Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Maniamma, an exemplary politician  

Chennai, March 18: Very few politicians these days can match the personality of Manaloor Maniamma, a Brahmin widow who defied the customs and rituals in the 1950s and hit the road on her bicycle to take up people’s issues. Rejecting the family’s demand that she should shave her head and stay indoors, Maniamma sported a close-cut hairstyle, wore mundasu vesti, learnt silambam martial art and took part in freedom struggle, besides networking with farmers of Thanjavur as a Communist leader.

Writer Gnani has profiled Maniamma in his book ‘Neruppu Malargal’, a collection of stories on great but unsung women. Excerpts from the book: Maniamma was married to an advocate as his second wife - when she was just 10 years old. Her husband arranged English tuition for Maniamma. After he died, she taught English to Dalit children in her neighbourhood. She challenged the atrocities being heaped upon Dalit farmhands by the rich landlords. Not just landlords, even her relatives were angry about her association with the underprivileged.

After participating in a meeting addressed by Mahatma Gandhi in Thanjavur, Maniamma decided she should lead a meaningful life. She shunned the saree and stopped doing the rituals prescribed for a Brahmin widow. She rode her own bullock cart and shocked the locals riding a bicycle. Though she began as a Congress supporter, she got drawn towards the Communist movement as it gave her a more comfortable platform to work for the coolies and fight for better wages, against caste discrimination. Thousands of Dalits in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam considered Maniamma as their family member.

When the Communist party was banned in India in 1948, Maniamma was among the many comrades who got jailed for their political activities. “There cannot be a better role model for a good politician of any age, any time, than Maniamma”, said CPI leader R. Nallakannu, himself a man of acknowledged virtues such as simplicity and honesty. “She inspired men and women to fight for a good cause till the very end. Her presence would simply electrify any rally”.
Pointing out how most of the present day politicians are only after money and power, octogenarian Gandhian Krishnammal Jaganathan said, “Her name still gets mentioned in the themmangu songs of farmers. Her death still remains a mystery. People say she was killed by the landlords”.