TODAY -
Veteran athlete Patamo-women empowerment
Source: Hueiyen News Service / Thingnam Anjulika Samom

Imphal, March 29 2010: Sixty year-old Salam ongbi Patamo-riverbed quarry worker of Kanto Santipur in Sekmai Assembly Constituency and veteran athletic who won three gold medals in the recently condluded 31st National Masters Atheletic Championships-is clueless about the Women Reservation Bill seeking to reserve 33 percent seats for women in the country's legislatures.

Patamo would probably have remained just another Manipuri woman sinking into the obscurity of time and patriarchy if not for an "unthinking" decision, a small amount of luck, a degree of inspiration and lots of hard work and determination.

The journey of her life makes her a lesson in women empowerment for not only her village but for the entire state.

"I spent my whole life in this obscure corner of an equally obscure village.

Never once did it occur to me, even in my dreams, that one day I would become a sportsperson and people would know me," she smiles in embarrassment even as her family gathered around her to listen anew to her tale.

From her early girlhood, Patamo, like most people in her village spent her days digging for stones and shifting sand in the Leimakhong riverbed.

The youngest among four siblings, the extent of her formal education ended at her being able to sign her name.

Marriage at the age of 17 years to a fellow villager, Salam Ingocha who taught for a few years at a local school before working at the riverbed quarry, gifted her four children a daughter and three sons.

From her childhood to marriage, motherhood and widowhood Patamo spent the six decades of her life in a sheltered existence within the confines of her small village, enduring, like most women in the state, the trials and tribulations of time as well her husband's drinking habits and frequent quarrels with a fortitude that bespake of the predominant acceptanceborn of centuries of suppressioneven among women themselves, of the male dominance and gender inequities in the Manipuri society.

A chance participation in the UPF's 2009 Mega Marathon and the subsequent winning of Rs.500/and a certificate resulted in a journey along an altogether different path.

"My niece Sorojini, then a member in the local gram panchayat, had mentioned veteran sports and with the help of Kanta of Khurkhul who was himself a veteran sportsperson, I signed up for trails at Khuman Lampak for the Chennai tournament," she narrates.

"I used to see all these night super buses on the road and say, when would I ever get to ride on one of these.

We took the night super till Dimapur and from there we took the train to Chennai," she recalls, adding, "In Chennai, there was no distinction between day and night, it was brightness every time" .

Patamo won three gold medals at the three events that she entered 800 metres, 1500 metres and 5000 metres races for the 60 years category.

"When I first entered their stadium and saw the other participants standing there so tall besides meI shook in fear.

I thought, my God, how will I run with them.

When I heard my name announced as winner, I wept in elation," she said.

"Coming home, my brothers wiped their tears in pride on seeing me.

Both men and women in my village contributed money to honour me.

When I first started preparing for the Chennai trip, running on the village roads with my phanek raised to my knees, people used to stand and stare thinking I have gone mad.

Now when they see me running, they stand by and shout in encouragement," she narrates.

"It was so frustrating that I could not speak to anyone at the championships due to my illiteracy and language problem, so I have started taking tuitions from a local girl here," she said, beaming to continue, "I can count till 100 and write the alphabets in block letters, but I am having difficulties in the small letters" .

"Now that I have started, I will continue in sports," she said.

It is precisely this determination to better herself and continue her journey to empowerment that makes Patamo noteworthy, especially in light of the debates surrounding policies and legislations such as the Women Reservation bill being promoted as a necessary condition for women's empowerment.

What we need to recall is the fact that the Women Reservation bill itself took nearly 14 years to get its clearance from the Rajya Sabha.

Another is a question, that could also well become a reality, is whether this bill alone will suffice for giving a space for women in the socio-political arena.

Perhaps the answer could be a simple combination of opportunities, determination and enabling environment in the form of legal provisions like the Women Reservation bill could be the starting basis for structural societal changes in each of the core areas that today continue to suppress women.


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