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Gender discriminations among young children in Asia

 | 
Isabelle Attané
, 
Jacques Véron

Seminar Participants’ Fieldwork in Salem District 26 and 27 November 2003

Stéphanie Vella

Texte intégral

1The aim of this fieldwork was to create a dialogue between practitioners of NGOs and seminar participants. Thus, during this two-day trip, the participants of the seminar coming from India, China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Pakistan met the representatives of two NGOs, these organizations having specific approaches and methods to tackle gender issues, especially female infanticide, in Salem district (Tamil Nadu).

2This report describes the fieldwork programme, the questions raised by the participants, their reactions and the discussions that emerged from these encounters.

3The NGOs made a short presentation of their organizations: their structure, their history and especially their involvement against female discrimination, female infanticide and sex-selective abortion. They presented some results and statistics of their organizations, their activities, the number of villages and families covered, reasons for working in such places and some analyses of the phenomenon of female discrimination in the region. We visited a number of villages and structures where they are active.

Programme

4On 26 and 27 November, we travelled to Salem district where we met two NGOs:

5On the 26th, we left Pondicherry at around 8.00 a.m. and reached Salem at around 1.00 p.m.

6Several representatives of the NGO TDH Core Trust came to meet us at around 3.00. After the presentation of their organization, we went to visit their adoption centre in Salem. The director, M. Chezian, was there and also the two coordinators for the Salem adoption centre (Sharmila) and for the Edappadi field centre (Sudha). The visit was completed around 7.00 p.m.

7On the morning of the27th, we left the hotel around 8.30 to go to Omalur, 16 km from Salem, and there we met the NGO Alternative for India Development (AID). The General Secretary from Chennai, Miss Sunanda, was not there because of illness, but the coordinator for Omalur, M. Deena Dayalan, and M. Anthony from the Chennai general office were present. After a presentation in the Omalur office, we went to visit two nearby villages. The visit was completed around 1.00 p.m.

8Departure for Pondicherry after lunch around 2.30 p.m.

9Arrival in Pondicherry around 8.00 in the evening.

Some data about Salem district

10Salem district is about 200 km from Pondicherry. It is one of the biggest districts of Tamil Nadu. Its urbanization rate is low, as is its literacy rate, especially that of women, but the literacy rate has largely improved in comparison with 1981. Moreover, in Salem district the majority of girls leave school very early and their employment rate is very high. Even if the socio-economic results are not very good in this district, we should not forget that Salem is a very dynamic town where business is important, for Salem is an economic junction located between the two big cities of Coimbatore and Bangalore in Karnataka. But many places in the district are really backward.

11Population (1991): 3 896 000, 10 taluks (1991), 1089 revenue villages

12Salem town: 361 394 (1981)

13Sex ratio (1991): 925 women for 1000 men / 974 in Tamil Nadu (TN)

14Literacy rate (1991): 53.3% / 62.6% in TN

15Literacy rate in the rural population: 47.1% / 68.4% in the urban population

16Female literacy rate (1981): 28,1%

17Female literacy rate (1991): 41.4% / 51.3% in TN

18% of urban population: 29.2% / 34.1% in TN

19% Scheduled Castes: 16.7% / 19.2 in TN

20% Scheduled Tribes: 3.5% / 1.0% in TN

21Geography of the area: Dry tract with little irrigation (24.6%)

22Mainly rain-fed cultures: food crop: 92%, mostly millet

23Commercial crops: cotton, tapioca (more than 700 mills for its transformation into sago) and sugar cane

2452% of the district is under cultivation / 43.5% in TN

25Forest: 19.6% / 16.6% in TN

26Hilly places: Kolli Malai, Bodhi Malai, Servarayan Hills, Kalrayan Hills (Salem is a hilly district)

27Acute water shortage in Salem, but one of the biggest water tanks of South India is the Mettur dam (power supply) of Salem district

28Main river: Cauvery

29Economic activities: paper, cement, clothes, chemicals, metals, sugar mills, a large number of minerals: bauxite, iron, magnetite (47 mines), agriculture (main activity: 59.7% of workers), power looms, handlooms (85 000).

