A saga of sacrifice

Print edition : May 23, 2003

K. Leelavathi. -

CORPORATION councillor, political activist, fighter for social causes and an active participant in the women's movement, K. Leelavathi, who was brutally murdered in broad daylight on the morning of April 23 in Madurai, 500 km from Chennai, has become a role model for the lakhs of elected functionaries of panchayats and municipal councils all over the country. Leelavathi, whose martyrdom inspired Anwar Jamal to produce the film Swaraj, was an active worker of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She was elected to the Madurai Corporation Council from Ward 59 (Villapuram) in September 1996 in the first ever elections held with one-third of the seats reserved for women. One of her election promises was to supply piped water to the people of her ward, most residents of which are economically backward people. For long, they had been buying water supplied by water tankers at abnormal prices and had been literally at the mercy of the lorry operators for their daily requirements of water. During times of acute scarcity, they found it difficult to get even a potful of water.

Leelavathi intervened on behalf of these people. She tried to regulate the supply in a fair manner and fought against the fleecing of the poor by the tanker mafia. When she was named a candidate of the CPI(M) for the corporation election, she promised the people that she would put an end to this unfair system. From the moment she assumed charge as councillor, her one-point mission was to bring tap water to her ward. She had to pursue her efforts both inside and outside the Council. She insisted that water supply be given priority over other development works and, in six months' time, triumphed in her mission. The entire city saw her as a crusader.

The pipeline was laid and even a trial supply of water was also undertaken. But a day or two before the supply was to have been formally inaugurated, Leelavathi was done to death by a group of six persons while she was returning from a shop. The wrath of the water tanker mafia as well as political rivalry was seen as the reason for the crime. The city of Madurai plunged into grief. Protest rallies were held in several parts of Tamil Nadu.

Even after her election to the Corporation Council at the age of 40, Leelavathi, a weaver by profession, and her husband Kuppusamy, a vendor of stainless steel utensils, continued to live in a single-room house, along with their three grown-up daughters. Her loom occupied most of the space in the house. A table fan and a black-and-white television set were the only other valuables in the house. Simple and unassuming, Leelavathi endeared herself to almost all sections of the people in her ward. She attended to their complaints with utmost sincerity. In the process, she had to confront several anti-social elements in the area. When the CPI(M) launched a demonstration against these elements, she was in the forefront. She gave her whole time to public service and party work. At the time of her death, she was a member of the district committee of the party, one of the State vice-presidents of the Handloom Workers Union and a State committee member of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

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