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17 Oct 2021, Edition - 2287, Sunday

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Coimbatore

Jaya’s bond with the Badagas of the Nilgiris

D.Radhakrishnan

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Udhagamandalam: Of the thousands of photographs of former TN Chief Minister, the late Jayalalithaa, in circulation in the Nilgiris district, one has stood out for nearly 25 years. Taken in May 1992 when she participated in a jamboree organised by the district administration near the Central Bus Stand here, it shows her sporting a white head scarf, the traditional head gear of Badaga women called ‘mandai pattu’. Jayalalithaa had even joined the Badaga dancers on the road and matched their movements. The gesture had paved the way for a strong bond between the two.

To those who were present, it reflected her love for the community. Over the next several years, Jayalalithaa displayed considerable enthusiasm in extending a helping hand to the Badagas.

Following an unprecedented crisis in the tea industry which subjected thousands of small tea growers, mostly Badagas, to considerable hardship, the then Jayalalithaa government implemented a subsidy scheme which was of timely assistance to many. It helped check distress sale of tea gardens. She also promoted floriculture under a crop diversification scheme to provide an alternative to tea cultivation.

Responding to representations from the community she took up with the Central Government their long-standing demand for inclusion in the list of scheduled tribes. Accepting their demand, she declared a local holiday for ‘Hethai Habba’, the main festival of the Badagas. She repeatedly espoused the cause of the ailing Hindustan Photo Films where Badagas formed a sizeable section of the workforce.

With the Nilgiris becoming her ‘second home’ after the Kodanad Tea Estate near Kotagiri became part of her life about a couple of decades ago, her frequent visits became much looked forward to occasions among the Badagas. Every time she landed or departed after a sojourn she was welcomed or bid adieu with traditional Badaga dances, music and songs.

Though about three weeks have passed since Jayalalithaa died, homage in different forms continues in various Badaga settlements.

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