From healthcare for the poor to transgender rights, Karunanidhi advocated social welfare

8th Aug 2018
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Over 80 years of his public life, Karunanidhi was regarded as ‘Kalaignar’, an artist, who was an ideologue, politician, writer, social reformer, scholar, orator, and an administrator.

M Karunanidhi at the Tamil Nadu state assembly.

Five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) political party, Muthuvel Karunanidhi breathed his last at 6.40 pm on August 7.

The 94-year-old leader was admitted to the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai 11 days ago as he faced severe health problems due to age-related complications.

DMK working president MK Stalin, in a moving handwritten tribute to his late father and party supremo said, “For one last time, can I call you as my Appa (father). I've spent an entire life calling you as a thalaivar (leader).”

Karunanidhi is survived by his wife Dayalu Ammal, his partner Rajathi Ammal, and children Stalin, Alagiri, Kanimozhi, Selvi, Muthu, Thamizharasu, and grandchildren.

Over 80 years of his public life, Karunanidhi was regarded as ‘Kalaignar’, an artist, who was an ideologue, politician, writer, social reformer, scholar, orator, and an administrator.

He was a long-standing leader of the Dravidian self-respect movement. Tributes started pouring in on news of the veteran politician's death broke. "Our country is poorer today," President Ram Nath Kovind said in a statement.

Staying true to the principles of Periyar’s Self-Respect and Dravidian movements, Karunanidhi worked to break the stranglehold of caste and class. Through schemes and policy interventions, he uplifted the most-vulnerable and marginalised sections of the Tamil society with a vision to create a more equal and just state.

From providing free electricity to farmers to increasing reservation between 1969 to 2011, the years he served as a Chief Minister and a leader of opposition in Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi is credited with conceiving and launching several welfare schemes for the poor.

Some of the welfare schemes launched by the DMK patriarch are:

1.Health insurance scheme

Kalaignar Kappeetu Thittam for life-saving treatments: Launched in 2009 by the then-ruling DMK government, the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme aims to provide quality healthcare to eligible persons through enrolled government and private hospitals. The scheme provides coverage to meet all expenses relating to hospitalisation of the beneficiary.

This insurance project was launched by Karunanidhi in 2009, for an annual premium of Rs 517 crore. It was aimed at families living below the poverty line (BPL) for life-saving treatment of up to Rs 1 lakh.

This scheme won the ‘e-India Jury Award, 2012’ for the best Practices in Health Insurance with IT-enabled solutions.

2. Self-respect marriages

With an aim to provide legal and political support to inter-caste marriages, Karunanidhi adopted and advocated Periyar’s idea of self-respect marriages.

DMK leaders, K. A. Mathialagan, V.P. Raman, C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi with Swatantara Party founder C. Rajagopalachari.

In 1967, when Annadurai was the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, and Karunanidhi was his close associate, the DMK government brought an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to recognise ‘self-respect marriages’.

The reform helped make marriages valid even without rituals. In fact, the government not only encouraged inter-caste couples to marry, but also bore the expenses of the wedding. Till today, Tamil Nadu continues to be a state where one can get married without any rituals.

3. Farmers market

The ‘Uzhavar Sandhai’ (farmers’ markets), launched in 1999, was started to ensure farmers got fair prices for their produce, by removing middlemen.

Areas were demarcated for the markets and basic infrastructure was provided, so that farmers could conduct business without losing out on commission paid to brokers.

The first Uzhavar Sandhai was inaugurated in Madurai. In 2001, when the opposition Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) came into power, the scheme was stalled. It was revived again by the DMK after it came to power in 2006. In 2011, ADMK formed the government but continued with the scheme.

The markets are maintained and regulated by the Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Marketing Board, and prices to the products are fixed on a daily basis.

4. For rural upliftment 

With an aim to uplift the rural populace, Karunanidhi launched the ‘Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Thittam’ (All Villages Anna Renaissance Scheme) in 2006.

The state government realised that the centrally-sponsored schemes do not offer the flexibility to take up work that may be locally desirable, nor do they provide funds enabling village panchayats to carry out their statutory functions under the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994.

The Anaithu Grama Anna Marumalarchi Thittam endeavours to plug both these gaps in the centrally-sponsored schemes by providing untied funds of Rs 5 lakh (out of Rs 20 lakh allocated per village panchayat), with the remaining funds to be spent on stipulated items.

Further, funds from other schemes of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj department and other departments such as Highways, Public Works, Social Welfare, Health, Education, and Agriculture Engineering, among others, was also linked into the village panchayats welfare work.

5. Special welfare boards

In 2006, Karunanidhi formed 30 ‘Special Welfare Boards’, who were tasked to advocate the rights of vulnerable and marginalised people. The aim was to involve the poor and backward communities who did not have a political or influential background to participate in policy making.

The communities targeted by the scheme include people with disabilities, transgender persons, domestic workers, practitioners of traditional medicine, auto rickshaw and taxi drivers, folk artistes, hairdressers, construction workers, weavers and artisans, and washermen of the Kudurai-Vannar communities.

6. Advocate of Transgender rights

Even before the 2014-mandated Supreme Court ruling for states to establish a Transgender Welfare Board, Tamil Nadu was a pioneer for transgender rights, who had set up the country’s first-ever Transgender Persons Welfare Board in 2008.

Supporters of DMK party and public gather in Perambalur district for Kanuranidhi's election rally in 2016.

The transgender board gave recognition to the third-gender for the first time through the “Aravani identity card”, allowing them to apply for and get ration cards, voter IDs, driving licences and other identity documents. The cards, issued at the Zilla panchayat level, meant trans-women, for the first time, were allowed to apply for a ration card.

7. Policies for persons with disabilities

In 2006, the Karunanidhi-led government also set up a welfare board for people with disabilities. The government also provided a 75 percent concession for long-distance travel on the state bus network for the specially-abled. The state also announced a waiver of all tuition fees for higher education and professional courses for persons with disabilities.

Further, the government announced that it will pay the five percent self-contribution requirement when a disabled entrepreneur sought loans to startup businesses. Karunanidhi also advocated for five percent of job reservations for persons with disability in the IT sector.

Earlier, in the 1960s, the DMK government also launched the “Kannoli thittam,” a policy which provided free cataract surgery, among other things, for the visually impaired.

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