Rose studied till class five in the government school in Belligundlu. When she was young, there was only a primary school and children had to travel to Hogenakkal for studying further. “I wanted to continue studying. But there was no transport and also, my parents didn’t want to educate a girl child.” She has an elder brother who studied till class eight and lives with his family in their native now.
While travelling home one day from Hogenakkal, Rose was eve teased and almost molested before an auto driver intervened and saved her life. “I was 14. Buses drop us off one kilometer away from the village, in the forest. That day, the driver dropped me off much before the usual dropping point because a few other men in the bus who were supposed to go to my village requested him. My village has about hundred people and I couldn’t recognise them.” While she was walking towards the village, which was about three kilometers from the place the bus dropped them off, the four men started calling her names and came closer to her. “I had tears in my eyes. I walked fast and they walked faster. One of them held my hand and stopped me. I shouted and he left my hand, probably in fear of being caught. The moment he left my hand, I ran. Thankfully, an auto driver who was passing by stopped and asked me to get in. There were a few older men and a couple in the auto. It was only then that I could breathe,” she said, with teary eyes. She shared this story with her brother, thinking he would keep it to himself. He “broke her trust” she says by informing her parents about this, who then decided to get her married in order to avoid any such happenings further. “I dreaded the day. I wish I could stop the sun and time never changed.”
Rose shifted a week after her wedding. It wasn’t a choice she made and it sure wasn’t easy. “It seemed like I was a different person after the wedding. My life, my mind, my body, nothing was mine. It was like I was forced to surrender myself to somebody else,” she said dejectedly. Her routine changed completely. She was pregnant in 40 days and did all the household chores. Her husband left to work at 8 in the morning and returned at 9 in the night. “I was alone the whole day in a city I didn’t know. In fact, I was in a city for the first time ever.”
Early pregnancy wasn’t her choice either. She says that her husband was a nice man but like most men, he never cared to ask her about what she wanted. It came to me as a surprise listening to her talk about consent and equal say in decision-making. In a village where girls don’t study after class five, I wondered where she learnt this from. “One of my teachers at school talked to us about menstruation, consent and gender equality. Even after I left school, I continued to meet her and talk to her. She was one of the reasons why we have bathrooms in the school now. The government later transferred her to some other district,” she said.
Rose visits her parents, who are farmers and also do fishing sometimes, twice a year. She says she wants nothing much in life. She wants to provide her children, especially her daughter, the education she couldn’t receive. Her husband supports her in this and has dreams for their children too. She wants them to have good jobs and settle in a better state in the society. “That’s all I want. Every time I look at women in the city, I dream of seeing my daughter in that place someday- independent and free.”
Fighting All Odds
In the thick heat, she ploughed up her field with an axe that I could probably never be able to hold due to its weight. The fields were so dry. My feet could feel the heat as it sank in with each step I took to walk towards her.
Pallaniamma, a “woman” farmer, says rains have been the only source of water for their crops. Working on the land that belongs to her mother’s home, she says, “I have three brothers. My mother divided four acres of land equally amongst the four of us. We’ve all been living here, working on fields. This year has been horrible due to lack of rains.” Her life revolves around the farms, her children and her home. She said this pointing towards a yellow pucca house, about 400 meters away, and looked back, beaming at us. Her smile was genuine and innocent, but it did seem to have some fear of trusting me.
Born and brought up in the same village, Pallianiamma went to a Tamil medium school till class five. “During our time, girls going to school even for one year was a big thing. I still managed to go for five years,” she proudly says. Her husband moved here after their marriage. He has been a farmer too and is in search of other jobs now to earn enough to feed his family. “My younger daughter is in her senior secondary, while the elder one is married. My son has moved to Dharmapuri in search of jobs. Our life is dependent on agriculture. If that is not there, what can we do,” she says.
Pallaniamma seemed a strong woman with curiosity about things. She constantly asked me about how it is like in the city. “Did Madras have heavy rains this year? It shouldn’t be a problem for you.” “What do you do in Madras?” “Do you write about all of this and inform the government?” For her, Chennai was still Madras.