Penned By Board Member Alo Pal

“My husband is coming”, Manimegalai tells me in hushed tones. For a moment I fear a scene. Too often have I seen controlling husbands brutally dominate over their wives and abuse them into silence, oblivious of the neighborhood and bystanders witnessing their brawl. On my way to the village of Angalakuppam, I was briefed about her story. Her husband, Sekar, had left the home during the Covid years and had squandered their savings gambling on rummy online. As he came in to the Sharana Community Centre, I braced in anticipation of a confrontation but Sekar looked at us with a smile and walk past. Program Manager Prakash chipped in that Sekar volunteered at the Centre when he could.

Sekar was never abusive in the marriage, he worked hard as a daily wage earner in a skilled job of smelting brass into molds of oil lamps that depicted intricate images of gods and goddesses. During the festival season, he earned up to 700 rupees a day. The family had earlier received a cow loan, the cow had calved every year and ensured a steady income. Mani had lost her father at the age of 10, and from the age of 15 to 25 she worked in a company manufacturing artificial jewellery. Starting out at making Rs.2000/- , she was making Rs.6000/- by the time she got married. She moved in with her husband and in-laws and surprisingly her husband asked Mani to ask her mother to come and live with them since she lived alone. Everyone in the family worked, and over time she became a mother of two.

In 2019, the family having saved sufficient money their dream to finally buildtheir own home was started. In a few months COVID struck, Sekar’s company shut down and he left the house in search of employment. As construction work gradually restarted post lockdown, that Sekar’s father realized that his bank account had been swept clean of all his savings. 4 lakhs, gone. Soon they learnt from friends and neighbors that Sekar had incurred additional cumulative loans of about a lakh and twenty thousand through gambling.

Mani and the other family members completed the construction of their new house borrowing money from friends. She was not keen on cohabiting with her husband when he returned home post COVID after a two year absence and blowing money off in gambling, but her children implored and she relented. But there were conditions. The 1.2 Lakh loan had to be repaid from the money her husband made from the Lamp making factory. He would not have access to  the internet and his daily wage would be submitted to her. He would not have direct access to cash. Common sense, as it turned out guided Manimegalai well, since gambling is indeed a recognized addiction and when under stress the habit can manifest in any betting activity. Thus, an addiction to online games could manifest in betting over village cock fights. It was therefore imperative that along with cutting off access to the net, access to money too had to be ensured. Also Mani was explained that “cure” of an addiction entails a lifelong monitoring of the person.

As my interview with Manimegalai drew to a close, I saw the agent from the artificial jewellery company collect the work done. Then came the delightful detail from Viji, our social worker, that Manimegalai had skilled ten other women in the jewellery making craft.

Along with training these ten women, she also took the responsibility of getting the raw material from the agent and returning the finished product. She did this purely as a gesture to take along with her other women of her village so that they too could gain autonomy and access better life. There was no commission, no cut, just the joy of sharing and the sisterhood that bound her to the other ladies in collectively seeking a better life of material comfort and dignity.

Names of persons involved are changed to protect their privacy.

Images are represenative.