Rajalakshmi and Jayapal, a non-violent tribal couple from Kallargudi near Valparai in Coimbatore district, are set to be special guests at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. The Tamil Nadu Government has selected them to attend the prestigious 2024 Republic Day event as VVIPs, and they departed for Delhi on January 22. The invitation was extended by the Union Schedule Tribal Minister.
The couple, known for their peaceful advocacy for the rights of indigenous people, will have the privilege of participating in the Republic Day festivities, where they are expected to meet the President and Prime Minister.
The couple’s journey to recognition began when the Kadars faced adversity in 2019, with their homes in the forest area being destroyed during heavy rains. Denied entry into their original place of residence by the government, the Kadars, led by Rajalakshmi, engaged in a non-violent protest. Jayapal and several NGOs supported her cause. The persistent and peaceful protests bore fruit in 2021 when the government granted the tribal community land title deeds (patta).
In acknowledgment of their crucial role in securing land rights for the Kadars, the Tamil Nadu government selected Rajalakshmi and Jayapal as VVIPs for the Republic Day event in Delhi. Before their departure, the couple paid tribute to the Mahatma Gandhi Statue in Valparai.
During their stay in Delhi, besides witnessing the Republic Day parade, Rajalakshmi and Jayapal will be taken on a tour of Parliament, Delhi, Agra, and Mathura. They will also feature on the official guest list for the Republic Day parade, PM’s NCC parade, and other events organised in celebration of Republic Day.
Expressing their gratitude, the couple stated, “We are happy and grateful to the Union Government for choosing us and extending an invitation to take part in Republic Day celebrations. We never dreamt that we would be meeting the PM and President in person. Carrying agricultural produce cultivated in our settlement, we see it as a loving gift to them. We fought in the non-violent way of Mahatma Gandhi to recover the 12 acres of land we needed, and we are happy that we have succeeded. Congratulations to the President, Prime Minister, and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Heartfelt thanks on behalf of the tribal people.”
The couple’s settlement, located 15 kilometres from Valparai town in a dense forest area, faced severe challenges during the 2019 rains when 27 huts were washed away. Further complications arose as the Forest department officials denied them entry and removed the huts in Theppakulam Medu area. Rajalakshmi led peaceful protests, emphasising the tribals’ right to build huts in the area. The couple’s journey from adversity to recognition exemplifies the resilience and non-violent advocacy that has earned them a place of honour in the Republic Day celebrations.