Kerala women’s “culvert revolution” strikes at gender inequality
By Matters India Reporter
Perinjanam: Women of a village in the southern Indian state of Kerala created history on January 24 by taking over culverts near a toddy shop.
“It was a symbolic gesture. We wanted to assert that we too have equal right to streets, crossroads and culverts in our village. Only men use these places now,” explained Jayasree Sajeev, one of the 18 women of Perinjanam village in Thrissur district.
The women, mostly members of the Sastra Sahitya Parishad (Science Literature Movement), sat on two culverts near the toddy shop in the local panchayat’s 14 ward for three hours from 4 pm, its busiest time of the day.
Jayasree clarified that their gesture was not against the toddy shop. “Those going in and coming out of the shop would sit on the culverts and make it difficult for women to pass that way,” she told Matters India. Initially six women sat on the culverts. “More women joined when the news about our program spread in the village,” she added.
Jayasree’s companion and parishad unit secretary K K Kaseema said the men were taken aback when they saw the women on the culverts. “Many came and asked us why we were sitting there. We first ignored them and continued our discussion about various issues facing the village. Our group had two women ward members, including vice president Saida Muthukoya,” Kaseema said.
Jayasree said one man was furious and shouted at them to go away. “We kept our cool. At around 5:30 pm panchayat president K K Sachith came and addressed us. He also explained to the men why we had gathered there,” she added.
Sachith said the men had met him to know why the women were sitting near the toddy shop. “I asked them to go and ask the women. The men’s question itself betrayed the gender bias existing in our society. They have no realized that the roads and culverts also belong to women,” he told Matters India.
Sachith hailed the women’s move as a revolutionary step that will prove to be “every effective” in convincing the men about gender equality. “Women in Kerala usually avoid streets near toddy shops as men take over nearby roads and culverts. They talk loudly using cuss words giving mental tension to women who happen to pass that way,” he told Matters India.
The president also explained that the women’s gesture was part of an attempt to declare Perinjanam a woman-child-friendly panchayat. “We have devised several programs to make the panchayat safe for women and children,” he said.
They will conduct workshop of gender equality in all 15 wards of the parish before January 30. They will also take out rallies to create awareness about women’s rights and set up child-women centers in all the wards, Sachith explained.
Perinjanam is one of the smallest villages in Kerala. The coastal village is just half a kilometer wide. National Highway 66 passes through the village, which is bordered by Canoli canal in the east and Arabian Ocean in the west. The village’s name originated from the Tamil word Periya Njanamullavarude Nadu (People with good knowledge). It is 12 km from Kodungallur, where St Thomas the Apostle was believed to have landed in the year 52.