People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 26, 2010


Comrade Pappa Umanath


S P Rajendran


MORTAL remains of veteran CPI(M) leader Pappa Umanath were laid to rest at Ponmalai, Tiruchi, on Saturday, December 19, amid slogans like “Veera Vanakkam, Veera Vanakkam; Thozhar Pappavukku Veera Vanakkam.” She passed away on Friday, December 18, in Tiruchi after a brief illness.


She was 80 and is survived by her husband R Umanath, a veteran CPI(M) leader, and daughters U Vasuki, a Central Committee member of the party, and Nirmla Rani, an advocate.


Comrade Pappa Umanath, a veteran of militant working class movements before and after independence  and  one of the senior leaders of the communist movement in Tamilnnadu, spent many of her youthful years in prison and was in the forefront of the women's movement for decades. She was one of the founder members of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) along with comrades like Mallu Swarajyam, Kanak Mukherjee, Lakshmi Sehgal, Ahilya Rangnekar, Mangaleshwari Deb Barma, Manjari Gupta, Ela Bhattacharya, Susheela Gopalan and Vimal Randive.


Pappa was the daughter of Lakshmi (original name is Alamelu), the first woman to die in prison after 23 days of fasting against the jail authorities.


Her entry into politics began at a very young age as her mother was working closely with the communist leaders and railway workers at Ponmalai in Tiruchi. Deserted by her husband's family, Lakshmi, a widow, moved to Ponmalai and ran a mess, which became a haunt for the communists and railway workers.


Pappa's, whose original name was Dhanalakshmi, was an active child and attracted the attention of the leaders who used to address her as “Pappa” (small girl). This was how Dhanalakshmi became Pappa.


She was only 12 when she was picked up by the police along with railway workers for their protest against the British, though the magistrate released her because she was a minor. She was with the railway workers during the strike in 1946 and witnessed the killing of five workers in police firing at Ponmalai.


When the Communist Party was banned in 1948, the family moved to Chennai for doing party work. Senior leaders such as P Ramamurthi, Srinivasa Rao and M Kalyanasundaram stayed with them to avoid arrest. But the family members were arrested in 1950 and lodged in Saidapet Jail. It was here that Pappa’s mother died. The jail authorities agreed to let her see the body on the condition that she must quit the party. But Pappa refused and could see only from behind the bars her mother's body being taken out of the prison.


After her release, Pappa married Comrade Umanath, a student of Annamalai University, who had quit his education to do party work. Founder of the Dravidian movement, Periyar, was one of those who blessed them.


After the split in the Communist Party, she joined the CPI(M). In 1973, along with leaders like K P Janaki Ammal, an unparalleled leader of the people in Madurai district, she launched a women’s organisation in the state. She was elected to the CPI(M) state committee and later to the Central Committee. She was elected to Tamilnadu assembly in 1989 from Thiruverumbur constituency in Tiruchi district.




Condoling Comrade Pappa's death and recalling her historic contributions, the CPI(M) state committee announced three-day mourning and dipped the red flag to half mast.


The body was kept at the party's Tiruchi district committee office ‘Venmani Illam’ to enable the general public and party functionaries to pay their respects.


Thousands of people gave their tearful last respect to the departed leader.


CPI(M) Polit Bureau members Brinda Kartat and K Varadharajan, Comrade R Umanath, Tamilnadu state secretary G Ramakrishnan,  Central Committee members N Varadharajan, T K Rangarajan and U Vasuki, and state secretariat and state committee members of the party paid tributes to the legend leader of the women's movement in Tamilnadu.


On behalf of the AIDWA, its general secretary Sudha Sundararaman, Kerala leader Sheema, state leaders N Amirtham, K Balabarathi, P Janshi Rani, veteran leader Mythili Sivaraman and hundreds of AIDWA leaders and cadres and women from several parts of state were among the mourners.


State transport minister K N Nehru, senior CPI leaders A M Gopu and C Mahendran, Tiruchi MP P Kumar, AIADMK MLA M Paranjothi , DMK MLA Anbil Periyasamy, CPI(M) MP P R Natarajan, party MLAs and thousands of cadres of all parties paid her last respects.


At 5 p m, her last journey started towards the Ponmalai Martyrs ground. Draped in the party flag, Pappa’s body was buried close to the memorial raised inside the sprawling Ponmalai railway colony in memory of the five railway workers who were killed in a police firing during the historic strike in 1946.


This is the very place from where Comrade Pappa emerged as an uncompramising fighter for the working class when she was a young girl. Brinda Karat noted this point, in her heart touching speech at the funeral meeting, which was attended by a large number of CPI(M) cadres, trade union activists and members of the AIDWA, DYFI, SFI and Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam.


Tamilnadu chief minister M Karunanidhi described Pappa as one who worked for the uplift and rights of the poor and the working class. In a message, he said Pappa Umanath was a freedom fighter and played a key role in strengthening the All India Democratic Women's Association in the state.


The CPI(M) Central Control Commission’s chairman and veteran leader N Sankariah, CPI state secretary D Pandian, MDMK general secretary Vaiko and Diravidar Kazhagam leader K Veeramani sent their condolence messages.