‘He was a person who could break barriers’

M Karunanidhi passed away on Tuesday. Daughter Kanimozhi’s words about her father, documented by Sandhya Ravishankar in her recent book, offer an insight into the Tamil Nadu stalwart’s personality

‘Justice for the marginalized’
‘There are some important things that you fight for which politics can accomplish in a day,’ says Kanimozhi as she recalls how her father changed policy in one stroke for the cause of the disabled and the marginalized transgender community in Tamil Nadu.

‘For instance, my team and I had been fighting for the rights of disabled people for years. We organized a rally for them. One day my father called me and asked me where I was – I said I was at home. He said there is some rally that is coming. So, I explained to him what the issues were. He asked me to bring them and come. He said he would wait for them, asked me to join him there. We had some nine or ten demands and, except one, everything was done in ten minutes!’

She also details how quickly Karunanidhi righted a centuries-old wrong, granting legal protection to transgenders in Tamil Nadu. ‘Look at the transgenders issue also. They were not allowed to attend college, so my team and I had taken a few transgenders and were waiting for Mr Ponmudy, who was the higher education minister then. He was with the chief minister, so we were waiting for him. My father came down, saw me and asked me – What are you doing here? I said I am waiting to see Mr Ponmudy. He said okay and asked what for. I told him it was for college seats for transgenders. He left. Afterwards, that evening, he called me and asked for details. Subsequently, we became the first government to recognize transgenders as a separate gender. So, he was a person who could break barriers.’

We are not used to not having him around to talk about issues. Even people who were against him. But he was there. That silence, I think, hurts a lot

Today, with the ill health of Karunanidhi and the demise of Jayalalithaa, it is not only Tamil Nadu but also its politicians who feel a severe debilitating political vacuum. ‘It is suddenly like two very important leaders are not there, around the same time. It is a very shocking thing for the state. We are not used to not having him around to talk about issues. Even people who were against him. But he was there. That silence, I think, hurts a lot. But that is life and we have to find our way.’

‘Sometimes when I read to him, I read Nenjukku Needhi, and I am so shocked. He went from Sangam to Russia to America. Especially the fact that he has written all this during the days when there was no Google.

‘His sense of humour and wit are what kept him going. Even after watching the election results and, you know, after a point when you know you are losing, he will switch over from this mode to another and start cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. It was like the battle is over, we have lost the battle but the war is still on.

‘He is very emotional more than pragmatic when it comes to issues. There are certain things that are close to his heart and he always stood by them,’ she says.

(Published from Sandhya Ravishankar’s Karunanidhi: A Life in Politics with permission from Harper Collins Publishers India)

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