Women of Courage? | Milaap

Women of Courage?

The woman was insistent in her chant. It could not be termed as melodic; her voice was hoarse, and it grew hoarser with every repeated chant. “Udho... Udho,” she repeated as I reluctantly opened my eyes.Through sleep-intoxicated senses, I tried to make sense of her words, but understanding eluded me. Everyone else in the bus seemed impervious to the sudden repeated chanting of an elderly woman; apparently this was nothing out of ordinary. As the bus took a sharp turn and started its slow decent down the slope of a hill, land manifested in a completely new light. As far as the eyes could see, in the midst of proud hills, the waters of Saundatti Lake extended in a calm elegance. After changing 2 buses and a train, and travelling for 5 hours, I was at last at my destination; Saundatti.The chanting was a devotion offered in service of the Goddess Yellamma. Soon another woman joined in, and they started taking turns chanting Udho... Udho...The legend of Goddess Yellamma, also known as Renuka devi, dates back to centuries. It is contained in various scriptures such as Mahabharata and Bhagavat Purana and is also passed down in oral tradition from generation to generation in assorted versions. Though some aspects of story may differ depending upon their source, the soul of the legend is ubiquitous. Before Renuka came to be worshiped as a Goddess, she was but a devout wife and mother of five sons. One day her husband, great sage Jamdagni, suspecting her of infidelity cursed her and cast her out. The girl who was considered a blessing of the Gods by her parents, who grew up among the grandeur and riches in a palace, who lead a simple religious life after marriage, in an instant became an outcaste at her husband’s whim. From that day forth, she was shunned and lived the life of deprivation and begging. Being the wife of a great sage and the mother of renowned Parushram, Renuka was no ordinary woman. From her uneventful life of a dutiful wife to the humble acceptance of deprivation at her husband’s rebuke, everything turned symbolic. Soon she became The Goddess of the Fallen. Hundreds of devotees come to pay homage at Saundatti temple every month. As I stood in a long line to enter temple premises, getting soaked by the relentless rain, I could find no faith within my heart.How was it fair to disregard all the marriage vows and inflict such a harsh punishment on your wife only on the basis of a suspicion? The society shunned Renuka in life. The same society started worshiping her as a Goddess in afterlife. And the same society created thousands of Renuka’s by dedicating girls as Devadasis. After years of awareness campaigns, Devadasi system is at its end. But during my visit to Parmanandwadi village, I realised that Devadasi system was just a manifestation of some core value gone horribly wrong. The group of Milaap borrowers I met there was lively. They kept laughing and pulling innocent gags at each other’s expense. However just when I was about to leave, their SHG representative said something which forced me to renew my perspective.“Aap bura mat manna. Hum aise hi hasi-mazak krte rehte hain. Yaha sabke marad toh pite h, kuch kaam bhi nahi karte. Par pareshan hokr kya milega. Toh hum apas me hi has lete hain. (Please don’t get offended. We like having light-hearted laughs. All our husbands drink a lot and don’t work either. But there is no point in being sad. So we laugh among ourselves.)”During last 4 months, I have met hundreds of women who work 24*7. They take care of all the household chores, strive with every ounce of energy they have to make a living for their families, look after small kids and elderly, and even after doing all this are forced to resign to quirks of drunken husbands.The issue is not Devadasi system or drunken absurdities. For eons, women have stood as a symbol of courage; sometimes as Renuka, and sometimes as micro-entrepreneurs of Parmanandwadi village. The issue is for how long will these women keep facing exploitation and turning into a symbol? For how long will they have to keep becoming Women of Courage?[caption id="attachment_5830" align="aligncenter" width="2000"]An independent micro-entrepreneur An independent micro-entrepreneur[/caption]