“I WOULD RATHER TEACH FISHING THAN GIVE FISH”
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.”