Terre Des Hommes Core Trust (TDH)

30Head office: MDM Poonthaleer

31Perumpakkam Road, Tiruvannamalai, 606603 India

32Director: R Chezhian, chezhia@sancharnet.in

33Project office in Salem District: project Poonthaleer, female infant rescuingproject, 134-A-T N H B Poolampatti Road,

34Edappadi, 637101, Salem district

35Project coordinator: Sudha

36Poonthaleer Project offices in Dharmapuri district: October 2000, Morappur block, and September 2002, Nallampally block

37Adoption Centre: Life Line Trust, Adoption Centre,

38No. 8/E Raguram Colony, Gandhi Road, Near Chithra Sampath Hospital, Salem-7.

39Coordinator: Sharmila & Project in-charge: Kalpana

40Lifeline_trust@hclinfinet.com

41Partners: Terre des Hommes Core Trust has four international partners: Terre des Hommes France, Terre des Hommes Italy, MDM Foundation and Sentinelles, Switzerland.

42What does TDH do?

43Direct aid to children in distress, free of any political, religious or ethnic bias.

Poonthaleer project of Salem district, Edappadi presentation, 26 November

Some data about Edappadi taluk

44Literacy rate: 32.3%, 42.3% for men and 21.1% for women (lowest rate of the district)

45Economic activities in the region: power looms (main activity), weaving, agriculture

4663 villages in the taluk

4780% Backward Castes

The project

48Begin of the project: October 1998

49Aim of the project: rescuing babies from infanticide

50Covering four primary health centres, which include 82 villages (larger than the taluk, medical division)

51Staff: 14 women; except the driver, workers are all women because it seems easier for them to speak with mothers.

52Four teams: 1 rescue team / 1 follow-up team / 1 post follow-up team / 1 medical care team

Objectives

53To bring about attitudinal changes in the mothers and their families

54To create public awareness against infanticide

55To identify pregnant women and high-risk mothers (more than 3 children)

56To conduct family counselling sessions concentrating on the mother and other children with regular follow-up

57To assess the family situation regarding the intention of infanticide

58To help the family to be self-sufficient through counselling, guidance and providing assistance (medical, milk support, nutritious food, education, family development scheme: loans, house construction, crèche for working mothers).

59To create the feeling that the infant is their own blood.

60To make them understand that there is a possibility of handing the child over to the Cradle Baby Scheme or authorized adoption agencies.

61M Chezhian from Terre des Hommes Core Trust joined us for the seminar on 24 November to discuss the meeting with that organization. The first thing considered was the visit to the Poonthaleer project in Edappady. The organization thought that a team of 15 people visiting the villages and the rescued families would not be appreciated by the villagers or the families and asked us to constitute small groups of 3 to 4 people. Finally, we met the organization in Salem and limited our visit to their adoption centre.

62The NGO presented the organization and the discussion took the form of small groups. It was a long discussion during which many questions were raised. M. Sabu George, who joined us in Salem, responded to what the NGO was saying. Sabu, who is well-known in India, has been fighting against infanticide and foeticide for many years in South India and India, and was initiating a case against the Indian government to make it implement its law against sex discrimination. Sabu thinks that the priority now is foeticide and not infanticide and that the doctors have to be approached in this sense. But Chezhian explained that infanticide still exists and that he cannot allow babies be killed like that. It is an ethical choice to save newly born girls. The research scholars wanted to understand the rescue process, especially how the organization can speak with families and follow them, although killing a baby is a very private act.

63M Chezhian began to review the fight against female infanticide. In 1997, he met the founder of Sentinelles, Switzerland. Having worked since 1992 for TDH, he went in 1998 to Madurai, where infanticide was notorious. There, NGOs told him that infanticide was also prevalent in Salem district. In 1996, the government of Tamil Nadu had begun to take part in the fight, but only in Madurai. M Chezhian then went to see the Collector of Salem, who indicated to him some blocks where he had heard about infanticide. After looking into the statistics, he went to Edappadi, which is 50 km to the west of Salem, and decided to begin the project, in October 1998. Their activities began because no programme had been established in the Salem region to save girl babies. He went to meet the families who killed their babies: people spoke about that more easily than they do today. The NGO chose the method of direct rescuing and direct work with children and families because looking at these infanticides, he felt they did not have time to wait for sangha training (women’s groups). Moreover, they had attempted to create a sangha in the beginning, but it was unsuccessful.

