A woman from Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district disguised herself as a man for 30 years to raise her daughter singlehandedly.
Three decades ago, Pechiyammal, 20, from Katunayakkanpatti village in Thoothukudi, lost her husband to a heart attack 15 days after their wedding.
After she gave birth to a girl, Pechiyammal started to work, but faced harassment.
To raise her only daughter without remarrying, Pechiyammal decided to disguise herself as a man and became Muthu.
She cropped her hair and started wearing a lungi and shirt to look like a man. Over the past three decades, Muthu has worked in many places like hotels, tea shops in Chennai and Thoothukudi. Everywhere she worked, she was called as ‘Annachi’ (a traditional name for a male).
Muthu was later referred as ‘Muthu Master’ as she worked in Parotta and tea shops.
Pechiyammal said: “I did all kinds of jobs, from working as painter, tea master, parotta master to 100-day work. I saved every penny to ensure a secured life for my daughter. After days, Muthu turned to be my identity, which in turn was mentioned on all documents, including Aadhaar, Voter ID and bank account.”
Pechiyammal said it was tough initially. “Keeping the safety of my daughter in mind, I decided to go through the trouble. Disguising as a man kept me safer at my work place at a time when I was travelling more to earn my livelihood. To make my identity real, I always occupied seat only on men’s side in buses. I used men’s toilet. Although the government announced free travel for women in buses, I paid the fare,” she said.
Pechiyammal, 57, is now content. “My daughter is married and I feel I have fulfilled all my desires. I wish to be remembered like this even after my death. I’ll spend the rest of my life like a man if I get pension from the government. I’m ineligible for many schemes,” she said.
Only a couple of people and Shanmugasundari, her daughter, knew about her struggles. “She devoted her life to me. I hope she gets the allowance,” said Shanmugasundari.