offering and receiving from one another. The space was healing for me and a reminder of the long haul battle for human rights for all of us at the event.

Often times, speaking to a foreign audience is exhausting and difficult for me, but the folks at Verhalenhuis Belvédère were not alien to me. We had forged a friendship, powerful solidarity and deep compassion for one another. Being in the presence of my co-fellows and my sister was a special treat for me! They gave me courage and hope to continue the work that I have committed myself to.

Even as I write this with deep gratitude, I know that I’m heading back to my people in India feeling healthy, strong and fulfilled.

Jai Bhim and thank you!


Asha is a human rights defender from India who dedicates her life to promoting and protecting the rights of women who are subjected to caste and gender discrimination. She is the General Secretary of All India Dalit Women’s Forum, which is part of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Asha was the first Shelter City Rotterdam guest. 

Photo: Asha speaking at Verhalenhuis Belvédère. By Joop Reijngoud.


Photo: Asha speaking at Verhalenhuis Belvédère. By Joop Reijngoud.