64TDH met with a lot of difficulties in becoming accepted. They suffered from many attacks and from lack of acceptance by the villagers, especially by some upper castes who do not ask for help. They work with other NGOs. People lie to them: they say that they are going to keep the baby but then kill it. Nowadays, to escape from the police, they put wet clothes on the face of the baby and then put it under a fan; in this way there is no proof, as in the case with poison, which was previously used. Here fecundity is very high and so TDH tries to explain to the families that a family with only two children is better and encourages family planning instead of infanticide. They work with two hospitals in Salem and every day they send rescued babies to doctors in Edappadi. They have some informers in the village; often children tell Poonthaleer that a child is going to be killed. In fact, the brothers and sisters of the baby defend it. They have set up a watchdog committee in each village: women who are trained to look at this issue. Infanticide is reduced, but not disappearing; there were three infanticides last month. Moreover, M. Chezhian thinks that the practice is spreading to other places in Tamil Nadu. This is difficult for him because from 2000 to 2002 the organization used the help of the police and infanticide decreased, but this is no longer done because they want to trust the people, and in some places infanticide is coming back, even in villages that signed a paper stating that they would not practice it. Around 37 villages signed such a paper. He therefore thinks that infanticide could come back very easily in this place, especially considering the fact that the programme will be over in 5 years. In 2002, thirty infanticides were committed and in 2003, only six. The government now is very involved in the matter; there are conferences each month in Salem town and the government does fieldwork, working with the police.

65They are working in collaboration with government and medical authorities and their employees in the taluk and in the district. In each village, one nurse and two or three community workers (for child nutrition) identify the pregnancies; the NGO is collecting the pregnancies in 63 villages. They are counselling mothers from the sixth month of pregnancy to make them accept the idea of keeping the child. Usually the second or the third child is killed, and this helps them identify families at risk. TDH is visiting hospitals, also in Dharmapuri district, because sometimes women abandon their baby in hospital, especially if it is an illegal pregnancy. They follow very closely the families, they stay in the hospital to speak with parents, they tell the mother to give her milk to the baby to create a link with it. The first seven to ten days are the most risky, after which the infanticide rate rapidly decreases. The mothers now support the action.

66The reasons for the killing of a child are numerous, but one that is here fundamental is astrology: for example, if the baby is born on a bad day or if the parity is not auspicious. In each village there are several astrologers who can tell the sex of the foetus and say if it will be acceptable or not. In this very poor region of Edappaddi, the family can also kill the male infants, because in the case of really acute poverty or because of superstitious beliefs, even the birth of a boy cannot be supported. If the mother wants to keep her baby, she has to leave everything and begin a new life somewhere else, which often means returning to her parents’ place. This is very difficult in a context where a woman without a husband has no social existence. There is a high rate of women abandoned by husbands who have several wives. In general the child remains with its mother. Here women meet a great deal of social pressure; if they are asked, they answer that they themselves took the decision to kill. Women here are very strong-minded and want to have the right to keep babies or to kill them. As they are always told that to be a woman is to be nothing, the baby girl is also nothing and they have a repugnant feeling toward the newborn baby. They also kill the baby because of illiteracy. From the point of view of the director, 70% of people kill for economic reasons, 20% because of superstitious beliefs and 10% because of dowry. Dowry is not the main reason because it does not increase so much and not more than in other parts of the state. There are more social reasons; people, for example, are encouraged by upper castes to kill their daughters. If they compare economic statuses, they want to improve their own and choose to kill, doing the same as the upper castes do.

Some results

67Total mothers receiving ante-natal care: 3148

68825 children rescued in 82 villages since the beginning, of which 730 girls

69Total number of infanticides: 142, of which 16 male infanticides Of the rescued babies: 333 families were helped (micro-finance, etc.)

70215 children were helped for school

71600 babies were followed

72Since June 2003, a crèche for working women in power looms (15 children)

Adoption Centre Lifeline

73We went to the adoption centre that is located in a quiet place in a residential area of Salem and were welcomed by the two women who are in charge and the other employed women. They showed us the babies, told their stories, described their health status; for example, one baby needed dialysis, others were born prematurely, etc. They told us what they do for these babies and once again many questions were raised about this centre.

74The project began in April 2000, but the organization received the government of Tamil Nadu licence for the adoption centre only in 2002 (23 adoption centres are registered in Tamil Nadu today). This adoption centre is the only licensed agency authorized by the Tamil Nadu government in Salem. This project was begun 18 months ago (October 2002) and is involved in in-country adoption. They receive babies from the Cradle Baby Scheme and from the Reception Centre (government centre) and their Poonthaleer projects.

