A rigid patriarchal society, the caste system and outdated traditions may have marginalized many women in India, but a remote village in the country’s south shows it is possible for women to break free from such shackles and gain not just respect but admiration.
The women of Thimmapuram – a tiny farming and cattle-raising village nestled in the plains of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – are a living example of a dwindling sense of submission towards their husbands as well as towards exploitative landowners employing them for a pittance.
Lakshmideva Jerrippthula is one such woman, part of a ‘sangham,’ the term for women’s groups organized in the village under an initiative of a nonprofit that is continuing the fight against poverty launched by Spaniard Vicente Ferrer in the region, nearly 50 years ago.
In 1996, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation began to organize such groups in Thimmapuram that now comprise 44 women across age groups.
“Earlier even water was denied to us,” says Jerrippthula, recalling the treatment meted out to the Dalit or community of ‘untouchables,’ – the lowest rung of the Hindu caste ladder – until recent times.
The 42-year-old narrates how even a glass of milk was a luxury for such families that lived on barely Rs. 200 (below $3) a year, and their children were forced to work instead of attending school.
However, their kids now go to a modest school erected on the village outskirts and which also doubles as the meeting place for sanghams.
These sangham units promote solidarity among the women, where they learn the means of generating steady income by setting up small cattle-related businesses or tiny shops, helping them acquire independence despite a patriarchal social environment.
The sangham women who show an aptitude for self-management can also access loans from the nonprofit’s Development Fund for Women set up for the purpose.
This facility has helped many to buy buffaloes, whose milk they sell to supplement family income.
With this, each of them also manages to save Rs.100 ($1.50) a month which they deposit into a common account at a small bank set up by the Foundation, director of the NGO’s Women’s sector Doreen Reddy tells EFE.
Their husbands’ were initially suspicious about the sanghams and would not allow them to attend meetings. But their attitudes progressed to curiously observing the meetings from the windows, to now, when they encourage their wives to go.
Thimmapuram (India),septiembre 2016, EFE/PracticaEspañol
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