Mythily Sivaraman, scholar, revolutionary feminist and trade union activist, passes away

Published : May 30, 2021 20:25 IST

Mythily Sivaraman. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Mythily Sivaraman, veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, revolutionary feminist and a quintessential leftist, passed away in Chennai on May 30. She had tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago. She is survived by her husband Karunakaran and daughter Kalpana Karunakaran.

A co-founder, with veteran leader Pappa Umanath and K.P. Janakiammal, of the Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the CPI (M), in 1973, Mythily Sivaraman, 81, was at the forefront of many of the historical struggles and agitations the CPI (M) launched in the last few decades in the cause of peasants and agricultural workers, women, industrial labour, informal sector workers Dalits, tribal people, and so on.

A woman ‘with fire in her belly’, Mythily was instrumental in exposing many atrocities committed against Dalits, tribal people and women. She travelled to every nook and corner of the State, especially those in the the undivided Thanjavur district, which was notorious for feudal atrocities against the socially and economically backward sections of people.

She closely studied the Keelavenmani massacre in which 44 Dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were burnt to death by landlords in the village in East Thanjavur. Shaken by the brutality of the incident, she meticulously gathered facts on the incident by meeting witnesses and relatives of the victims and documented them. She met the Gandhians Jegannathan and Krishnammal Jegannathan in Thanjavur district who were working among peasants and Dalits then and took their inputs. Writers V. Geetha and Kalpana Karunakaran compiled her articles into a book, Haunted by Fire: Essays on Caste, Class, Exploitation and Emancipation.

As a staunch woman activist, she played a key role in exposing the Vachathi incident in which Forest Department personnel, under the pretext of flushing out aides of the forest brigand Veerappan, raped many tribal women in the remote village in Dharmapuri district in 1992. She also organised working women in various industries and put a stop to economic and gender discriminations at their work sites. She was instrumental in securing the rights of women workers in the garment and firecracker industries.

A stauch anti-imperialist, she was attracted to Marxism when she was staying in New York in the 1960s, at a time when the United States witnessed many social upheavals. She had just finished her higher studies in Public Administration and was working in the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation. Student protests against the Vietnam war and the agitations of African-American people for their rights changed radically her idea of her own future and shaped her priotities. While in the U.S, she slipped into Cuba without a passport to get a first hand experience of life in Fidel Castro’s land.

Mythily returned to India to pursue her objective of ushering in an egalitarian society. She joined the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) of the CPI (M) to create a political space for her activities. She also edited Radical Review in which N. Ram, former Editor In Chief of The Hindu Group of Publications and former Union Minister P. Chidambaram were involved. She was one of the members of the fact-finding Committee that probed the police firing on fishermen at Nadukuppam during the regime of M.G. Ramachandran. A well-researched article on his incident was published in Radical Review.

Many leaders and activists have paid rich tributes to Mythily Sivaraman. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin recalled her exemplary service to the downtrodden sections of society. K Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu State secretary of the CPI(M), said that the movement had lost a towering leader.

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