Presentation of the centre

75One coordinator / one person in charge of the project / one nurse / one secretary / one driver / 15 caretakers trained by TDH / one dobhi (washing lady) / one part-time paediatrician

7623 babies at present in the centre

77147 children (133 girls and 14 boys) received, of which 79 from the Cradle Baby Scheme

7869 babies have been adopted (in-country adoption)

7911 children have been taken back by parents (the parents have for two months the right to take them back)

8016 families wait for a baby, of which 8 to 9 wait for a boy

8110 to 12 babies received each month

82They have babies from 6 months to 2 years

83They can receive 30 children

84They have little help to run this adoption centre, although it is very expensive to take care of babies

85“Adoption is transfer of rights and responsibilities of a child from its birth parents to adoptive parents”.

86The adoption process has many legal aspects and only eligible adoptive parents are able to receive the babies. First, the two parents who must abandon the child have to both sign the paper; otherwise, the child cannot be quickly adopted. They have to wait for the government clearance and the organization has to pay a certain amount for each child they receive and keep.

87Those who wish to adopt a child register their names with TDH, which checks the adoptive parents’ age: less than 45 or both 85 years, to have the right to a child of less than one year. Qualified social workers visit their home and prepare their home study report. The request of parents is registered as well as the sex wanted. Through the home study, the social workers assess the motivation of the couple to adopt the child and the emotional ability of the couple. Familial and other social variables are also considered, as well as the economic background. Adoptive couples have to submit a number of certificates (income certificate, at least 4000 rupees (around 100 dollars) monthly, general medical certificate, photographs, marriage certificate, infertility report, reference letters, property documents, HIV test, birth certificate). In India, there is no uniform adoption law and the law is different depending on religion: for Hindus, the child will inherit from the parents, but this is different for non-Hindus. If the report is satisfactory, the baby is matched with the couple. After the court proceedings and six months, the child is really adopted. They work with four advocates, two in Chennai and two in Salem. After adoption, the social workers visit the family to assess the growth of the child. Parents have to send regular reports to the association until the child is eighteen.

88Previously, TDH transferred children to Chennai and Coimbatore. There has been an NGO in Coimbatore for some 20 years that is involved in international adoption: “Families for Children” in Canada. But now TDH has its own centre because they want to follow children rescued from infanticide; they want them to be happy. They said also that before, local adoption existed with trafficking, but this is now diminishing, even if the trafficking of adolescent girls sold by parents and sent to Bombay is increasing. TDH also gives children to divorced women or widows, but the Supreme Court said that children were not to be given to single men. People nowadays prefer to give the child away than to kill it, due to police action, and the adoption rate is therefore also increasing. Parents cannot discriminate against the child because of the colour of its skin: the child is presented and parents cannot simply refuse, they have to justify themselves, otherwise they are removed from the file of eligible adoptive parents. But TDH attempts to offer a child whose face matches with the parents’ faces and they are very proud of the results and are also very proud to show us the photos of parents and babies together. They tell us that they match the baby based on its complexion and features.

89This visit permitted us to understand better the phenomenon of infanticide and the process of adoption in India, thanks to very welcoming people who know their field very well and who are humanely engaged.

Alternative for India Development (AID)

90Founder: Ravi Kumar / Director: K.T. Arasu/

91Executive Secretary: Mrs Sunanda

92Head office: Plot No 1, V.G.N. Nagar, Iyyappanthangal,

93Kattupakkam Post, Chennai, 600 056 India

94(there is also a project office in Jharkhand)

Project office in Salem district:

95Alternative For India Development,

9611 ward, D-12 Upstairs,

97Kamaraj Nagar, Omalur,

98Salem District 636 455

99Head: Mr. Deena Dayalan

100Office: 22 people

101Omalur is 16 kms from Salem city and can be reached from there by road.

Project office in Dharmapuri district:

102AID Dharmapuri, CC officer, Alamelupuram PO & village,

103Pappireddippatti Taluk

104Dharmapuri District, 636905

105Head: Mr. Thyagarajan

In Great Britain:

