This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Akshay Kumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Day Tamil Nadu Stood Still

December 5, 2016.

The fateful day.

The day Tamil Nadu stood still. The day an entire state stood with baited breath, anxiously awaiting a status update from the irritatingly quiet Apollo Hospital, about a certain person.

To an outsider, the scene throughout the state must have been a shocking spectacle. The massive crowd developing at the doorstep of a hospital, even more people glued to their TV sets, tuned into every local news channel in existence, a ubiquitous prayer on everybody’s lips, be it with the Rosary or the Sacred Cross, all for the well-being of one person. But such was the stature of the person in question. A charismatic leader, a political icon, an embodiment of strength and willpower, a public reaction with any less emotion and fervour would blatantly belie the God-like standing the “Puratchi Thalaivi” had in the state.

The news of Jayalalithaa’s cardiac arrest on the December 4 sent shockwaves through the state. Normal activity came to a scary, screeching halt as people tried to make sense of the impending catastrophe looming over them. “But she just got better, she was going to return to office,” screamed the voices of those pitifully in denial, before hurrying off to the nearest place of worship. Many believed that this would be her last journey, with the truth of her many ailments clear as day in the months leading up to The Day. Even the ardent optimist could be forgiven for resigning to grieving acceptance.

The drama continued to the next day, with a cavalcade of people storming the doorstep of Apollo Hospitals, chanting Amma’s name, calling on every deity they knew, in the hope of divine intervention overturning an otherwise grim state of affairs. The mood was pensive, surreal almost, with everyone caught in a state of trance, still unable to fathom the ill fate that had befallen their iconic leader.

Source: Reuters

Conspiracy theories started to swirl just to heighten the drama. The predominant story was that Amma was dead all along. Isn’t it suspicious that no picture or statement was released by her since her discharge the first time around? She was critical back then, too. And didn’t her miraculous recovery happen conveniently close to the by-elections a couple of weeks ago? What about her fraudulent assets case? Was she “kept alive” long enough to put that issue to rest? Or, by far the most far-fetched theory – is Modi’s demonetisation scheme somehow tied into all this?

As midday approached, a general feeling of grief swept the state. A large contingent of AIADMK supporters geared themselves up to accept the inevitable. But, optimism is contagious. “Wait,” they said. “This is our Amma we are talking about. She’ll fight out of this.” That almost inaudible voice of Hope at the back of their head now started to become louder, threatening to drown out the voice of Reason. Whenever Reason said, “It is impossible. No one can come out of this,” Hope hit back with, “But if anyone can, it is Amma.” Sure enough, more and more people jumped on the optimism bandwagon, in an attempt to will their beloved leader back.

But, that bandwagon was derailed by the shocking news of her death. At around 5:45 in the grim evening, local news channels declared her dead. The exodus that had assembled outside the hospital was in a state of shock. It had happened. It was over. Shock soon turned into anger and frustration as, predictably enough, they threatened to riot. Security was beefed up to the max, but even they were overcome with trepidation at having to control the commotion that was to ensue.

But something was off. Something about this shocking revelation was wrong. While local news channels, after reporting her death, had already started playing tribute video montages to the quintessential sad violin theme in the background, the English channels sang a different tune. There was no breaking news on any of the national news channels – they simply reported a commotion outside the hospital and nothing else. After a short while, the situation became clear. It was a hoax. Amma was still alive, albeit hanging by a thread. The collective sigh of relief on Greams Road and all over the state was proverbially deafening. Soon after, Apollo hospitals released an official statement putting all rumours to rest.

The situation afterwards was confusing, to say the least. With the hospital’s constant rhetoric of “Amma still critical” and medical clichés like “We’re doing the best we can,” etc., and AIADMK already preparing for testing times ahead by appointing a new Chief Minister, nobody it seemed, save for the people on the second floor of the hospital, knew what was going on. The mood was tense all-around, as prayers and wishes continued to pour in. Amma’s health status continued to be in limbo, as people clamoured for and pounced any piece of information they could find. Conflicting reports from largely questionable sources only served to put more people on edge.

Still, ardent Amma supporters believed. They believed in their “Puratchi Thalaivi”. They believed that their Goddess would rise from the dead, much like the Undertaker (yay, wrestling reference), rip off all the tubes and needles that tried to damage and contaminate her flawless skin, march out of the hospital onto the balcony, amidst a crowd of doctors open-mouthed in awe at her miraculous recovery, and flash the 2 fingers that never ceased to captivate the masses and send them into a frenzy.

But alas, that wasn’t meant to be. At around 11:30 p.m. on December 5, the iconic Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, had breathed her last.

What followed was, surprisingly, not violence. No riots, no tension, nothing. Some of it, I guess, can be attributed to the fact that it was pretty late in the night. Melancholia had well and truly set in. Amma was no more. Prayers of “please let this be a hoax” went cruelly and sadly unanswered, as the hospital came out with the official release on paper soon after.

Personally, I’ve had my apprehensions towards Jayalalithaa, much like any other citizen of the state. But credit must be given where due. Jayalalithaa was a real iconoclast. A trendsetter, in a much less gaudy and ostentatious way than traditionally dictated by the term. Her life’s story is one of determination and strength of mind, and must be looked at as inspiration any time by someone marginalised by society who wants to make it big. She had met her fair share of adversities. Her personal life was an eternal object of scrutiny and ridicule. Her political career abounded with controversy. Cases of corruption, illegal assets and her almost callous and much-criticized response to the Chennai floods threatened to, and should have, destroyed her credibility. But, there was a certain charisma about her, a certain tenacity, feistiness, and drawing power that rendered her pretty much immune to scandals threatening her standing.

Fittingly enough, she is to be cremated at the Marina beach, by the side of her mentor, M. G. Ramachandran – the man who helped transform her from the humble up-and-coming actress into Tamil Nadu’s “Puratchi Thalaivi Amma”.

The future now looks a tad uncertain. A state once proudly led by a charismatic, strong, political icon is now suddenly without its mother. The AIADMK have a difficult task to run the state without their autocratic, but an efficient leader. At this juncture, it is imperative that the people of Tamil Nadu wipe off the tears, get back up, and continue to make long strides to contributing to the country’s development. After all, it is the bigger picture we must be looking towards, and what she would want, what she always wanted.


Featured image source: SaiSen/Mint via Getty Images
You must be to comment.

More from Akshay Kumar

Similar Posts

By @krantikari_yuva

By Sarvesh Rai

By Sushil Kuwar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below