The common practice at the village of Chillabanda in Kurnool was to have a minimum of six children, sometimes even going up to nine or ten. But, Sujathamma changed all that. She decided to raise awareness on family planning and especially vasectomy. Vasectomy is an irreversible surgery for male sterilization that is generally advised for men after two children. “I personally wanted to make sure people knew about this because women are married and impregnated as early as 18 and then they go on to have about six children. This needed to stop.”, she said defiantly
She started this campaign of hers by going to every doorstep and orally telling everyone about this. Many shut the door on her but, the few who paid attention to her swears by it. “Our lives are easier now. My husband got the surgery after second child was born and now we are happy.”, said Mohsina, 27. Sujathamma singlehandedly took it up as a challenge to change the way men thought in the village by advocating vasectomy. “It is also the husband’s responsibility”, she says.
Despite having studied only till 10th std in a Telugu medium government school, Sujathamma is striving to lead with example for all the girls in the village by enforcing importance on education and late marriages. A young girl says she wants to be an ASHA worker just like Sujthamma.
The 36-year-old Sujathamma is an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) since 2012. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare instituted this as part of the National Rural Health Mission. The idea was to have an ASHA worker in every village and they collectively form a community of health workers in the country.
She wanted to apply as a healthcare volunteer simply because she was in need of the extra money it provided. Her husband, Venkata Rami Reddy, is a farmer and wasn’t able to sustain the payload of his two children’s education. As an Asha worker, Sujathamma is responsible for maternal care and ensuring that pregnant mothers are taken to a nearby hospital, which is 10 kms away in Lagddagiri. Now, every time there is a successful delivery, the hospital gives her 250 rupees as stated by the government. Her son is now a B.Tech graduate and her daughter is working at a bank in Kurnool.
Although she joined with a purely monetary motive, her work in the village has been revolutionary. For a woman to start a campaign in her own village unaided is remarkable, considering the patriarchal structure of the village itself. The only way to translate the success of her own awareness campaigns is by the clear shift in the inhabitants’ thinking. “All the Hindu and Christian families only have two children. Some Muslim families have 3-4 children but that’s the maximum.”, Sujathamma said with a broad smile on her face.