Most Significant Change Stories
In the village of Stritady, in Dakshin Kannada, the roles and rules for men and women are clear and neither men nor women can question or change an extremely unequal and unjust gender equation. Women do the housework and they wait on the men who do not help with domestic chores no matter how hard or heavy. If a boy decides he does not want to marry a girl, he can break off a proposal and the humiliation and misery is heaped on her not him. When a boy does marry a girl, the girl’s side is expected to kowtow to the boy’s side and at the time of the wedding there is a socially accepted sense that the groom’s party is higher in a hierarchy over the bride’s party. In fact, the groom is higher in hierarchy than the bride for the rest of their lives.
Suresh learnt by his own experience that this was not the only injustice entrenched in the community’s value system. He decided to change things. He began with himself.
Suresh was born and brought up in Stritady, Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka. He was educated until class VI and started working in Mangalore as a young boy. He was 25 years old when he was diagnosed HIV positive. Initially he was very depressed and could not accept his diagnosis. Fear and anxiety were fuelled by the very real prospect of discrimination and marginalization in a world where AIDS and the HIV infection are little understood and strong reasons for the sufferer and the family being treated as an outcast.
Gradually, with some help and after participating in the Breakthrough training programme (held in conjunction with the Hongirana Network of Positive People) he developed a new attitude to life.
After the training, he was determined to bring about changes in his life and those of others around him. He speaks of an incident that made him realize he had become more sensitive towards women. While working in a lodge he came across a young couple who had been having an affair for a long time. He witnessed them breaking up and discovered that the boy had got married without a second thought for his previous long-term girlfriend. Suresh understood the humiliation that the girl experienced in a society that perceived her unhappiness as in some way her responsibility and her shame. Suresh realized that this was unfair and made sure that the girl was not harassed anymore. He feels that this sense of understanding came about as a result of the Breakthrough training.
Suresh’s personal breakthrough went a few steps ahead, and impacted his own home and family. He started realizing the burden of household chores on women. He saw his mother putting in extra effort to prepare special meals on Sundays, while the men of the house sat back and relaxed. He started sharing the domestic work with his mother, not only on weekdays, but especially on sundays.
Then when Suresh’s brother got married, Suresh took extra care to ensure that the bride’s family was treated with respect. He sang a song on the day of the marriage which was about ‘how a groom should treat his bride with equality and justice’. He says that he could feel the impact of the song on his relatives and neighbours who ended up congratulating him. He says that it takes a lot of courage and strength on the part of an individual to take such steps in community gatherings. He reiterates that all this was possible because of the Breakthrough training he received.
He participated in Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao campaign, in particular as part of the video van media and mobilization effort and travelled across two districts of Karnataka, Dakshin Kannada and Mandya. He continues to disseminate information on domestic violence and HIV/AIDS.