Updated: May 5, 2020
It was last year when during our meet-up we decided to launch a special edition dedicated to men; through our magazine, we wished to thank all the men who stood up by women or who played an indispensable part in the lives of women around them. While we at Pinkishe celebrate womanhood, we also wish to shine the light on wonderful men who have done great work in empowering women.
K S Kandasamy, district collector of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu is one of those men, who believes that it is the time to stop gender discrimination and restore equal rights for all. Each story of his contribution in this vital battle is an inspiration to all other men. From rescuing fifty girls who were being sexually abused in a shelter home to encouraging a young girl to chase her dream of becoming an IAS officer herself, by making her sit in his official car, his forward-thinking personality continues to break barriers.
For this special edition of Pinkishe, we thank him for his immense support for coherency within the society. We thank him for establishing our faith in Indian administration and for making us believe that where there is a will, there is a way. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Q I have read so many success stories about you, Sir. What motivated you to become an IAS Officer, and what is it that keeps you humble?
Actually, after completing my graduation degree, I wished to opt for public services like Indian Administrative Services. Though all my classmates and roommates chose to join IT industry, I was more inclined towards contributing to the betterment of the society. Perhaps, the thought of building an India for tomorrow and ideal work ethics was instituted within me from my childhood by my mother. She has always been an extremely hard-working woman, who gave so much importance to education.
Q You work boundlessly for women empowerment and you are always a strong advocate for gender equality. Your work of rescuing girls who were abused sexually at the missionary in Tamil Nadu is the sheer example of your commitment towards ending gender-based violence. What inspires you to work consistently towards women’s liberation?
As I told you, my mother is my role model. Even though my father was a teacher at a government school and has always been a persuasive man, my mother would take all the important decisions in the family. She was the one who decided to sell off our lands so that we could continue higher education. Her family advised her not to sell land as it might be difficult to earn it back, but she went ahead. She is a woman of substance and never loses hope. So, I think it is because of her that I wish to work for women empowerment.
Q As the saying goes that it takes a village to raise a woman (child), Sir, it takes the whole community of people for any woman to experience and grow in a safe environment. How do you think we can engage men in such interventions, in questioning of gender norms and power of dynamics? Are the people of your district co-operative in your initiatives?
Initially, both men and women were reluctant in helping us during our many efforts, but eventually they realised that we should move towards the society where stereotypes are removed. For example, we ran a campaign titled, ‘My Dream’ where we asked all the girls to write their wish on an inland postcard and post it to their parents. Almost 90% of the girls asked their parents not to get them married before they turn 18 and to allow them to complete their education. The other day, parents, especially fathers, shared their experience of reading those post cards and realising how they were robbing their daughters of basic rights. In another programme, we asked the mothers to come forward, keep their hands over burning camphor, and take a pledge to support their daughters. More than 50% mothers were not happy to join the event in the beginning, but oncewe explained them how they were married at a younger age and were deprived of their freedom, they agreed to support their daughters.
During our recent safety campaign, we rescued around fifty girls from sexual abuse in one of the shelter homes in the district. The home-in-charge would make the girls watch pornographic content before abusing them and the bathrooms did not have doors. When we shifted the girls to government reception home, then some of the inmates opened up to our Probation Officer and me and told us the truth. We instantly arrested the 65-year-old home-in-charge and rescued the other girls too. Now the girls are invited to government home every weekend and we arrange for health and educational campaigns and fun trips for them. We explained to them that it is because of them donors give money; that they are not slaves but the actual owners of the home.
To make people aware, we arranged for sermons at religious places like churches. We explained to people the role of woman in the society and how they can be more supportive to each other. I recognised that most people are not aware of their rights, and when we open them to the possibilities, they do take responsibility and make better decisions. So, in all our programmes, the entire community was actively involved.
Q Sir, there are some people who vow for women empowerment and there are some who believe that women are already powerful, and need not to be empowered? What is your personal view about this matter? Do you think that the women in our society are oppressed and need to be encouraged more?
In my opinion, most of the families, particularly, affluent and urban families, already treat women equally. Women in families are taken care of, given equal education, and are treated with love, but they are not accepted equally. Women are more liberal now, but the society doesn’t accept them and their way of living. So, it is not about equality, it is more about acceptance.
Q Being one of the most influential and certainly most gracious District Collector yourself, what message would you like to give away to Indian men about supporting women in their lives, be it their mothers, wives, daughters, or female friends?
As I already said that most families treat women equally, but they treat them differently at different stages of their lives. I mean, you could see that fathers love their daughters more, but once the daughters are married, and they come back to ask for their share in the property, the fathers don’t support them. Married girls are suggested to inherit property from their in-laws through their husbands and not the property of their fathers.So, we love them when they are children, but we take a different stand when they are adult and married. We don’t involve our aged mothers in decision-making. We care for them and treat them to sumptuous lives, but we do not discuss important matters with them. So, my view is that we need to accept women as they are, before anything. I think that women, if given a chance, make better decisions than males do, in the families.
Q And what message would you like to send across for women, especially to female students who dream of becoming an IAS officer like you?
This is the most likely question that everyone asks me. I always tell women not to get overwhelmed by their emotions. Emotions come out of love. You may love yourself, your family, husband, or father, but at any point of time, you should not confuse emotions with your rights to equality. At any point of time, you have to preserve your rights to dignity. Know that children and people around you, observe you and copy your actions. So, the way you value and respect yourself as a woman, tells them how you should be treated and valued. So, always make the virtuous decisions and choose respect and acceptance over anything else. I also wish to tell them that we have had women prime ministers and presidents, and not only administrative officers, but it is more important to work for the betterment of the society, once you achieve that designation. So, go, push yourself to keep moving forward and stay humble.