Biography of Thillaiaadi Valliammai

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Indian Women Activist Thillaiaadi Valliammai Biography

Thillaiaadi Valliammai ( 22 February 1898 – 22 February 1914 ) was a South African Tamil woman who worked with Mahatma Gandhi in his early years when he developed his nonviolent methods in South Africa fighting its apartheid regime.

Thillaiaadi Valliammai Biography

Thillaiaadi Valliammai was born to R. Munuswamy Mudaliar and Janakiammal, a young immigrant couple from a small village called Thillaiyadi in Thanjavur in India to Johannesburg – the gold-city of South Africa to work for their way out of difficulty.

Thillaiaadi Valliammai father was a trader and owner of a confectionery shop. Since her mother Janaki is from Thillaiaadi in Tamil Nadu, her daughter Valliammai came to be popularly called Thillaiaadi Valliammai. Valliammai had never been to India.

Thillaiaadi Valliammai grew in an environment that was rather hostile to Indians. But the young child did not even know that it was not right to be segregated so,until she was in her early teens.

A law was passed that any marriage that is not according to the Church or according to the marriage law of South Africa would be held null and void, which disproportionately affected the Indian community in that country.

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Wives lost rights over husbands’ property, husband’s protection. Children were to be nothing more than bastards. Doubts regarding inheritance arose. Mohandas Gandhi began his opposition.

Young Valliammai joined her mother in the march by women from Transvaal to Natal – which was not legally permitted without passes.

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While crossing into Natal she, with many others, courted arrest. She spent 3 months in jail and suffered what was to be a fatal fever. When she was released, she was nothing more than skin and bones held together by her sheer determination and grit.

Thillaiaadi Valliammai heard somebody ask “Why don’t you people register and become South Africans instead? Indians! India doesn’t even have a flag! What are you really fighting for?” “If having a flag is what would give form to India, then here it is,” she said, tearing off her saffron-white-green sari, “MY FLAG! MY MOTHERLAND!” Gandhi designed the flag with the same three colours as her sari.

Gandhi later said that it was her sacrifice that increased his resolve to fight for Indian independence.

Thillaiaadi Valliammai Memorial Hall, including a public library, was instituted in 1971 on 2452 square meters of land by the Indian Government in the village of Thillaiaadi, now in Tharangambadi Taulk, Nagapattinam, India.

The Library is functioning regularly in this memorial. Other buildings in her name include Thillaiaadi Valliammai Nagar and the Thillaiaadi Valliammai High School in Vennanthur.

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