Five-time Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and one of India’s most well-known and powerful leaders, J. Jayalalithaa, fondly known as Amma, passed away at 11:30 p.m. on December 5, after suffering a cardiac arrest. Since September, she had been admitted to Apollo Hospital, with supporters thronging outside, praying and wishing for her speedy recovery. With her passing, a vacuum is expected over Tamil Nadu, owing to her cult-like following. Since last night, thousands have paid their respects to Jayalalithaa, and the state has declared a holiday today, as a mark of respect and remembrance.
Despite all her achievements and massive following, as a woman leader in India, Jayalalithaa faced sexism and sexist attacks. For instance, she decided to not attend her leader and mentor MGR’s funeral after she was attacked by his nephew and labelled a “prostitute”.
But over the years, she never shied away from tackling such sexism head on. In a 2009 interview with CNN News18, she was asked what she would respond to people saying that her style of governance is dictatorial. Her response was first measured, talking about how any leader has support and opposition, and how people have different views about a leader’s style of working. But just in the next few seconds, she gave a powerful statement, talking about those who “just can’t bear to see a woman being powerful or successful”.
— News18 (@CNNnews18) December 5, 2016
She also addresses those who dismiss a woman’s intelligence or dynamism. A longer excerpt of the same interview says that she also mentioned how difficult it is to keep a grip on such a large party, and said, “…unless you are strong and tough and a 100 times more suitable if you happen to be a women, you just can’t cope with the pressures of a political career, you just can’t run a large party like this.” She also says she is called dictatorial now because she’s a strong leader, but would have been called a “failure because she is a woman” if she didn’t have a grip on her party.
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