Social Equality was Karunanidhi's Focus During Five Terms as Tamil Nadu CM
From women’s emancipation to fighting for the rights of the farmers and the poor and the marginalised, the schemes launched by Karunanidhi government were aimed at achieving social equality in Tamil Nadu
M Karunanidhi was a writer, politician, poet, scholar, orator and administrator. But there was one central theme always running inside his head: social equality.
Kalaignar, who began his life early simultaneously in politics and letters and poetry, had a sound resonance with people. Each time he was in power, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief came up with remarkable legislations that had lasting impression in the socio-economic sphere of the state.
Fighting for women’s emancipation
Karunanidhi, the wordsmith, outlines a scorn for society in his 1952-cult movie ‘Parasakthi’ and through the fiery dialogues of his protagonist Sivaji, the socialist reformist writer shows us the plight of women, the avarice of people and the vices of the so-called holy men.
When his mentor Annadurai died in 1969, Karunanidhi became the chief minister for the first time. In his tenure, he offered legal status to self-respect marriages and launched several other schemes aimed at protection of women and children.
His post-MGR return saw legislations such as Dr. Dharmambal Ammaiyar Memorial Widow Remarriage Scheme and Anjugam Ammaiyar Inter-caste Marriage Assistance Scheme that gave financial assistance for widows and inter-caste marriages. Further, he ensured equal property rights for women, offered free education for backward castes and support to women self-help groups.
The legislation of 33 per cent reservation for women in local bodies was enacted by his government post-Jayalalithaa comeback of 1996-2001.
The poor and marginalised
In the 2018 Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the setting up of “Gramin Agricultural Markets” where farmers can directly sell their produce to customers. Well, Tamil Nadu already had one, and that, too, since 18 years—thanks to Karunanidhi who launched the ‘Uzhavar Sandhais’ scheme in 1999.
Further, Kalaignar has also been credited with providing housing for Dalits, electrification of villages, free electricity for farmers, free education, rehabilitation schemes for the poor and marginalised, raising reservation for backward classes and scheduled castes, and strengthening the mid-day meals schemes in the state.
He was instrumental in setting up welfare boards for workers in the unorganised sector. State-sponsored assistance were offered to the agricultural labourers and more recently, transgenders, who otherwise did not have a safety net.
The incredible organ transplantation programme
A dozen years ago, the southern metropolis of Chennai was the hub of organ commerce and the situation was so much worse that a locality ‘Villivakkam’ was referred to by the locals as ‘Kidneyvakkam’ (the land of kidney trade).
The state has undergone a fairy tale transformation since then so much so that Tamil Nadu was recognised as the leading state for organ transplantation for the second consecutive year in 2016. The state has also performed the maximum number of organ transplantations in India — a total of 5,385 organs have been transplanted in the last eight years from 964 donors in Tamil Nadu.
It was the DMK government under the leadership of Karunanidhi who launched the Cadaver Transplant Programme in 2018. They passed a series of (eight) orders to nail the procedure for organ allocation. But the man never for once claimed credit for his outstanding achievement.
Further, the Karunanidhi government organised ‘Varumun Kappom’ camps, or preventive health check-up camps, throughout the state in December 2006. He also offered financial assistance of Rs 6,000 to pregnant women to help them with nutrition intake.
More recently, the ‘Kalaignar Kappeetu Thittam’ comprehensive health insurance scheme for low income groups was launched in 2009. It allowed them access to high quality surgical and diagnostic care in empanelled hospitals, which were not merely government hospitals. However, it was overshadowed by AIADMK’s elaborate programme.