Iron Lady: How the Feminist in Jayalalithaa Had Empowered the Women of Tamil Nadu

Dressed in a green saree she rests in peace — the lady who ruled Tamil Nadu for over fourteen years as the state’s CM for five terms. Although mired in controversy over corruption and sentenced to a four-year jail term by the Court in Bengaluru over disproportionate assets, there is no denying that Jayalalithaa was loved by her people. Fondly addressed as ‘Amma’ by her people, she used her magic wand to better the lives of women in her state.

TBI takes a look at how Jayalalithaa played mother to women folk in Tamil Nadu by providing them with socio-economic authority.

Health care:

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  •  Tamil Nadu tops the chart for lowest fertility rate in the country.
  • The fertility rate is even lower than that in Australia, Finland and Belgium. The state has an average of 1.7 children per woman.
  • Tamil Nadu records the second best infant mortality in India with 27 deaths per 1,000 live births. (Source: National Health Mission)
  • The maternal mortality rate stands at 90 deaths of mothers per one lakh births, which is second in India. (Source: National Health Mission)
  • The Cradle Baby Scheme was among the first-ever welfare schemes launched by the CM in the 1990s. The aim was to curb female foeticide and gender-based abortions. Under this scheme, a mother could anonymously hand over her new-born baby to the government, which would take care of the baby or give it up for adoption.
  • Jayalalithaa increased the term of maternity leave for women government employees from six to nine months earlier this year. She has increased the term from three to six months in 2011.
  • She introduced a health initiative called Amma Master Health Check-up Plan for Women. Under the initiative, women are offered check-ups that include procedures such as Pap smear and digital mammogram; tests for Vitamin D level, bone density, and parathyroid hormone levels; and other check-ups like blood tests, sugar, thyroid, urine tests, cholesterol and liver screenings, chest x-rays, echo, and USG abdomen, etc.
  • In September 2015, she launched the Amma Baby Care kit scheme with the aim to provide 16 baby care items for newborn babies and their mothers for free. The kit was valued at Rs 1,000.

Literacy:

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  • The literacy rate among females in Tamil Nadu is 73.8% and is ranked fifteenth at an all India level. (Source: District Information System for Education, 2015-16)
  • Amma Education Scheme was introduced for the state government to pay off education loans of students who were unemployed.
  • Under the Amma Laptops scheme, free laptops were given to higher-secondary and college students studying in government and aided educational institutions.

Safety for women:

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  • Tamil Nadu has the lowest crime rate against women in the country.
  • The rate of crime against women registered in the state is 17 per 1,00,000 people, while the crime rate against children is said to be second lowest in the country.

Welfare support:

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  • In 2011, Jayalalithaa introduced a scheme called ‘Thalikku Thangam Thittam’ (Gold for marriage), whereby four grams of gold and cash upto Rs. 50,000 was offered to economically-backward women who had completed their diploma/degree.
  • Amma Grinder, Mixie & Table fan scheme was among the most popular schemes as it provided free table fans, mixers and grinders to the less-fortunate in the state. A budget of Rs. 1,250 crore was allocated by her government. To support this scheme, she opened exclusive repair and maintenance centres.
  • During her stint as CM, she formed self-help groups for women and provided financial aid. Tamil Nadu has 6.08 lakh self-help groups with a membership of 92 lakh women.
  • Free mobile phones were given to self-help groups for women under the Amma Mobile initiative.
  • In 2015, she had said that the Tamil Nadu government would provide Rs 6,000 crore loans to women through the self-help groups. She intended to form additional 10,000 self-help groups. In the previous four years, her government had distributed Rs 20,270 crore as loans to self-help groups in the state.
  • In 2015, she announced the introduction of Amma Mobile scheme with the aim to benefit trainers at self-help groups in the state.
  • Earlier this year, as part of her election manifesto, Jayalalithaa had promised women of Tamil Nadu a 50% subsidy to buy mopeds or scooters. She was to introduce schemes to train women in driving vehicles and provide them with a subsidy to buy auto-rickshaws.

Jayalalithaa’s pro-poor initiatives came at very heavy prices for the state, but they have helped the people, especially the women of Tamil Nadu a great deal. Criticized for the huge expenses borne by the government, this iron lady will forever hold the torch of being Tamil Nadu’s Robinhood.

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