Progressive Thinkers Forum of the Blind
The icon of social justice and the prominent leader of the oppressed, Dr. Kalaignar Karunanidhi (1924-2018) passed away on 07.08.2018, leaving his huge legacy behind. His demise has indeed left crores of Tamilians across the world, progressive thinkers and the people who believe in alternative politics in deep sorrow. Besides his undefeated political career for more than 60 years, he also excelled in the fields of literature, drama, cinema, and journalism. It is certainly a rare combination among politicians to have remarkable achievements to one’s credit in all these diverse fields. The Progressive Thinkers Forum of the Blind is deeply saddened by the demise of people’s leader Dr. Kalaingar.
We feel it is important to recall his groundbreaking services for the people at the fringes of society at these hardened times, solely with the gratitude of having been benefited from his schemes and policies. Among all the state governments, Kalaignar’s government was the first one to constitute a separate department for the disabled people in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, he created a separate ministry for the welfare of the disabled in Tamil Nadu during his regime from 2006 to 2011 and kept this ministry under his direct control. This he did silently when other states did not even think of implementing the 1995 Disability Act. Kalaingar’s concern towards the disabled people was greatly applauded by various organizations of the disabled functioning across states.
While the present government at the center has decided to call the disabled as ‘divine bodied people’, thereby objectifying their bodies, Kalaignar introduced a new term ‘Maatrutthiranalikal’ (differently abled) by focusing on the ability of disabled people almost ten years ago. This new term among Tamil speaking people has in fact offered a new understanding of the disabled and has developed dignity, respect and a new identity for the disabled community. Having understood the fact that only through employment the disabled can empower themselves and lead a dignified life, Kalaingar in his tenure employed hundreds of disabled people in teaching and various administrative posts by properly implementing the three percent reservation ensured in the 1995 PWD Act. To ease the transport difficulties faced by the disabled, he introduced the bus concession modeling upon the central government’s train concession. It meant that a disabled person can take an escort with one-fourth of the ticket price throughout Tamil Nadu in state-run buses. This concession was a great financial relief to thousands of disabled people as most of them belong to poor families.
Besides the disabled community, he also worked for the empowerment of transgender people who are treated worse than the disabled by establishing the groundbreaking ‘Transgender Welfare Board’. With this board, Tamil Nadu emerged as the pioneering state in providing welfare services for transgender people. In order to dignify the lives of manual rickshaw pullers, he abolished hand-rickshaws and distributed free cycle rickshaws in the early 1970s itself. In memory of Periyar, he built hundreds of “Samathuvapuram” (place of equality) in various places of Tamil Nadu to abolish the caste system. Besides establishing equality, this scheme provided free houses to many downtrodden, disabled and dalits. Kalaignar also created Ulavar Sandhai (Farmers’ Market) to offer space for farmers to market their goods without involving middlemen. It was considered a revolution because farmers could fix their own price for their goods. It was Dr. Kalaingar who ensured an equal share for women in their ancestral property by enforcing The Hindu Succession Act (Tamil Nadu Amendment), 1989.
His social welfare measures, progressive legislation, fight for state autonomy, indomitable spirit for eradicating superstitions, concern for the marginalized, and schemes for the liberation and self-respect of the disabled in Tamil Nadu are absolutely matchless, historically significant, socially inclusive, politically empowering and economically uplifting.
His death is a huge loss to the Tamil community, especially for those who are marginalized by the caste-ridden and culturally entrenched society. The work that he did for the disabled, dalits, downtrodden, transgender community, minorities, women, farmers and small retail shopkeepers will certainly continue to etch the memory of generations to come. Undoubtedly, no one can pass through the history of 20th and 21st century Tamil Nadu without acknowledging the Dravidian legend Dr. Kalaingar’s contribution to the Tamil society. Progressive Thinkers Forum of the Blind joins the millions and millions of Tamils and marginalized people in sharing its grief over the sad demise of Dr. Kalaingar. He shall be revered as a leader of the marginalized in history for centuries and millenniums to come.
Progressive Thinkers Forum of the Blind, Tamil Nadu.
~ via Boopathi.
Image courtesy: the Internet