The Christian Science Monitor

The girls who took over a town in rural India

Malarvizhi Pandurangan (c.), secretary of the Thennamadevi girls club, stands with other members of the group after a meeting in their village. Source: Howard LaFranchi/The Christian Science Monitor

Girl power is blooming across India. Clubs intended to boost adolescent girls’ sense of worth are sprouting in remote villages. Women feeling empowered in local politics are acting as mentors and making a priority of improving the future for one of India’s most long-neglected populations. 

But there’s girl power, and then there’s Thennamadevi.

In Thennamadevi, a village sheltered by banana trees and nestled amid rice paddies and sugar cane fields in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, girls have moved beyond discussions of the challenges they face in India. They’re taking action. Bold action.

Frustrated by the many do-nothing men who seemed more interested in turning sugar cane into moonshine than in improving village life, the teenage girls have organized around their professed goal of making Thennamadevi the best community in their district.

The result is that in less than two years the girls have done everything from creating a 150-book library to successfully lobbying local authorities for a bus stop. The objective there: to cut down on the time girls (and boys) have to spend walking through dark and sometimes dangerous fields to get to and from school. 

“After going to our club, I know my rights as a child and as a girl, but it seems what’s different about our village is that we didn’t stop there,” says Kousalya Radakrishnan, the Thennamadevi girls club president. “We now understand our role in our community, and we are acting on that.”

Young Kousalya, even though still in high school, already sounds like a seasoned politician. She sums up her role in the local girls’ movement with clarity and simplicity: to

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