Maddur: Sometime in 2010, a ten-day-old baby was dragged away by a dog in Gollaradoddi village in Maddur taluk in Mandya, Karnataka. The villagers clearly remember the face of that baby then. A handful of flesh sticking out of the face, body covered in blood. They blame the mother for leaving the newborn unattended. But nobody in the village to date complains about the space where she was left alone — a small temporary shed made of coconut tree leaves, in an open field, built especially for new mothers to keep them outside their village when they are considered "impure". A hut still exists for the same reason.
The child, Varalakshmi GT, is now nine years old and studies in class IV in the government primary school situated inside the village. Her response to any question comes with a big smile that ends where the scar on her face begins. A scar that cuts through her left cheek up to the corner of her eye. She's a differently-abled child whose father died of a stroke last year and those around believe she was severely affected by the dog's attack on her a decade ago. Her mother and her 13-year-old brother take extra care of her now.
But this incident changed nothing for the women in the village. The residents religiously continue to ostracise new mothers for two months after they give birth. The practice is prevalent in dozens of Gollarahattis (hamlet of Gollas or Kadugollas) across the state. Gollaradoddi is one of two such villages in Maddur taluk and one of the 14 in Mandya district. The rest are spread mostly across Tumkur and Chitradurga districts.
This isn't the only time women are ostracised. A couple of years down the line, Varalakshmi would be asked to stay in a room outside the village for twenty days when she first menstruates and for four days every time she has her periods thereafter.
The room is a partially broken concrete structure with roofing tiles made of clay, with no toilet or a tap connection for a hundred metres around this room. And during the period, the girls aren't allowed to enter the village where these basic facilities are. When nature calls, they must use the open field behind. School and college-going girls must take a shower outside the room in the open before they leave every morning. Anyone who touches the residents of the room while they give water or food must take a shower "to purify" themselves before they enter the village.
"Our God doesn't like it. Menstruating women and new mothers must stay out. They need to follow the system. Who would want to live like this in this age and time? It is our fear in God that makes us follow these. We must continue. That fear in God must be there," says Bhagyamma as she stands near a shed made for her daughter Sangeeta GR.
Sangeeta gave birth on February 6 and has been living in the hut since then. Except, she lives alone. Her baby died six days later on February 12 at the taluk hospital.
"The baby was fine. But suddenly something went wrong and there were fits-like symptoms. The doctor said there was a problem with the baby's heart and kidneys. I returned to the village without the baby. I am hurt. I really don't know why it happened," she says. Sangeeta does not know why the god she and her villagers fear and believe in would be cruel to her. Nevertheless, she would stay in the hut to complete the two months.
Her mother would stay in a similar shed, that is about 4 feet high, 8 feet long and 5 feet wide. But this hut would be at a distance of about 2-3 metres as the new mothers or their hut wouldn't be touched.