Kerala Power Minister M M Mani, who brags about being a member of the proletariat, would have done well to remember the sufferings of the women plantation labourers, who formed the collective ‘Pembilai Orumai’, before spewing venom at them. The all-women’s group carved out a niche for itself through their historic stir in Munnar.
Mani made veiled uncharitable remarks about the women’s group on Sunday along with saying that media persons who had come to cover various events in Munnar were involved in activities such as "drinking and many other things". He also suggested that “indecent activity” was happening in the forests during the Pembilai Orumai strike for better wage.
This longest serving CPI (M) Idukki district secretary, who had even undergone imprisonment during the Emergency, besides being jailed for his controversial ‘1, 2, 3’ Manarcad speech in 2012, should not have forgotten the decades-long struggles of these women labourers. With this single speech, the minister has lost all his rights to talk about his own sufferings as a plantation labourer.
M M Mani is just another specimen of those tens of thousands of male chauvinists who tend to undermine the struggles of women. No one can ever forget the way these deprived women labourers led their stir that brought Munnar to a standstill for nine days that too without any proper leadership or political support.
The September 2015 strike broke out when women tea plantation workers in Munnar went on strike demanding a higher minimum wage. They were being paid only a meagre Rs 210 per day for picking around 80 kg tea leaves by the Kannan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP) Company. They realised that union leaders, irrespective of their political allegiance, were gobbling up all the incentives they deserve from the company.
The protest in 2015.
During the stir, one of the most organised strikes in history, a group comprising of women of all ages including young mothers with their babies, were seen coming to the protest venue at 10 am every day. Even when they laid siege to the roads, they never indulged in violence. They even brought their lunch packets with them so that they can carry on their protest till the evening.
While they kept out trade unions and political parties, they enjoyed great support from the local population, who were sympathetic to their plight.
The growth of M M Mani from a child labourer, in various cardamom plantations at Kunchithanni, to a minister must have been an arduous one. For the same reason, people, especially the marginalised, expect more compassion from him. Certainly, his ferocious speeches must have helped this class four dropout in his growth as a leader. However, it becomes objectionable when the speeches turn derogatory.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time that Mani, often referred to as a true son of the soil, has made derogatory remarks against women in public. Just last year a police case was filed against him for his abusive speech against the then principal of Painavu Model Polytechnic College. And not long ago he made another derogatory remark against Mahija, who is fighting for justice for her dead son Jishnu Prannoy.
Very often people stand up for Mani saying that since he comes from a poor back ground his uncouth language should be forgiven. It is just the way he grew up.
In one instance, in an interview with Reporter Live, Mani speaks about Congress leaders derogatorily, his pride in using such language is revealed by his insistence that this exchange be broadcast.
It is now for the government to decide if it should allow a sexist minister to continue in power.
How many times must this foul-mouthed people’s representative be excused on the ground that he comes from a deprived background?