106Alternative for India Development Scheme, M Ravi Kumar

10747, Villa Road, Handsworth

108Birmingham, B19 1 BH, Great Britain

109AID is a national-level NGO that emerged as an umbrella organization for several small community organizations. It was founded in the year 1982 by Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini: Student Youth Struggle Force (SYSF), a group of activists and social scientists. This youth movement first emerged in 1974 in Bihar and later in other parts of India and tried to fight against injustice, corruption, illiteracy, poverty, exploitation, unemployment and other social and economic evils. The uniqueness of this movement is that it has been functioning completely free of ties with any established political parties. Its ideological basis is grass roots democracy consisting of nonviolence, decentralization, egalitarianism and anti-casteism. The volunteers of the movement work without compensation or remuneration. They depend on the poor people for food and work with them to fulfil their mission. They did a commendable job in organizing, mobilizing and educating them to fight against the injustice meted out to them and their community. But the limiting factors were that they were neither trained nor have a broader analysis of society with a national perspective. Many failed to link micro-level realities to macro-situations. Furthermore, while working at the micro-level, they faced threats and intimidation from the local landlords, politicians and corrupt government officials. Moreover, social, moral and legal support was not forthcoming, which frustrated many committed organizers. In the context of these factors and to give institutional, financial, social and technical support to the groups, as well as to propel the movement on a planned and systematized basis, the umbrella institution Alternative for India Development was created.

What does AID do?

110AID works closely with the local community and the form of support given will vary depending on the needs of the community and its priorities. Here are some of the main areas in with which AID is concerned:

  1. Community Development

  2. Education: Schools for deprived and tribal children / Special schools for working children / Special schools for girls / Supplementary schools / Construction of school buildings / Mobile science / Education for rural children / Rural libraries / Technical college for working children / Adult and non-formal education

  3. Health: Community health and reproductive health / Mobile health unit for rural communities / Training of rural health workers / Education on sexually transmitted diseases / HIV / AIDS for truck drivers

  4. Women: Vocational training centre for women / Computer training for women / Women’s groups

  5. Income Generation: Micro-credit self-help groups / Promotion of cooperatives / Food processing / Minor forest produce co-operatives: oilseed, tendu leaves, lac and mahua / Spinning and weaving

  6. Water and Environment / Safe drinking water / Watershed management with appropriate technology / Social forestry

  7. Campaign against unsafe abortions

  8. Campaign to prevent female infanticide

  9. Campaign against child marriage

  10. Campaign against child labour

  11. Campaign for deprived and destitute women

  12. Grass roots research / documentation / publications

Over a million people

111AID works in two different areas of India – in Jharkhand and in Tamil Nadu in the South – but in both areas the focus is on the rural poor, particularly tribal groups and those in remote hill areas. Such people often miss out on mainstream development. Altogether, in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, AID covers 2275 villages and a population of 1,137,500 people. It works through youth groups, women’s groups and community organizations.

Commitment

112The head office of AID is in Chennai and there is a regional office in Jharkhand. Most of the staff, at any particular centre, is recruited locally so they understand and share the problems of people in the area. Besides paid members of staff, many members of the community contribute their time and support, on a voluntary basis, in a range of different capacities. AID also has an office in Birmingham, UK, committed to raising awareness of the problems of the rural poor in India among UK residents of Indian origin.

Funding

113AID has grants from Indian organizations / government. Since the work of AID was internationally recognized, it has received funding from the European Social Fund, the UK AID budget, charities like Aide et Action and other major donors in Europe and the USA.

Omalur Project visited on 27 November. Some data about Omalur block

114Sex ratio (1991): 889 women for 1 000 men/862 in Salem district

115Sex ratio Omalur town (1991): 920 (10 300 inhabitants in 1981)

116Literacy rate of rural population (1991), except population of 0-6: female 31.1% and male 55.7%: total: 44%

117High rate of Schedule Castes: 60%, and high rate of child labour 108 villages in the block

118Economic activities in Omalur: weaving, mat weaving, silk weaving, carpet making, cottage industries, marble carriers, brass works, sugar mills, but mainly agriculture; also some fishery in lakes

119Begin of the programme in Omalur: 1994

120In Omalur, there are many programmes such as women’s development, wasteland, violence against women and female infanticide. Initially they were working for health and child care and women’s development

1213800 women in 268 sanghas, meeting once in a week

122Monthly meeting of women leading the sanghas

123M. Deenadayalan explained the AID philosophy; the organization is proud of its political engagement and fight for rights. They do not agree with government programmes which give money to the parents for their having accepted girls. This does not change the status of girls. It is the same thing as regards adoption; for them, the Cradle Baby Scheme programme is like putting babies in the dustbin, except when the family is really too poor to educate the baby. AID was against this project but they decided to rescue the abandoned babies. Parents have one month to take back the baby and during this time animators counsel the parents. The signatures of both parents are needed, otherwise agreement is not given. If the child has been abandoned in a public place, for example for reasons of shame or illegal relationships, they try to find the parents, but this is very difficult. So they decided to train women to participate in women’s communities and make the women decide themselves what they want. The objective of AID is to make them organize themselves and after that let them do things alone. AID is also for the application of the law and punishments in case of infanticides and selective abortions, so they fight against the government to make it implement the laws. They also try to understand the attitudes of parents who kill or who save babies. They have a participative approach and even a special unit against violence towards women.

