Courage under crisis: stories of Bangalore’s brave women (For International Women’s Day)

March 8th, 2009 - 12:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Maitreyee Boruah
Bangalore, March 8 (IANS) The cruel blows of fate have not broken their will, their resolve to fight. Widowed very early in life, or divorced after facing cruelty in their husband’s home, or raped and fighting a legal battle to get the rapists punished - these women from India’s tech hub have shown courage under crisis.

Meet these grand old ladies - Padma Srinivasan, 73, and her friend Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75. Popularly known as Bangalore’s “pizza grannies”, Padma and business partner Jayalakshmi sell yummy pizzas in the country’s IT hub to run an old age home.

The home for elderly, Vishranthi (eternal peace) came into being in June 2008. The home is located at Vijayanagar village in Hoskote-Malur road, 30 km from Bangalore.

But it was not easy for Padma. She became a widow at the age of 28, after her husband K. Srinivasan, an engineer, died in a road accident.

With an eight-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to look after, Padma decided to start life anew.

“I was just a graduate and to get a good job, I studied cost accountancy and joined ITI (Indian Telephone Industries) in Bangalore. With hard work and dedication I not only managed to provide good education to both my children but also retired as a finance manager, corporate finance in ITI,” Padma, told IANS.

“If women are determined they can achieve great things in their lives. Initially, after my husband’s death, I was almost broken, both financially and emotionally. But I never lost hope and worked towards my goals. After retirement, along with my friend Jayalakshmi, I am trying to contribute to society,” Padma added.

Padma and Jayalakshmi started making pizzas from Padma’s daughter’s garage since 2003.

Now, on an average 200 pizzas are sold by Padma and Jayalakshmi under the brand name of Pizza Haven in various IT houses of the city. Pizza Haven has its office in Sadanand Nagar.

“Profit from selling pizzas goes into running Vishranthi where 10 inmates are staying now. I have spent around Rs.10 lakh (Rs.1 million) from my own pocket to build the old age home. The home for elderly is my way of thanking people of this world who have helped me in my time of crisis,” Padma said.

Meet Malati Kumar (name changed). Almost a year ago, she was attacked and raped by three men while returning home after finishing evening shift at a BPO company in Krishnaraja Puram.

A traumatized Malati, 32, gathered courage to file an FIR (First Information Report) against the assaulters after she spotted the three men at an auto stand near K.R. Puram.

The three are in jail pending trial. She had to leave the job after the incident.

Even as Malati, a school-dropout, was fighting a legal battle to get the rapists punished, she suffered another blow: her husband died recently, leaving her to look after their three children, aged between five and eight.

Malati is searching for a better paying job. “I will never lose courage. I am a fighter. My only aim now is to provide food, education and clothing to my children,” she told IANS.

“The scar of being raped will never be erased from my mind. But, I am glad that I gathered courage to report the assault case and all the three culprits are now in jail. In our society, victims of rape and physical assault are seen as women with loose morals. I want such misconception to change and the culprits should be punished severely so that crimes against women come to an end,” said Malati.

Like Malati, the story of Radhika Iyer (name changed on request) is no less heart-rending.

The 32-year-old executive in a BPO in the city was harassed by her in-laws for dowry. Instead of succumbing to the pressure from in-laws and husband, Radhika decided to end the marriage. She was granted divorce in 2008.

“I am single, but happy and leading an independent life. Women should not succumb to such pressure and assert their rights to lead a dignified life. After four years of constant harassment from my in-laws and husband, I decided to end the marriage. I know society has reservations about women divorcees, but that does not deter me from leading my life normally,” smiled Radhika.

Stories like that of Padma, Malati and Radhika - women who have shown extraordinary courage - are many in Bangalore, where women make up 48 percent of the city’s population of 5,281,927 (according to 2001 census).

“It is sad that in cities like Bangalore where half the population is women, they are treated shabbily. The recent attacks on women in Bangalore is an unfortunate episode and the entire society should fight to make the city safe for women,” said Dona Fernandes, head of Vimochana, a women’s rights group.

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