MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 11
As stated earlier, colleagues in Kottyam Telephone exchange were very helpful. They took care of this slender young man from Malabar. Com.E.S.S.Namboodiri, a senior operator, made arrangements for stay at Nagampadam in a Kovilakam situated by side of famous River Meenachil. Was allotted a convenient room. No others staying there, family residing at Kumarakom Kovilakam, few miles away on other side of river. Young Thampuran (Raja) will come now and then, stay few days. We became great friends.
There were four or five canoes, big and small, parked in the family jetty, including a very small one, ‘Kothumbu vallam’. I knew swimming well, having practiced in temple tank near my home almost daily. But I did not know rowing. I will climb in the Kothumbu Vallam, practice rowing through riverside. Many times it turned over throwing me in river. Gradually became adept. Once in a while, if somebody came to cross river, rowed the big canoe also. When royal family came, they will call from the other side; I will row and bring them this side. Once when family with many children came, I rowed to the other side and rowed them back. Children were playing in the canoe with all of them on one side and canoe turned over, me unable to keep boat balance. All those in boat, including women, were thrown overboard. I was shocked. All of them knew swimming well and there was no casualty. They consoled me, treating it as a joke. Was relieved at their noble gesture.
Exchange was on side of the main road near Thirunakkara Maidan. Temple festivals, public meetings used to be held there. Since there was sufficient time after duty, used to walk through the town aimlessly, seeing various shops, bakeries etc. There were a good number of schools in town. Public Library in the midst of town had large number of books. Used to be a regular visitor. National Book Stall was another attraction. Head office of Malayala Manorama, leading daily of Kerala also at Kottayam. Once or twice I went to the famous Ettumanoor Temple, a few miles away from town, which was a tourist centre.Used to have breakfast, meals etc. from vegetarian hotel just opposite telephone exchange. Hotel could be seen from trunk exchange and tea used to be ordered from there, which will be delivered within minutes. Sub-Divisional Officer was in- charge of exchange, whose office was in upstairs.
Union leaders approached for membership. All of us new recruits joined. All India Telegraph Engineering Employees Union Class III (called E.III Union in short) was one of the 9 affiliated unions of NFPTE (National Federation of P and T Employees). These 9 Unions were, two unions each in Postal, R.M.S., Telegraph and Telephones for class III and Class IV separately and one union for class III and class IV employees of P.M.G.Office. Since there was only one union for each sector as mentioned above, employees were either a union member or not. No rival unions. Hence, almost everybody a union member. We regularly attended union meetings.
Within days of joining, some telephone operators from Calicut approached me for mutual transfer. Applied for mutual transfer with Com. Chellamma, first operator who approached. Within few months, orders were issued granting mutual transfer. She got transfer to Kottayam and me to Cannanore, since Calicut was a feminized exchange, where only women operators were posted.
Almost all major exchanges in the country like Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Bangalore and Hyderabad were feminized. In Kerala, Ernakulam and Calicut were feminized ones.Probably British rulers thought that for discipline as well as courteous behavior, women were better. They were granted one advance increment in service, if they did not marry. After independence that condition was removed. Even when I entered service there were many unmarried women operators drawing special increment.This discrimination against women continued even after Independence for Air Hostesses and Nurses. It was only after sustained struggles and court judgments that these anti-women rules were cancelled. Even though women have entered almost all avenues including space travel, defence sector etc., male dominated society still continues to keep them away from strategic spheres. If a check is made about top posts in government, Ministers, M.P.s etc. one will find that women are a small minority. This injustice has got to be removed.