By Uzma Shamim:
Jyothi Reddy is an entrepreneur settled in the US, heading a company all by herself, and hearing about this would make us admire her for living the American dream. On further digging, when we find her real story we will be in awe.
Jyothi Reddy was born in 1970 to a financially weak family. Owing to her family’s inability to take care of her needs, Jyothi was sent to an orphanage on the false account of being motherless. She was married at the age of 16 to her cousin from whom she has two daughters. After the marriage, her condition deteriorated. To feed her children, she was forced to work on paddy fields for less than Rs.5 a day. Later she became a volunteer with NYK (Nehru Yuva Kendra) and started teaching. However, the money that came from teaching was not enough to feed and educate her daughters. So, she took forward her dream of completing her education, battling opposition from family. Reddy completed her BA from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University in 1994 and studied for a postgraduate degree from the Kakatiya University in 1997.
After the visit of a relative from the US, Jyothi finally decided that to brighten her prospects in life, she has to move to the United States. However, life in the US was not easy from the beginning. She had to work as a baby-sitter, gas station worker, as a worker in a video game shop and others. Gradually, she saved some money from all these jobs and in 2011 started her company KEYSS in Phoenix, which she has been wonderfully running ever since. She is actively involved in activities promoting the welfare of children in orphanages. She works with NGOs like Prajadharana Welfare Society, MV Foundation and Child Rights Advocacy Forum (CRAF), and has formed a Pressure Group Force for Orphan Rights and Community Empowerment (FORCE).
Youth Ki Awaaz reached out to Mrs. Jyothi Reddy to know about her journey.
Uzma Shamim (UZ): Having battled a lot of opposition from family members in moving to the US, what do you feel about the societal restrictions imposed upon women by the conventional Indian society? How are oppressed women in rural areas supposed to react towards such norms?
Jyothi Reddy (JR): Absolutely, it was a very pathetic situation. The woman could not do what she wanted to. She couldn’t even decide how she wants to use her money for her kids. In the early 90’s, women were supposed to remain under the control of men however educated and wealthy a family was. Before shifting to the US, there were a lot of arguments in our family. But I always dreamt of providing good education and life to my daughters since I knew very well how hard it was to be raised in an orphanage. I never had a shoe or a school bag, and I didn’t want the same to happen to my kids. So I went against all opposition from the family. I negotiated with my husband for the sake of my daughters and pledged not to compromise in that regard.
UZ: You took a lot of pains in educating yourself. How useful were the skills you acquired in India? Did they enable you to singlehandedly manage a $15 million IT Company you handle now?
JR: Good Question. Yes, I acquired skills to build a good future for myself and my kids.
a) Vocational Courses
b) Bachelor Degree from Dr BR Ambedkar Open University
c)Masters in Sociology from Kakatiya University
d) PGDCA Diploma in Computers
e) Software Courses from the USA.
All my education took place after marriage and after having kids but for a woman who used to work in a paddy field for less than Rs. 5 a day, it is a big deal to feature in a school textbook, so the journey has been an achievement.
UZ: Why is that you had to move to America to fulfil your dream? What is lacking in the system here in India, which needs to be corrected, so that people like you and me can realise their dreams right here?
JR: Lack of good opportunities in the country is a big worry, and the caste system has become so complex that those in the forward castes are often denied fair opportunities. I was a government teacher, but the salary of one government teacher was not enough to give a good education and a comfortable lifestyle to my children. I have gone through a very difficult phase in life and did not want my daughters to go through the same and I had big dreams too, so I decided to take a risk and move to the united States.
UZ: Having spent a substantial amount of time in an orphanage, what according to you are the problems plaguing the Indian orphanages?
JR: I love this Question. The unfortunate thing in India is that there is no identification of orphans. There is no security for such kids. From 1978 to 1984, I was in a Children’s Home called Balasadanam and thus am very much aware of the condition that exists in such homes. Till today there is no difference, there is no sense of comfort or a feeling of an actual home. A lot of Private Orphan Homes depend on donations only and thus when there is a shortage of funds, many facilities are stopped. Also, most of these homes and orphanages are administrated by men, and it often becomes difficult for the girl inhabitants who have their personal needs such as sanitary napkins, to approach the male in-charge. One of the biggest problems is that most of these orphanages and shelter homes function for kids only till class 10th and after that they have nowhere to go. My demands on their behalf are-
2) Proper nutritious food
3) Accommodation and special care for girl child and the presence of a female officer
4) Financial support till higher education
5) Health care
6) Employment support or skill development training according to their interest
7) Wedding support
UZ: What is your message to all those who are being oppressed right now in any aspect and to those who can do something to end this oppression?
JR: Every woman must earn and be financially independent, and only then will she get equal respect and rights. Also, one must keep trying because I strongly believe that nothing is impossible in the world.
UZ: What according to you does the government need to do in order to make sure that the girls who come out of orphanages are not forced into an early marriage, prostitution or bonded labour but have good opportunities, for employment and well-being?
JR: I believe that not just orphan girls but all girls from class 5th itself should start to understand how to take care of themselves. There should be counselling from class 10th onwards, encouragement should be given to pursue higher education, employment support, skill development training centres and control over exploitation. The woman shouldn’t be stopped and should not let herself be stopped just by virtue of her being a woman. If she knows how to take care of herself no can stop her, or as said in Tamil, Aaasakthi unte ea Shakthi aapaledhu. Jai Hind!