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Ananth Mani

Drama Tragedy Others


Ananth Mani

Drama Tragedy Others

Catastrophy, Misery and SHE

Catastrophy, Misery and SHE

7 mins 226 7 mins 226

Precisely forty days after the disastrous cyclone striking more than three thousand villages, killing 30,000 people and uprooting a million population; the Shankaranthri also referred to as Pongal, the harvest festival dedicated to the sun god has arrived with the usual fervour. This day marks the start of the sun's six-month-long journey toward north called Uttharayan. Initially, it appeared that it would be a challenge to find joy in this years festival amid massive destruction, loss of life and separation from the near one’s. The faith that such events and celebrations could bring to transform the grieving mood appeared vindicated. The preparation for the festivities, although was initially circumspect it vanished with the daybreak on the festive morning. The festive day saw revelry spirit with laughter, noise and songs. Sufferings faded out across, and life appeared to have strangely altered to merriment.

By noon most men from the affected villages were fully drunk causing uproar, screaming and jostling across all the villages. Young and older men converged around an enclosed arena for witnessing a fight to finish between contestants, in a brutal attempt to be victorious. All the villages conducted the bloody sport with great enthusiasm. The training is usually carried out for months with the necessary work out, strategies, food and intoxicants. All this missed the routine still the contest was on. The fight carried heavy stakes shared by the punters, organisers and police in the right proportion. These are annual events, and so was this year, and the police patronised appropriately to look the other way without being a disruptor, only a beneficiary.

Metal spurs are the weapons of attack. The crowds drive the combatants to hurt each other until one of them is unable to carry on with the fight or drops dead. At least 30 to 40 battles are fought in each arena, and as the dusk falls, the stakes reach ridiculous sums. Since adequate liquid cash was available in most villages thanks to cyclone and the resultant aid, compensation and grants, all of which overflowed into the sporting arena and stakes escalated to new levels after each fight. The celebration supposed to play a sobering role in escaping the grief turned into a riotous carnival.

Sanity attained the lowest levels as relief funds poured into the gambling arena in hundreds. Eventually, all the funds got drained out of the villages pocketed by event organisers, hoodlums and police all outsiders. Power inequalities in the family seemed to be fully evident as women seemed have had no say in preventing the aid money reach the gambling arena. While cockfights presented the one side the sadistic gratification, it was also a reflection of the submissive expression of exploitation, denial and discrimination.

Cockfight displayed glorification of violence and macho-image of men. Happening in parallel was the glorification of a form of subjugation of female geneder in the form of heartless staging of mass-remarriage across several villages. In the name of protection to girls and young widows the village elders had taken upon themselves the role of deciding what is good for the girls, women, families and community. Honour based abuse of women through forced marriage essentially an assault on their rights was displayed in full public glare. The hapless victim be it a school girl, young widow, sister or an orphan was forced to abandon their dreams for a larger societal need. This in-fact was the brutal exploitation of the vulnerability of orphaned young girls and those separated from their families. 

Grooms were generally widowers, and bride young unmarried girls or young widows. Village elders promoted theses events as a consensual necessity. Accepted as a progressive step to protect single girls following such large scale human tragedy. Re-enactment of the historical slave trade with widowers rushing to marry girls younger than their daughters in anticipation of rebuilding their marital life.

Dehumanising part of this arrangement was mid aged and elderly widowed women with children remained ineligible for marriage as they had the responsibility of taking care of offspring and the elderly. Utmost hurry appeared to be displayed in the conduct of the marriage as the list of the missing persons, still did not appear in the gazette. The possibility of reappearance of the untraceable wives appeared to be a reason for the urgency. The most significant aspect was the abandonment of all moral, ethical and legal obligations linked to remarriage laws be it Hindu or Christians the dominant communities of the area. The NGO s, religious groups and rights activists were conspicuous by their absence giving the impression of their endorsement of a terrible process of victimisation.

One incredible element of the tidal disater was the very high mortality rate of women over the age of forty, leaving behind several widowers who were reborn as eligible grooms. Did most of the dead women stay behind to help evacuate all others from the family to areas of safety, delayed to pull out their cattle or just could not gather the willpower to seek safety beyond their dwellings. Could it be most did not want to live any longer? Whatever that be the reason the skewed statistics of survival gave a feeling of conspiratorial distortions. Probably the culture norms of burdening women with care of children, elderly, sick, animals, and run home seriously impinges on their survival instinct.

Overnight young school girls running around and playing with abandon are transformed to turn a wife conferred with the additional responsibilities of a mother, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law all due to a stormy event. The rehabilitated bridegroom turn into the husband of an adolescent chaste enough to be a daughter or granddaughter. While nature brought destruction for a few hours and left the area devastated, the humanity imposed retribution in the form of exploitation of the female gander would be for a life time. Such women especially the school girls were destroyed twice by a single event confining them to captivity and oppression all their life and most likely to be a widow for a large part of their future. To the question of whether culture or nature is the lesser evil, the answer is undisputed; however, as optimists, one should hope things will not be all that pessimistic.

Two month after, the cyclone life was largely back on its rails except that pets, mostly the dogs were still moving from village to village searching for their masters. Most milch animals died; however, most dogs swam to safety and survived. Their numbers appeared more than the usual as dogs were caught up in new surroundings different from the areas they were as pets, as a result, were facing the fury of the community. Long before the cyclonic waves hit the coast, the dogs seemed to have sensed it and were screaming a full 48 hours before. The sixth sense of the dogs appeared to have been activated, as the floodwaters entered they moved to the higher elevations. They could probably feel the vibrations and impact of the tides.

Strange behaviour of the animals, as well as certain species of birds, was also reported. Most of the dogs are village Pariah varieties semi-wild, domesticated and grown up in the local habitations, pets of the entire village yet confined to specific neighbourhoods. Each village has numbers going up to 30 have found local masters or hosts where they came back at night and rested in the yard outside or inside the compound. Many of the dogs and pets that survived offered comfort, affection and care following the disaster. Many children and women positively responded to the therapeutic attention given by their dogs, cattle and other pets. It was not unusual to see dogs waiting in front of the houses of their masters for days unending even as they could have all been swallowed by the seas or had migrated out.

Pain and suffering are an integral part of all disasters be in natural or inflicted by humans. Humans have always innovated using technology, laws, social order and behavioural changes to find new solutions and make such events less and less painful. However, a tough question that needs anwer have we done enough to reduce the ordeals on girl child and persecutions on women. Why are the advancements taking place across different disciplines never sensitive to the plight of women. Goodness to the female gender continues to fall consistently behind the progressional curve on matters linked to gender emancipation. Does development is exclusive prerogative of men only. Women and transgender as they get pushed to the sidelines is not only disastrous and disgraceful but affects the legitimacy of the family itself. 

It is time we begin the repair the situation beginning at home for inculcating the message progress needs to be for everyone in our journey of life. When anyone is sacrificed be it the unborn female child, school girl, adult women, young widow, elderly mother or grand mother then human development is incomplete then advancement in humanity remains half done.


This is a factual story on events that unfolded and affected women following a severe cyclonic storm of Coastal Andhra Pradesh during Nov 1977. Even after five decades have things changed for women is a question readers need to ponder.

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