Ramalakshmamma aged 52 is currently the CEO of the Adisakthi Mutually Aided Thrift Cooperative Society, Chennekothapalli. Promoted by the Timbaktu Collective, Adisakthi is an autonomous women’s cooperative that runs a savings and credit programme as well as a legal rights programme aimed at empowering its members. The Cooperative has a membership of 5,700 and a capital base of Rs.3,65,00,000/- raised from members as small savings. The Cooperative extends loans to members to the tune of INR 1000/- to INR 80,000 at easy installments and also runs a free counseling and legal aid centre.
Ramalakshmamma lives with her husband and son Madhav in Chennekothapalli village. 25 year old Madhav is severely disabled with acute mental disorder. Ramalakshmamma organizes her time in such a way that she supports her son while fulfilling her responsibilities as CEO of Adisakthi. Eldest of six daughters and two brothers of a small farming family, Ramalakshmamma got used to taking responsibilities at a very young age. She feels that it was her good fortune that her father insisted that his daughters get educated though in the bargain her parents lost whatever little bit of land they owned. It was also unusual that she and her sisters went further in studies than the brothers, both of whom stopped studying after the 10th standard.
After completing her Bachelors in Telugu language, Ramalakshmamma got married and then joined an NGO, the Rural Development Trust, Ananthapur as a teacher. At around the same time, her son Madhav was born. Since Madhav was disabled from birth, she decided to resign her job and care for him for three years including two years in Hyderabad in different hospitals. There was a gradual improvement in his condition, and she felt she could entrust part of her son’s care to a hired help.
She then joined Timbaktu Collective as recommended by a friend. At that time the Collective had a vacancy in campaigning on voter awareness and transparency in local governance. She recalls that this was a critical time for her when she learned many things fast and had to suddenly move into conducting trainings for elected representatives particularly women. In doing so she found how difficult it was for these women to fulfill their responsibilities as elected representatives as they had to constantly face family pressure. After this she took the opportunity to working with youth and then with the Collective’s work on disability rights.
Soon Adisakthi Cooperative decided to have a woman CEO and Ramalakshmamma was the immediate choice of the Cooperative directors due to the commitment she had shown for women’s rights whether it be in her work with elected representatives, youth or people with disabilities. She was appointed as trainee CEO of the Adishakti MACTS for a year before taking over as the full-time CEO. She has fulfilled that responsibility for more than 5 years now, during which time the Cooperative has reached considerable maturity.
The most important work that Ramalakshmamma did in Adisakthi was strengthening its legal aid centre. This resulted in her being nominated as a para legal worker by the district legal cell authorities. Based on the seriousness of the cases concerned, she along with the directors involved in family counseling or took support of police/court. She had to face much backlash in taking up these issues but had gone forward with confidence. She feels that the kind of work she did in the Collective and the Cooperative helped her question the traditional roles that women play which do not allow them to challenge themselves and move into different roles. She recalls the struggles that she had to have with her family members who did not agree with her work and the internal struggles she had while balancing work and caring for her son.
Ramalakshmamma believes that in a highly patriarchal social context, women have no choice but to fight for their independence and that economic empowerment is only a means for this. She also feels that this fight has to start and must be sustained through out their life where it matters most which is their immediate families.