'How could I endure so much?': A mother's pursuit of happiness in Karnataka's Hunsur Taluk

Life as a bonded labourer only strengthened Thayamma’s resolve to dream big for her children.
Thayamma helps other Released 
Bonded Labourers through the Udayonmukha Trust.
Thayamma helps other Released Bonded Labourers through the Udayonmukha Trust.

BENGALURU: Mother’s Day is not just about brunches, bouquets and gifts. It’s a salute to strong women—the silent heroes in our lives who fight against all odds to protect, nurture and raise us into strong individuals. Thayamma’s story is one such testament to the resilience and sacrifice of mothers from every corner of the world.

Hailing from a small village in Hunsur Taluk, in the interior of Mysuru district, Thayamma has three children: two sons and a daughter. Speaking about her aspirations for her kids, the 33-year-old is overwhelmed, but firm in her words. She says she doesn’t want her children to become like her or their father, Murthy, or suffer like they did. The young ones should be capable of getting good jobs when they grow up, she says.

Thayamma, a bonded labourer for years, dreamt of a brighter future for her children. She wants them to be well-educated and hold their heads high in the world. The family is from a marginalised background. In the hope of upgrading their standard of living and getting their own house, the couple took a meagre advance of Rs 60,000, which turned their lives upside down.

“My husband, Murthy, had a small dream. Since childhood, he wanted to build his own house. The area where we used to live did not have basic hygiene, and we wanted to raise our children better. But then we were trapped, left with no way out,” Thayamma explains. Unable to repay the loan, the couple got entangled in the web of bonded labour.

Thayamma with her husband Murthy
Thayamma with her husband Murthy

Recalling her ordeal from 2015–17, she says a typical day would begin at 5 am and end only post 6 pm. While Murthy would work in the morning, Thayamma would help in the afternoon. She recalls how she would carry her children to the sugarcane fields.

“I used to carry Surya, my youngest child, on my waist, while the other two—Anitha and Ajay—would walk by my side. There was no place to carry the food, so I used to stack it on my head.”

When her children would get sick, only one parent could take them to the clinic on the condition that the other would have to continue working. Thayamma recalls the struggle of those days and wonders, “How could I endure so much?”

While she would toil in the sugarcane fields and sometimes help with loading the trucks, a task often done by male workers, Thayamma only thought of the wellbeing of her children. She was determined to give them a good life.

“Being a mother, the hardest part was not being able to fulfil basic duties of providing healthy food and clothing for my children. It bothered me a lot. Our movement in social circles was also restricted, we couldn’t even visit family functions,” she emotionally reflects.

The field work would drain her energy and the family ate a once-cooked meal three times a day. People would often raise questions about Thayamma and how she could raise her daughter.

Post a tipoff in 2017, Thayamma and Murthy’s five-member family was freed from the clutches of ruthless bonded labour. Now, they have their own house and run a small tender coconut business to sustain themselves.

“Those days are behind us now. I want my children to focus on their studies and become good citizens. Whatever they want to achieve, in some way or another, they must serve society,” she shares with a smile.

On inquiring whether her now-teenage son and daughter know of their ordeal, Thayamma brushes off the idea, adding, “I don’t want them to know our struggles and feel sorry.”

Today as a testimony to her care of her daughter, Thayamma says, “Those same people whisper about how I treat my daughter like a queen.”

Today, Thayamma is an independent and self-reliant entrepreneur, helping other Released Bonded Labourers (RBLs) through the Udayonmukha Trust, which she co-heads along with another released labourer, to find their own voice by selling handicrafts. With a liking for stitching and sewing, this brave woman is an inspiration to many. On Mother’s Day, Thayamma pays tribute to all the mothers who go to any lengths to provide for their children.

She says, “Every child must respect their mother. A mother’s love and affection are the purest and deepest in the world. She sacrifices tirelessly and becomes the anchor for her children.”

Respect begins from home

While instilling values in her children, Thayamma teaches her daughter Anitha to be safe, be diligent in her studies, and strive to be independent. To her eldest son, Ajay, she advocates about his responsibilities towards his sister and her wellbeing.

“I always tell him, you should love your sister unconditionally and support her pursuits. But more so, to always respect her. Even when you two are alone, or among people, you should respect her and her viewpoint.”

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