The women in Padalam village, Like Munniammal, still believe that the place where they live may develop, but the people and their thought processes adhering to the so-called societal norms will never change. Located 16 kms from Chengalpattu town, Padalam village comes under the Maduranthakam tehsil of Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu. It is an essential and emerging suburb of the southwest. Chennai is located along the busy GST Road. According to the 2011 census Padalam, a gram panchayat, has a population of 2,238 people with a healthy sex ratio of 1121 males and 1,117 females.
Munniammal (77), who continues to work as a labourer, says, "We have a panchayat in our village for minor issues. Usually, the panchayat consists of one older woman in the decision making process, but they are elected without allotting any power. The woman in the village was not given any right to be involved in any decision-making. I was a bit rebellious in my younger days and got beaten up for doing so." She further added that her children are well settled, and nobody stays with her. Thus, finally, she can now lead an independent life and take her own decisions. Shanti (45), another woman who works as a farmhand, lives with her husband, three children and her mother-in-law.
She says, "I have three sisters. From my childhood, I have seen my father scold my mother for giving birth to a girl child, but he always showered love on me. There have been instances where my mother was beaten up for suggesting a point that would benefit our family, and only my father was allowed to do so.
My grandmother, too, used to curse my mother for not being able to deliver a boy and thus tortured her with rigorous household chores." When Shanti got married at the age of 20, she underwent the same issues she witnessed during her adolescence. "Nothing has changed in how men treat women", she said. "Society is changing rapidly, but people like us are stuck with these old societal norms. I don't know how to do it. All that I am doing is talking about it, said Shanti. Another woman, Devi, shared her story, which is no different from others in her village. She, along with her husband and two children (daughter, 8, and son, 3), used to live in a small but well cemented rented house in a nearby village.
When her husband became an alcoholic and began to indulge in behaviour bordering on domestic violence, she could not leave him because of her financial situation and dependence on him. When very severe cyclonic storm Vardah that hit Tamil Nadu in 2016 was like a bolt from the blue for Devi. "In that fiery and scary storm, I went out to look for my drunk husband. When I returned, I saw my daughter's dead body under a collapsed wall. My daughter sacrificed her life to save my son. If l had been in the house, I could have saved her. This incident traumatised both my son and I, and I held my husband responsible for this.
So, I returned to my mother's home in Padalam with my son. Renuka, Deputy Director at the Centre for Women Development and Research, says there are shreds of evidence from mythological stories where men showed their dominance over women (like in Ramayana, when Lord Ram abandoned Sita as he doubted her fidelity). She said, "Women are considered subordinate to men in the patriarchal society. Thus, men impose their power using violence and ill-treatment to dominate women. Women are forced to endure abuse and violence as they face many socio-economic and cultural issues. But, nowadays, women assert themselves and fight against the odds.
Hence we came to know about the mistreatment. Earlier, they used to be voiceless and keep to themselves." Two generations of women tell stories of oppression they faced. However, the new generation of educated women are trying to change the situation. Women Muniammal and Shanti, who are aware of the realities, encourage younger women to fight for equality.
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