Women Of Dharmapuri

Freedom in her thought

Billigundlu:

Leema Rose is a twenty year old, mother of two, a daughter first and a son, and a resident of Bangalore. Born and brought up in Belligundlu, she moved to the city after she was married to her cousin at 15.

“I’m here for Christmas. My husband works in a hospital in the city. He’ll come down a day before the festival,” she said.

Sitting outside the foot of her doorstep, she spoke about her school, the village and the hardships she faced because she was forced to marry at a young age.

She claims to have been a very vivacious child with keen interest in music. “I was six when I joined the choir in the village church. Though my love for music continued, my life associated with music started and ended in the church. My parents didn’t let me learn music. I don’t blame them. I belong to a village which is so far away from any town that could provide music classes,” she says.

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.

Pallaniamma with her son.

Married at the age of 16, Pallaniamma had her first child at 17. She worked on her farm with her husband and was keen on sending her children to school. But when the conversation about sexual abuse and menstruation cropped up, she was reluctant to talk about it in detail. “My husband would drink a lot in our early marriage life. He’d also abuse me and there have been instances where I was hurt badly. But he changed as our children grew up.”

She immediately looked away and changed the topic to her farms. I chose not to talk about this issue anymore, considering how she spoke to me about everything with some level of trust. “We always cultivate onion and Gundu malli (Madan mogra). This year we’ve been buying tankers costing Rs. 700 each. I handle all these expenses and my husband does the job,” she said, probably trying to convince me that she has an equal say in the house, considering how she observed my sympathising face when she spoke about being abused.

Surviving Tough Times

Selliampatty:

The lane that takes me to Chinapapa’s house, in a village near Selliampatty, is muddy and full of stones. As I walk towards her house, I see her cooking on three polished stones in the front of her house, balancing her pots over a small open fire that seem to have long since blackened the wall adjacent to the pot.

Even at noon with the wooden door wide open, her house sinks into the gloom. Later in the conversation, she tells me that she delivered all her children in the same gloomy house. “There were no hospitals back then. I had no option.”

Unlike other woman I met during my trip, Chinnapapa was reluctant to talk much on any issue.

Chinapapa is a daily wage labourer who works on farms within the radius of 300 metres from her house. Her husband and two sons do the same job as her. “My younger daughter is married and lives in Dharmapuri. My elder one died years ago due to some major disease I never could understand.”

Living in the same village since 60-70 years, Chinapapa has never seen the world outside Dharmapuri. “I went to Dharmapuri thrice in my entire life,” she says with a sense of pride like it was an achievement. Staring at the fields, she recollects days when there were heavy rains and their harvest gave them good returns. Until she was married at the age of 12, Chinapapa never worked in the fields, but did help her mother cook and wash clothes. “I learnt farming after marriage. My in-laws owned three acres of land. But I remember them selling it in a few years after my marriage to pay back their loans.” Since then, her husband and she have been working as agricultural labourers. In years when there is no rain, like this year, they move to other jobs like mastri (construction labourers).

She then hurriedly gets up and walks towards the fields, trying to look behind and asking me to excuse her. I lost sight of her in less than a minute. She returned in about five minutes saying, “I’m sorry but I had to urinate. We have no toilets here.” She seemed slightly embarrassed about this. She also seemed uneasy speaking about all her problems. Marriage was one of them. “My marriage was nothing different. I had my first daughter in a year after my wedding, and one more next year and so on. I went to the fields, cooked at home and lived with my husband’s mood.” She paused for a few minutes and looked away. I let her be. She continued, “My husband comes home drunk on a few days and hits me. When he gets very violent, I slowly walk away and wait in the fields. I return once I’m sure he’s asleep.”

Chinapapa says there is no regularity in work. She has job only about 10 to 15 days a month. “The contractor comes here and takes us along. It’s been hard but we’re used to it.” In such a situation, she says it’s harder to manage because her husband continues to spend most of his income on alcohol.

Chinapapa has fought all odds to survive and give her family a living. No education, no skills except farming, yet she has been the bread winner for her family. She worked during the day in the field and lived with her drunk husband in the night. With no water and no job, her life has become tougher but she smiles at me saying, “I’ve seen worse.”

Created By
Harini Prasad
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