Print edition : September 26, 1998

MANI* had spent more than Rs.50,000 to marry off the first of his two daughters by his first wife, Saroja. His second wife Selvi, whom he married after Saroja died, gave birth to a girl, after having borne a son. Mani put pressure on Selvi to get rid of the newborn, but she was not so easily persuaded. Despite pressure from her husband and in-laws, she held out with support from her mother. Thanks to her determination, the baby born on April 30 survived the night.

The following day, the block team of the Nam Nalam Ariya Kalaipayanam came to the particular panchayat, where Selvi and Mani lived. Around 11 a.m., the couple watched the troupe perform in front of their house. They were moved by the songs and skits opposing female infanticide and highlighting the positive role of daughters in taking care of aged parents. Later in the day, the panchayat president told Pandian, the block team manager, and Munian, the area literacy coordinator that, after seeing the kalaipayanam performance, Selvi had decided to keep her girl baby despite pressure mounted by her in-laws. Her husband, Mani, was no longer opposing her decision to keep the child. The campaign thus played a crucial role in the lives of this couple, who were landless agricultural labourers.

* * *

MANICKAM has two daughters and a son by his first wife who died a few years ago. His elder daughter, Kuppu, was married by paying a dowry of Rs.30,000 and four sovereigns of gold. He also has a four-year-old daughter, Latha, by his second wife, Palaniammal. When Latha's mother gave birth to another daughter at her natal home in a nearby village, Manickam made a sinister plan. He took Latha on his bicycle from his village to Palaniammal's maternal home, where she and the newborn were staying. He gave Latha a bottle of the pesticide, Folidol, and instructed her to inform her mother that the newborn should be given "the medicine" in the bottle.

Fortunately for the newborn, Palaniammal was unwilling to oblige Manickam. Around this time, Palaniammal's father and sister saw the kalaipayanam performance. They came home convinced that the baby must be allowed to live. They assured Palani-ammal of their support and this strengthened her resolve. She kept the baby even though she was uncertain of whether Manickam would take her and the baby back. She raised the issue with the health campaign leadership. The panchayat's intervention was then sought, and Manickam has since agreed to take back Palaniammal and the baby girl.

* This and all the other names have been changed in the story.

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