Sudha Ramalingam, an ardent Women’s rights activist and a well-established Lawyer has won numerous cases where women, mostly underprivileged, never had a voice. She is not just a lawyer but also a mentor to those who feel less empowered. From talking about how she struggled to prove her mettle to what differs between the olden and modern generation, she inspires us through every single answer to every single question.
How easy was it for you as a woman to get into Law those days?
I’m almost 60 now, so you can imagine the society’s situation around me when I was around 18. There were rarely any women who would take up Law as a major for their education. In fact, my father thought that medicine or teaching for a woman is a good career to pursue. I applied to the Law College without my parents’ knowledge. I attended the interview, I got admission and finally, when I had to tell them the truth, I asked my friend’s father (who is also a lawyer) to convince my parents. Also, it isn’t something I would be able to hide for a long time. Hence, getting into the Law College itself was a very stealthy entry for me.
The reason my parents hesitated was that they assumed it to be a male-oriented job. Secondly, my father thought that an advocate would always turn out to be a liar. So, all I had to prove him was I wasn’t one of them and could honestly win cases.
What were the difficulties you faced when you entered the field?
Women lawyers were never taken seriously, we were never given serious jobs and overall, the field was a very male-dominated place. However, the few women who did take Law seriously then were always given a chance to prove their mettle in the trial court sessions. I even remember once during my trial case; despite being a short and puny girl, handling a case and that too winning was not expected. I was congratulated and was even asked if I could take up a case. Law is an independent profession and women those days were more hesitant than the men because that was the phase between marriage and education. And women were married off in their early twenties those days.
A case that hit you hard and brought you the desired ending.
Most of the cases are to the heart because I put my heart and soul into it. Being a part of All India Democratic Women’s Association, I receive a lot of cases through that. One such case I remember was a woman who was yearning for a divorce as her husband was harassing her. However, it took us four years to file that case alone as the woman then much unlike today, was nervous to go against all odds of the society and file a case against her husband. So, in the process of making her choose the right thing for her, I became more of a mentor and a counselor than an advocate. As an activist, along with the others, I have helped the victims affected in the Premananda case and Dr. Prakash case. It is always important to understand the psyche of women and empower them to do it.
There have been cases where husbands took away their wives’ jewellery saying that they will be settling abroad and send them a visa but never turn up and instances where women are left abroad all alone. Unlike this era of emails and WhatsApp messages, producing evidence then was very hard. So, every case is precious and takes a toll on me.
Certain women prefer saying “I’m not a feminist” either to sound cool or because they have misinterpreted it. Your Comment?
It’s quite alarming when women, without understanding the true meaning of feminism, say they aren’t. It shows their shallowness; it shows that they are not socially conscious and they (especially celebrities) do not understand the harsh reality. When one has privilege which also includes literacy and education, they should be responsible enough to make themselves understand something like feminism that contributes towards gender equality. Life is not always a celebration for the masses. Feminism is not drinking, smoking or partying and ultimately being rebellious. The overdose of feminist ideologies and the misconception of liberation must also be another reason why women didn’t own up to being feminists.
Do child marriages prevail?
Most of the media does not cover child marriages but it very much exists. Only when the society becomes more sensitized, that is when child marriages will be considered a serious offense. To avoid their children from engaging in any pre-marital relationships, parents get their children married off at a very young age. There was this incident near Arakkonam where a family was trying to marry off a school girl. I sent in news channel along with the local police and stopped it. I have stopped many such child marriages.
Your message to the women audience.
Here are few things I would like to tell them. Firstly, do not consider elders post marriage as a nuisance. Elders are very much a part of your family as much as you are. It’s important to be socially active and available to everyone to make this world and society a better place but that starts first from family. The generation is such that when a marriage goes in waste, they repent through leisure like drinking, abusing and what not. There seem to be no qualms about breaking the matrimony whenever they want to. In the name of progress and urbanization, there are a lot of misconceptions.
To achievers, feminists, activists, and women who want to contribute to an equal society.
Women, who want to achieve big and contribute towards an equal society, must understand that there are many voiceless and faceless underprivileged victims who require a lot of help. The fact that one can read this article is by itself a privilege. Hence, be the voice to the voiceless and be the face to the faceless. This is the main reason I became a women’s rights activist.