Padmanabane Lalidamballe has been the Managing Trustee of ADECOM Network since 1998. She grew up in the outskirts of Pondicherry and holds both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Economics. Throughout high school, college and graduate school she volunteered for a local literacy campaign and, upon receiving her Master’s and another certificate in teaching, she taught in a local village for one year while simultaneously volunteering at ADECOM. She then decided to join ADECOM full-time in 1995. She is married to her co-worker and Kootu-k-kural director Perumal, is a devoted Buddhist (though she believes her faith to be more a values system and, in her words, a “way of life” than a “religion”), and is an ambitious, headstrong, hard-working and incredibly inspiring woman.
Below are a couple excerpts from my interview yesterday with Ms. Lalidamballe. Until now, I’ve never had the opportunity to talk with an Indian woman about her personal life, and I certainly didn’t expect to break that streak with my supervisor. Of course, while I suspect that Ms. Lalidamballe’s particular experience is out of the ordinary—even highly so—her love story is no less real. (For utmost verisimilitude, I have transcribed the interview almost exactly as it was recorded.)
Ms. Lalidamballe: I am especially proud of the Dalit emancipation project, and we were really conscious of how this project would empower women and develop feminist values. Basically, I am a feminist. In the beginning I don’t want a family life and to live like an ordinary woman, so I practiced this for some years, some years means ten to twelve years, but after that I suddenly changed my opinion when I met Perumal, and we decided why don’t we marry each other and continue the same way of work? In my family everyone is married and they always ask me why I didn’t want to marry, I think you know about the Indian marriage and family situation, the parents don’t accept it when you live alone, but my mother accepted it, she accepted everything about me, but when I met Perumal. . . . He joined ADECOM in 1998, so after a few years only we decided why don’t we marry?
Q: Do you find it difficult to be married to a person you work so closely with?
Ms. Lalidamballe: Actually my mind at that time was not to accept any man, in my young life I did not want to accept a man, this was my condition, when I looked at any man I said, you are not good for women’s rights, so I never accepted a man’s participation or the . . . how can I say this . . . his kindness. I didn’t think that men would show any kindness to women. Being a woman means you have to develop yourself, so that was in my mind, maybe this happened because of my opinion of men in India, in India there is the patriarchal system, the men always marry two or three girls, and I don’t want this kind of life. In some families the men drink a lot and beat the women, even educated women are not respected, so I saw all this in my friends’ houses and my relatives’ houses and this gave me the notions I had. I talked with men, that’s different, but personally I didn’t want to relate with a man as a husband. Perumal and I talked a lot about my notions, and then I had a small accident—I broke my hand and it was difficult for me to write and take care of myself, and I needed someone’s help, but in my family everybody had their own work. So I thought, how can I go on and work while my hand gets better, and then Perumal came to my home and took care of me for three months or four months, can you imagine that? So slowly this relationship formed. [Laughs.] So then I think that I understood that someone needed to take care of me and help me take care of myself, and after that I realized I wanted to share my life with him. But without a marriage the parents were not happy. Maybe now it is more accepted to live with friends and not be married, but my parents and his did not accept that, so we married, for that reason, and for no other reason. And so we married and accepted each other and he gave me the space to do my own work. Because when you marry sometimes the man does not accept that you will do your own work, that was my main fear, but nothing was disturbed with my life and I have continued my work until now. I’m enjoying my personal life as well as my working life.
. . . .
Q: Did your family pay a dowry?
Ms. Lalidamballe: Yeah, this is a normal practice but it depends on the family. If you are rich you have to pay more, if you are poor you will pay less, and according to their level they send their gift. But my marriage was something different, so I did not give anything to Perumal, I asked them to give some dowry to me, I don’t want to give! And Perumal’s mother said okay. Normally the girl will give to them but my mother-in-law gave a small gift to me, so I loved that, and so my mother gave a small gift too.