Patriarchy continues to remain deeply embedded within Indian society even though there has been some evolution. People have always fought their own battles to get rid of it. But could you imagine living a life in disguise for as long as 30 years? A 57-year-old Tamil Nadu woman named S Petchiammal, disguised herself as a man for a time period of 30 years. Hailing from Katunayakkanpatti village, the woman was only 20 years old when she lost her husband to a heart attack. This happened just 15 days after the wedding. The village had a dominant patriarchal society and to raise her daughter, she disguised herself as a man. This is because being employed was seen as a problem for women in the patriarchal society of Kattunayakanpatti.
While speaking to The Indian Express, she explained how she had to become ‘Muthu’ after her husband passed away. She further explained how she was facing harassment and hardships while working at construction sites and tea shops. As a solution to this, she decided to go to the Tiruchendur Murugan Temple and chopped her hair. She also changed her attire to a shirt and lungi.
She said, “We resettled at Kattunayakkanpatti over 20 years ago. Only my close relatives back home and my daughter knew that I am a woman. I did all kinds of jobs, from working as a painter, tea master, parotta master to 100-day work.” She saved all the money that she could to ensure a safe and secure life for her daughter. She adopted Muthu as her identity, which went on to be mentioned on all of her official documents, including Aadhaar, Voter ID, and bank account.
Even though her daughter is married now, the woman is not ready to change her attire. She believes that her changed identity ensured a safe life for her daughter, therefore, she wants to remain ‘Muthu’ until her death.
A similar story is known from a different part of the world- that of Afghanistan’s Nadia Ghulam. Nadia, who has gained international fame, fooled the Taliban outfit by disguising as a boy for 10 years. Despite being a girl, she moved around without a burqa and hijab. She was a citizen of Afghanistan and when the Taliban first came to power, she was denied the right to study or work. Therefore, to take care of her house, Nadia had to live a lie that threatened her life every moment.