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June-July 2004

Challenging taboos

- by Emmanuelle

UshaUsha is a beautiful young Tamil Aurovilian woman, who smiles a lot and is not afraid to speak her mind


When she was three months old, Usha's family came from Pondicherry to settle in Auroville, where both her parents found a job. Usha grew up and studied in Auroville schools: New Creation School, where she became a boarding student at the age of eleven, Transition school and then Last School . After her studies, Usha worked for eight years in Pour Tous and then at the Financial Service. Then she joined Auroma, where she has been doing accounting for the past two years. “Ananda, whom I work with in Auroma, has been teaching me accounting,” she explains. “It was actually a dream of mine, to become an accountant.”

Usha got married at the age of eighteen. It was a love marriage, and as her husband to be was of a different caste, one side of her family objected to it, but the wedding took place nevertheless. Since the past two years, however, Usha has been living on her own with her six year old son Aditya.

“I got married and then separated from my husband,” explains Usha. “In the village that just doesn't happen. Whatever problems may arise, a married couple remains together, a woman never leaves her husband…My family members keep trying to convince me to go back to my husband, even today. In the beginning, I was under a lot of pressure, from all sides, but today I think they realize that I've made up my mind.”

There will always be those in society who criticize, talk badly of and slander those who have taken the bold decision to live outside the age old, accepted social norms.

“All these people can do is talk,” says Usha. “For example, if I'm hungry, they will not feed me. I have to take care of myself. Also, when they talk, they will always do so behind my back, they won't come and tell me what they think of me to my face. Sometimes, it is very difficult, and it really hurts, to hear what is being said about me. But I try not to care, not to let it affect me, to ignore it.” Though there may have been a lot of people who disapproved of her, Usha has also received a lot of support and encouragement from a few close friends, who, although they may not necessarily have agreed with the decision she took, were always there for her when she needed them.

Dealing with social taboos wasn't the only challenge Usha had to face when she started living on her own.

“When I lived with my husband, I would only go out of the house to go to work, I never went anywhere else on my own. I didn't interact socially at all, I didn't even spend time with friends,” she recalls. “So when I started living on my own in the beginning it was very difficult. I was very shy, very afraid and reluctant to talk to and face other people. Slowly, however, I worked on myself, forced myself to interact more with people, to overcome my shyness. I realized that I was on my own and I had to look after my child, so I had to be strong and confident. Now, as I talk to a lot more people I am also more informed and aware about everything that is happening in Auroville.”

As a teenager, Usha used to play basketball, and enjoyed it a lot. “It is very rare that married Tamil women take part in sports like basketball, it is mostly young, unmarried girls who do so,” she explains. “But in Auroville, there are quite a number of young Tamil women who continue playing basketball after having got married and their husbands greatly encourage them to do so.” Her husband, however didn't like her to practice sports, so after her wedding, she stopped. But a year and half ago, Usha joined a team of young girls being coached by Ananda, who also teaches them French and Sanskrit on the court, and started playing basketball again.

“Playing basketball is very important for me,” says Usha. “Our team practices every morning from 8 to 9.30 AM . We are all beginners, so we will have to work hard if we want to become good players. And that is one of my dreams: to become a really good basketball player.” “Now I am free to make my own choices, to do what I want to do,” continues Usha, determined, “And I am happy. I am different from the other girls, that is all…”

When asked about her son, Aditya, Usha's eyes light up, and she breaks into a smile. “He is a very open child, not shy and quiet like I was when I was in school. He studies at the kindergarten, and enjoys every single day there. I am so happy to have him, he is everything to me, and I will do anything I have to do for him.”

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