Winds of change: Tamil Nadu Dalit woman’s fight for gender justice

Since her college days, Vedhanayagi has been actively involved with various NGOs, contributing to social activities across Tamil Nadu, operating in diverse roles.

Published: 19th November 2023 07:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2023 09:21 AM   |  A+A-

Winds of change: Lone Tamil Nadu Dalit woman’s fight for gender justice

P Vedhanayagi

Express News Service

RANIPET: 'Pengal nam naattin kangal’ in Tamil roughly translates to ‘we women are the eyes of our country’, but in an era darkened by patriarchy, the prospect of gender equality often finds itself relegated to the sidelines. Women in India continue to face significant challenges in their personal and social lives. Their pursuit of gender equality remains an uphill battle.

In 2006, P Vedhanayagi, an agro-feminist who has taken issues of gender equality and land reforms to international conferences held in South Korea, Sweden, Italy and Sri Lanka, laid the foundation for Thendral Movement in Ranipet. This ‘Thendral’ (meaning a pleasant breeze in Tamil) aimed at empowering the modern woman and take steps to realise a more harmonious coexistence with men.

Apart from its poetic tone, Thendral stands for ‘The Holistic Eagerly Nature Development-Related Alternative Life’. Thendral Movement’s programmes and activities are all directed towards the welfare and empowerment of underprivileged women. The organisation’s ultimate goal being the establishment of a social order free from violence where the poor, deprived and disadvantaged can find support and mobility.

Hailing from a financially-disadvantaged Dalit family, Vedhanayagi’s formative years exposed her to the stark reality of domestic violence, with her sisters and friends bearing witness to its harrowing effects. The deaths of her two sisters in 1995, both due to domestic violence incidents, fuelled Vedhanayagi’s commitment to address the political and material complexities of gender. She resorted to extensively reading works by Ambedkar, Periyar, Luxemburg and other leaders who furnished Vedhanayagi with the profound realisation that women cannot be liberated from within the confines of caste, capital and religion.

Since her college days, Vedhanayagi has been actively involved with various NGOs, contributing to social activities across Tamil Nadu, operating in diverse roles. Her decision to return to Ranipet, her nativity, was driven by a desire to care for her sister’s children who had been orphaned. Under her guidance, one of her sister’s daughters, Ilakkiya, pursued a career in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). She is currently serving as a joint collector and additional district magistrate in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. It was during this period Vedhanayagi conceived of the idea to establish an NGO specifically focused on women in Ranipet district.

Over the years, Thendral Movement has confronted various forms of violence against women and children in Ranipet. Regarding the discourse of liberal gender equality, “Men continue to tactically deploy gender-based violence against women to this day. For instance, in households with a single daughter, men marry and subject the woman to abuse, exploiting her vulnerability, and by extension, her family. Hence, it is not accurate to claim that violence has ceased,” says Vedhanayagi.

Recently, Thendral Movement, in collaboration with the District Child Welfare Committee, rescued a girl from parental abuse and diligently pursued the case, resulting in 22 years of imprisonment for the accused.
Moreover, Thendral Movement has also advocated for equal pay for women employed in footwear manufacturing units in Ranipet, successfully bringing about a pay hike of Rs 10,000 for every woman employed in the industry.

Over the past 17 years of its existence, Thendral Movement has positively impacted 26,333 direct beneficiaries through its many initiatives. From rescuing bonded labourers, to aiding female workers from various industries, the organisation offers a spectrum of services, including family counselling, empowerment programmes for female college students, and leadership training for women in 288 panchayat villages.

Looking on ahead, Vedhanayagi and her organisation envisage a impactful future full of relevant initiatives, including strategic partnerships with various groups to amplify programs for women and children. Thendral Movement can be reached at 94430 37394.

(Edited by Amal Raj)

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