124AID thinks that infanticide began around 30 years ago there, but the organization has no real explanation for this. In Omalur, infanticide could exist because of socio-economic problems of the Dalits. Infanticide exists in several panchayats, around 20 kms from Omalur, but it is less now. In 1998, they created a system of fighting female infanticide by identification of women at risk, those with more than two children. Since 1999, there is a family resource centre in each village where people can find one animator 24 hours a day. They are generally women, paid by AID and trained by the organization, like the self-help groups. They also created watchdog committees. AID agrees that for the last four years the government has been helping in the fight against female infanticide. Moreover, today infanticide occurs mainly among people who have temporary jobs and who migrate to other places where they commit infanticide. Female infanticide is very difficult to prove; after 15 days there is no more proof. AID is suffering from the harassment of police and politicians. Because of corruption, it is possible to obtain false certificates against a certain sum of money and often politicians are afraid to lose votes if they have people arrested. But some cases have been filed against families who have killed their children, so as to frighten the other families. They say that they have to change the mindsets of people, that this is the most important thing to do. They created a female infanticide network in Salem district, with seven NGOs involved in this issue. The problem is the panchayat, which makes its own laws and which resolves conflicts. Corruption was very high but now this is changing a little bit and law administration is more involved; police and NGOs work together, also thanks to the women’s police station. They have created anti-corruption groups.

125AID is also counsels doctors in primary health centres and meets people in panchayats because the problem is to make officials, doctors and nurses sensitive. In fact, sex-selective abortion is also appearing in the district: the town of Omalur counts seven scan centres.

126After this presentation and interviews by journalists, we were taken to two villages where AID is implemented.

First village: Sakarachettypatti (10.30 to 12)

127We were welcomed in the community building of the village by a group of around 50 women: the sangha of the village. They sang a welcoming song. We learned that two women in each village are from the watchdog committee. We asked women questions about the reasons for infanticide, about the beginning of the practice: they all wanted to answer and then showed us very proudly ten of the rescued girls. They told us that now the government is taking care of girls. They also showed us some women who had killed their babies; these women did not seem to be ashamed to be exposed in that manner. Some researchers visited the village while others answered journalists or spoke with women and AID employees.

Second village: Kandanichanur (12.00 to 1.30)

128There is no access road, only a dirt road, and the village is very isolated in the countryside. We visited the school where we could see the government scheme of free midday meals (for poor children whose families are encouraged to send them to school because of this free meal). We met the village women’s self-help group in a very new building. They organized the milk society, for which they fought very strongly and received some government help. These women seem very engaged in the fight for their rights. For example, they needed a road because they could not go to other villages during the monsoon period, and asked authorities for a bridge. First, the bridge was not of good quality and they understood that the building people were cheating them, so they protested and checked on it afterwards. They fought a lot with officials for the implementation of government programmes in the village.

129There are seventy women of different castes in the milk society (one secretary, one president). It is a federation: 10 to 15 groups have joined. Women share their incomes, around 200 rupees daily for each woman. Previously, there was no profit with milk because they had to pay for transport; today it has become an interesting venture. Now, they take care of the money themselves, while earlier they needed their husbands’ cooperation or they could not do anything. Only women work there and we saw men roaming around the building but they did not say anything to us. Women explained that the development is spreading from village to village; if one person develops herself, everything will be developed (they employ the English word “development”). They are very proud to speak to us and not at all shy or silent; they all want to explain their aims, their ideology of making things change and happen.

130They also emphasized that inter-caste marriages are increasing, that castes want to share more and more things. Dalits ask for the building of community places in their ward because they live near the main village. They signed a petition to make things change, to give more help to poor people. A woman doctor is the leader of the panchayat and she wants to change the system, with less corruption, and the collector came to take note of the problems.

131Through these two visits, we understood that women are beginning to empower themselves and we observed how independent and dynamic they can be in their objectives. Many scholars were surprised by the autonomy of these women and the facility with which they spoke with us.

132We received a great welcome in these villages and this visit gave us some hope regarding the empowerment of women in this part of Tamil Nadu.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2005

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