-penned by Alo, board member
Distressed with the disharmony in her life caused by a petty mother in law, Meenakshi(name changed), now 33 got onto a bus one morning and headed back to her village to die. As she was stuffing down poisonous fruits down her gullet she was spotted and rescued by the villagers. She refused to go back home. She had not chosen this life. Her father had died when she was very young, her mother died when she was 18, she’d dropped out of school after the 8th standard and supplemented the family income of her older sister with whom she lived since by doing unskilled work in agricultural lands. At 30 she became a social burden to her family. Having an unmarried woman in the house way past her marriageable age was telling on the generosity of her benefactors. Gnanamoorthy was of the same age and unmarried, and he had a handicap. His legs were structurally defective and could barely walk with support. His family proposed an alliance. I will never know for sure how much of her reconciliation with the union now reflects on her testimony when she tells me she wasn’t really coerced to marry and yet she was a burden on her family. On hearing of her suicide attempt, Gnanamoorthy came to the village, made a big show of concern accusing the village of abetting her attempt. Suffice to say she returned to her husband and the torture diminished and soon she delivered a baby girl- she was 35 then.
The following years were a struggle. Meenakshi worked briefly as a domestic help but had to give up due to health reasons. The family survived on old age pensions of her in-laws and a handicap pension. A make shift shoe shop at a distance from the house did not give returns as the space wasn’t handicap friendly and Gnanamoorthy struggled to cater to customers from his tricycle. Unable to nourish their daughter well the couple were directed to an NGO in Pondicherry; the couple came of out of that intimidated by the requisition form itself! That’s when an auto driver spoke to them of Sharana and their daughter joined our day care at Gayatri House. She would be dropped off often with a soft word from Meenakshi that the child hadn’t got anything to eat. In a few years her in laws passed away and the pensions stopped coming. The family was reduced to penury. This is when our social workers picked her case as a candidate to the loans under our Women’s entrepreneurship programme.
Their business plan was a handicap friendly small shoe shop very close to home and plum opposite the main bus stand, ideally placed for villagers coming in to for a quick buy. Their daughter’s school to is nearly and simplified logistics meant that Meenakshi could also assist her husband after her household chores were complete. 5 Months on, this new shop has increased their monthly income manifold. From a zero to a max of 100 to 200 rupees a day today their shop makes anywhere between 400 to 700 rupees a day. From barely a square meal today they share 3 meals together as a family. What’s interesting to note is that the changed atmosphere in the house made the couple see beyond the next meal. Their daughter is now enrolled in a govt sponsored Bharatnatyam class. Rhythm and intricate steps are all over the house she tells me. Today Meenakshi is contemplating reopening their old shop and doing an additional business for the morning hours after she’s finished her chores. Her husband is managing fine in this newly appropriated space for his condition.
What a little help in the right direction and the right kind can do!
-Sharana has changed the name of the Women in the above account as well as some omitted some personal details to protect the identity of the family