“I WOULD RATHER TEACH FISH­ING THAN GIVE FISH”

India Today - - GOOD NEWS - —As told to Prachi Sibal

Suhasini Mani Rat­nam founded the Naam Foun­da­tion in 2010 to em­power sin­gle women from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds. It works with women vol­un­teers, who are called Naam Thozhi­gal, and has its own an­them.

Peo­ple be­low poverty line here in Tamil Nadu are used to free­bies. Ev­ery time we call them for a meet­ing, they think we are call­ing them to give them gifts. It took me a long time to get them out of the habit of think­ing like that. The prob­lem is that while we keep try­ing to make them self­suf­fi­cient, the state keeps giv­ing them free­bies. We have also faced a lot of re­sis­tance from the peo­ple who live in the neigh­bour­hoods that these sin­gle women come from—they re­sist our efforts to help these women to be­come self-suf­fi­cient. There are other so­cial prob­lems as well—chil­dren don’t re­spect moth­ers in the ab­sence of fa­thers. Of­ten, their chil­dren only see their moth­ers as dis­ci­plinar­i­ans who just want them to study all the time. It can get even more dif­fi­cult with chil­dren who have learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. Some women are smart enough to un­der­stand that their chil­dren are dif­fer­ent from oth­ers, but most can­not. Other so­cial prob­lems that we deal with are more trou­bling. There are sev­eral cases of sex­ual ha­rass­ment that we have dealt with. What makes it com­pli­cated is that the women who have suf­fered this of­ten blame them­selves for what has hap­pened. Worse, the ha­rasser is al­most al­ways some­one in the fam­ily—and the women be­lieve that it is some­thing they did that brought the ha­rass­ment upon them. We have found it very dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to them that they haven’t done any­thing wrong. These prob­lems can be solved only with a lot of coun­selling—for the women, their chil­dren and their fam­i­lies. The truth is also that we can­not find so­lu­tions for their prob­lems if we think about them only from our own con­texts.” SUHASINI MANI RAT­NAM, Founder, Naam Foun­da­tion CHEN­NAI

“We can­not find so­lu­tions to their prob­lems if we think about them only from our own con­texts.”

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