Published: 27th January 2018
Feminism is about building toilets for women, fighting honour killing: Kanimozhi
DMK Women's Wing President Kanimozhi says that feminism cannot be restricted to #MeToo campaigns, they are also about fighting for basic facilities for women
From being the 'literary heir' to her father's genius to becoming one of the most prominent faces of the DMK to getting entangled in one of the country's biggest controversies, Kanimozhi has seen it all. It is a little more than a month since she was acquitted in the 2G case but the case never took her away from her work. Her peers have said that even on court dates, managed to attend the hearing as well as attend the Rajya Sabha session.
Not just attend but she is known to be one of the few who also thoroughly prepared for the session. Her political career has been rocky yet, a lot of her supporters and followers still hope that she will one day lead the DMK. But for literature's sake, everyone hopes that Kanimozhi's love affair with her pen will also always continue. Here she discusses her favourite literary heroes, her immense passion for feminism and women's issues in the State and hopes for the future, all as she settles down for a cup of curd rice after having forgotten to eat lunch. "There is lunch prepared at home," she informed me with a smile.
As a country, we are subjected to crude sexist remarks from our politicians almost on a daily basis. In the face of all that, Kanimozhi is perhaps one of the very few who don't mind embracing the word 'feminism'. But our battles can't be seen as restricted to #MeToo; our battles are many she says, adding, "There is no one formula for every issue.
Building toilets for women, discussing the right to education, fighting against honour killing because it takes away the woman's right to choose — you cannot overlook these issues and claim to be talking about feminism. The problems of a woman in a small village in Southern India cannot be compared to those of a woman in New York; they are different issues. Every region, every culture comes with its own problems. But the basic line is that we are equal and nobody has the right over a woman's body, not her father, not her husband, or anyone else."
Broadening ideas: Kanimozhi recommends that we not just read feminist literature but all kinds of books to gain different perspectives
At a conference recently, Kanimozhi said that Periyar is a true definition of a feminist. So when asked about the go-to book for a young woman to learn about feminism, she obviously picks Periyar's Penn Yen Adimaiyanal? (Why did women become enslaved?). "But I would suggest that women read all kinds of books, even the ones that talk against women's rights. It's important to read the other side. We don't call Kannagi as a feminist icon because she has been criticised for putting up with everything her husband did, however, she found the strength to question a king in a new land. That is something you can look up too. Same with Karaikkal Ammaiyar or Andal; they all questioned values at that point of time. One might not agree with their truth, but they found their truth and stood by it. There is something to be inspired by every character, even if they are not feminist characters," she explained, quickly adding Ambai and several other writers too.
"Not just women, anyone who is embarking on a beaten path will go through their share of problems. There will be a lot of discouraging views, contradicting opinions, family backgrounds also matter, there will be families that believe that women don't deserve any rights while some others may believe in only certain rights, but a lot of women in our past have had the strength to fight the system. We have to find our inner strength to fight our battles too. No one is going to direct us to a path and lay flowers on it, we have to find it on our own. We should be grateful to the women who came before us. We have to find our inner strength and hopefully hold hands with each other as well," Kanimozhi said.
Even though poetry came naturally to her, politics became a natural, very obvious career choice because of her family. The path was created for her but a lot of aspiring young women politicians do not have that path paved for them. For years now, Kanimozhi has been demanding a 33 percent reservation for women in politics," Every field is difficult but politics is especially bad for women. First, you need to fight to be accepted and then fight to be respected. But I think the reservation will go a long way in bringing more women into politics. We are making laws in the country with barely any representation from 50 percent of the population. I don't know what is stopping the government from making this happen, it was one of their election promises and it is an easy thing to do especially because they all seem to support the initiative," she said. But if it's so easy to implement why is it that even 70 years later, we don't have the reservation? "Well, it isn't easy to give up space. Nobody wants to get up and make way for 33 percent of fresh faces. Our only way to achieve that is by law," she said.
Victory March: Kanimozhi greeting supporters after being acquitted in the 2G case
Tamil Nadu, specifically, has witnessed quite a turmoil in the education sector, especially with regards to NEET issue. When DMK was in power, Samacheer Kalvi — an initiative to create a uniform education system — was introduced. But will it see a comeback? "With regards to NEET, I never understood why it was introduced in the first place. Our medical system is not doing badly at all. The State has invested in building enough colleges and the State has a better understanding of what the people need, now you can't come in and demand seats, it is not at fair. The solution to these problems is federal rights. I think 'education' which was taken out of the State list and put on the concurrent list should be brought back to the State list, simply because the State has a better understanding of the local problems. This is not about India being one or anything, the State is more in touch with the issues faced by its people. Some states lack in one thing while another lacks in some other field. What we need now is more state rights," she said.
On the topic of the Samacheer Kalvi, Kanimozhi said that every education system needs to be constantly upgraded and improved or no system will survive and it shouldn't either. "It was a positive step towards making learning more ability and activity-based and any government in power should have taken it forward. But unfortunately, politics came in the way of this system and resulted in it getting scrapped."
When asked about her plans for the DMK in the future, Kanimozhi said that she's not one to plan too far ahead in the future. "Our working president is going to lead the party and we have all accepted it. There is no doubt about that. I have no fixed targets to achieve personally but I am the women's wing president and I like to work more with women and look at ways to empower them and make them aware of their rights," she added.