Tremendous changes have taken place in the status and position of women in our society. Now woman is no longer looked upon as a ‘hari bakke’ (running grit i.e., child-bearing machine). She has acquired a new status and a higher social stature. Women are now better educated and few of them fortune enough to hold important jobs. At the same time, there is a grey area which is to be pondering over. On the one hand the socio-economic condition of our women has improved in the last few decades, thus resulting in lesser restrictions within the home and greater freedom of movement outside the home. On the other hand, still in some domain their status appears to have remained the same.
The women in our society seem more independent and self-assured. As wage-earners Badaga women occupy primary place and many of them earn more than their husbands. Nevertheless they continue to occupy an inferior status and the ‘hatti’(hamlet) is still very much male dominated. Economic independence and education do not seem to necessarily make women more powerful or enable them to get a place in decision making process. Even though the female population of our ‘hatti’ is a sizable one, the women seem to have very little decision making power.
To our dismay, even they do not participate in the public affairs like manda (village assembly) etc. Even though many of them are well educated, still they have to act as intellectually dependent upon men on common affairs and religiously they have no public role. A woman in the role of wife is subordinate to all desires, the whims and the angers of her husband.
It is said that in olden days, mother-in-law with sons and daughters-in-law is very powerful within the home and she forgets her past and starts ill treating her young daughter-in-laws. But the present generation mother-in-laws changed their attitude altogether. Now, it is true that some treat their daughters-in-law as their own daughters. Due to this, most of the present generation women are treating their mothers-in-law as their companion and interacting with them freely.
Compared to our ‘hethais’ (grandmothers) now women go out quite a lot. They go out to see the matters like buying groceries, selling farm products, visiting hospitalised patients. In the past woman would never sit in front of her father-in-law of her husband. In fact they were expected to stand behind a door and answer their questions. This attitude also changed considerably. However, if daughters-in-law are very dutiful they may not have any trouble with their in-laws.
Widows unlike married and menstruating women are pure but inauspicious in some other societies. But in Badaga society widows enjoy equal status like other women. Of course with borrowed ideas few prefer widows not to perform some rituals in rare occasions. In fact this is insignificant. In total, in our society there is no inauspicious attached to them.
Formerly women stayed away from the house in a shed (olegudi) each month during their menstrual periods. Women used to feel absolutely miserable on those three days. At night they have to sleep on mat and use only old blankets etc. That was the practice in those days and every one had to follow it. But now women do not adhere to these rules very strictly. Of course even now some do not enter ‘ogamane’ (kitchen) or puja room on these three days and sleep alone in a separate bed. Here we shall see that the rules of pollution and purity are not abandoned but are redefined.
Due to various socio-economic reasons late marriages are slowly being introduced in our society. Women now seem to get married only in early twenties or later than that. The convention that men and women from respectable families ought to get married according to the wishes of their parents still persists, strongly in our society. In olden days the bride groom’s family would be satisfied if she could cook, take care of a family and generally know everything that was necessary to be a good wife. Now, in addition, the education given to women comes as a plus point. Hence Badaga women believe that education given to their daughters fetches eligible men, as most young men these days prefer to marry only educated women.
Old women, in other societies, do lose their power within their homes and become unwanted. Older women in our society, on the contrary, have greater freedom and wield a large influence in the management of household affairs. They are respected more and as older married women they are symbols of auspiciousness.
In short the tradition oriented atmosphere of the ‘hatti’ is clearly reflected in the lives of its women. Indeed our women have tried and adapted the modern living conditions to suit their traditional way.
[ Wg Cdr JP adds - I have met Dr.R.K.Haldorai on a few occasions - he was one of the main architects of Nanjanadu Peace Committee - and found him to be highly knowledgeable and a simple & friendly person. Being a scholar and involved in researching about our society, he has written many books on Badaga - both people and language. These books have been published by Nellikolu Trust -under the able care of R.Dharuman. He lives in Chennai (733, Mullai nagar, Tambaram West, Chennai -600045) and can be contacted on cell: 9444503414 ]