The Indian political set up is densely nuanced and complex. Starting from the parliament at the centre to assemblies in the states as municipal corporations, from zilla parishads to the gram Panchayats, our political system stretches out to even the remotest of villages. All this seems hunky-dory in theory but the ground reality is depressingly bleak.
The villages especially are in a state of complete disarray. Misgovernance is the norm. All this, operating within the overarching patriarchal social order, presents a dismal picture. But there are some pleasant exceptions to this rule. Thennamadevi, a tiny village in Tamil Nadu, is one such exception.
To all appearance, Thennamadevi is utterly unremarkable and fits perfectly in the category of a stereotypical Indian village. However, the place is haunted by a mountain of debilitating problems, at the apex of which is alcoholism.
Most men, if not all, are professional farmers by day and avid alcoholics by night. This habit has proved to be pernicious for the village dwellers as, owing to it, close to about 90 women have been widowed. With such boorish behaviour on the men’s part, it was natural for the state of affairs in Thennamadevi to be steadily deteriorating. That was until their daughters decided to take over.
Young wind of change
What sets this insignificant village apart is its Young Girls’ Club (YGC), a group of 50 teenage girls who, for over a year now, have been running things all on their own. These girls collectively look after all civic, infrastructural, educational, and healthcare related needs of the village and its people. They’ve gotten street lights repaired, completed a health audit, and made mobile clinics accessible to the villagers.
In addition to this, they’ve undertaken measures to improve the condition of sanitation the village. The young girls’ club has made it a point spread awareness about hygienic menstrual habits among women and girls. Also, they’ve been actively urging their fellow-villagers to build toilets in their homes.
Even a library is being set up under their aegis. All this was made possible with the help of Scope India, a Cuddalore-based NGO working for marginalised communities. Also, diligently supporting these girls is Railway Children, a UK based charity working for street children.
Inspiration for the country
Another major driving force behind its formation was the increasing number of children who would run away from their homes to escape the daily torture that they faced at the hands of their drunkard fathers. Most of these children go to Villupuram and become easy preys for child traffickers.
The YGC is endeavouring to make Thennamadevi less undesirable for their friends and fellow-adolescents. The group is determinedly democratic in its outlook. In each of its meetings, issues are discussed and debated openly and decisions taken only after a consensus has been reached. This is a far cry from the realpolitik that we get to see on national news every day. This club is refreshingly apolitical in that it has no affiliations to any political party.
It is a fact that the road ahead for the YGC is far from easy. Caste remains an insuperable hurdle. The problem of alcoholism still persists on a large scale. And yet these girls are fighting with all their might to make their own and others’ futures brighter and worthier. They constitute an entire feminist movement all by themselves, resolved to shatter the obnoxious edifice of patriarchy that has reigned unchallenged in the Indian psyche since ancient times.
It is groups like YGC that makes us believe that change can be brought peacefully and without any criticism. The government’s job is to take decisions to benefit the citizens rather than playing political games. These teenage girls are the real change-makers and we wish them all the best for their endeavors.
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