“I am Belli Lakshmi Ramakrishnan. This is a photograph of me taken in 1980. I am the first women graduate, post-graduate and Tamil Nadu State level gazette officer from my family. I can also proudly claim to be the first woman Post Graduate and first woman Gazette officer from The Nilgiris District, and from the Badaga Tribal Community, the aboriginal natives of the Nilgiris district. I hail from a very humble agricultural background, born in 1943 as the eight child of my father Late Belli Gowder and mother Thalli. None in my family excepting me and my immediate elder brother went to school and further to complete our post-graduation in Master of Arts. The village I was born in i.e Melur Village., was a very remote village those days and the only bus to the village had to be reached after a half hour trek; though nowadays, the infrastructure is world class, in the late 1940’s there was no infrastructure. I started my schooling in the Melur Primary Government School from the year 1948 and studied till my fifth form under the guidance of Mahalingam Teacher of Melur Hosahatty, who predicted then that I will go on to become an officer in the government and his predictions did come true.
In 1953 I joined the Manjoor High School, a one hour backbreaking bus trip from my native village to do my 6th Form. That year was one hard year not only because of the distance, but also due to the fact that the return bus to my village was unpredictable, many days I have trekked back from Manjoor Town to my village through the shortcuts, and Nilgiris being a hill district the trek back had many steep slopes to climb. Those days we never had any footwear, and so the rocky footpaths, slippery on rainy days made one’s life difficult. I pleaded with my father to get me sandals, which was a luxury those days, he promised me, and he fulfilled his promise in the last week of my completion of sixth form by gifting me a brand new sandals and my happiness knew no bounds. And you know what I did – I did not want any of my friends to see my new sandals, lest they get damaged, so I hid them beneath my uniform while nearing school and did not use them to school, I wore it only during my holidays, my feet had become used to me walking bare foot.
My teacher in my 6th form was Raman teacher from Mattakandi village. My father was a big inspiration and support for me to continue my education, as in those days badaga girls were not encouraged to study beyond 5th form(standard), and were confined to the village, but my father was very foresighted and in 1954 for my 7th form onwards he got me admitted in Presentation Convent, Coimbatore, as he could not bear me walking from Manjoor, and further the educational prospects were not that established in Nilgiris District. I was in hostel away from home only to visit my village during the holidays, I completed my SSLC (those days it was 11th Standard) in Presentation College under the guidance of Mother Teresa (no, not Nobel laureate Mother Teresa, but Presentation Convent Mother Teresa).
In 1954 I joined Nirmala College, Coimbatore and completed my PUC. My father again wanted me to complete my graduation; heeding the advice of my Professor Nirmalam he got me admitted in Stella Maris College, Madras in the year 1960, where I went on to complete a B.A., in Social Science in 1963 and further completed my post-graduation in M.A., Social Work from Stella Maris in 1965. I joined the Department of Health and Family Welfare Bureau, Chengleput District in 1966, and served there for two years.
In 1968, I got married to Y.B.Ramakrishnan, a very handsome, good natured and pleasant man. In 1969 I was transferred to my native District Nilgirsi where I served in the district Family Welfare Bureau for 20 years until 1989 and was promoted and transferred as state level officer to the Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Madras, and retired in 2001 in the equivalent rank of Additional Director as a Mass Education and Information Officer for the State of Tamil Nadu. I have lost my beloved husband in May 2013, and am now living in Chennai, and have my son living along with me.
I am 70 years now and have faced many difficult periods and stiff opposition from many quarters, but thanks to the blessing of Hetthaiamma (Mother Goddess) of Badagas, I have withstood all those challenges. Women like me even today have to face gender bias, and that too at the hands of educated men. I am now fighting for my property which my brother denies to me, and I know that the will of Hethhaiamma will prevail.”