S Petchiammal(57), hailing from Katunayakkanpatti village which is 30km away from Thoothukudi town, lost her husband due to heart attack within 15 days of their marriage,when she was just 20 years old. Later with the birth of the baby girl, Petchiammal decided to transform into a man by name Muthu, in order to raise her daughter safely and securely in this patriarchal society.
In order to raise her daughter well, she worked as a daily wage labourer at construction sites, painter, parotta maker, tea maker, and a 100 day worker. During this process she faced many struggles, harrasmments, sexual taunts and hardships. In order to shield herself from such abuses she decided to disguise herself as a man, thereby changing her attire from saree and blouse to shirt and lungi thereafter.
Not only did she change her clothing, but she started behaving like a man by using male toilets, sitting beside men in public transportation. She says disguising as a man made her feel safer and also helped her earn more compared to women. Having registered herself as Muthu in all her documents she could not access the benefits under government schemes provided to women. Despite all the hardship and distress she faced, even after getting her daughter married and with no home of her own, Petchiammal still decided to live as Muthu until her death.
Petchiammal’s story is an eye opener to every citizen and government, to understand that the roots of patriarchy are still strong enough to discourage the freedom of women to atleast live as a female throughout her life. Apart from gender equality, one more thing which we need to understand here is the strong presence of the issue of gender pay gap. It is time for government machinery to weaken the roots of patriarchy and to ensure gender equality along with addressing the issue of gender pay gap.
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