In­dian mourn­ers shave heads in show of re­spect for leader

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CHEN­NAI: Thou­sands of or­di­nary In­di­ans flocked yes­ter­day to the sea­side grave of Jay­alalithaa Jayaram, a day af­ter a burial cer­e­mony re­stricted to politi­cians, film stars and rel­a­tives of the reclu­sive but hugely pop­u­lar leader. Men wear­ing white dho­tis lined up on plas­tic chairs be­side hastily-erected po­lice bar­ri­cades around the grave to have their heads shaved, a Hindu mourn­ing tra­di­tion usu­ally re­served for the death of a close rel­a­tive.

Many of the mourn­ers were poor women who had trav­elled long dis­tances in in­tense heat to pay fi­nal re­spects to the revered for­mer chief min­is­ter of the south­ern state of Tamil Nadu, who died late on Mon­day aged 68. Among them was Vanita, 50, who ekes out a liv­ing rolling the cheap In­dian cig­a­rettes known as bidis. Vanita, who like many peo­ple in south­ern In­dia uses only one name, said she had trav­elled to the state cap­i­tal Chen­nai to see Jay­alalithaa many times, and once asked for her help get­ting treat­ment for a heart com­plaint.

“She made sure I got the op­er­a­tion I needed. She even gave me money for medicine. And the next time I met her she re­mem­bered me and asked how I was,” said Vanita, pulling her sari to one side to re­veal the scar from her surgery. “She once said, ‘I am ev­ery­thing to my chil­dren and they are ev­ery­thing to me’,” she said of the woman who was known sim­ply as “Amma” or mother to her ador­ing fans.

The for­mer movie star, a pop­ulist cham­pion of the poor, en­joyed god­like sta­tus in Tamil Nadu and was one of In­dia’s most pow­er­ful fe­male lead­ers. She was buried on Tues­day along­side MG Ra­machan­dran, her on-screen lover and pre­de­ces­sor as chief min­is­ter, at a cer­e­mony at­tended by the stars of the film world and top po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. Me­dia re­ports said her nephew was among the few rel­a­tives who at­tended, and there has been in­tense spec­u­la­tion about who stands to in­herit the vast wealth she ac­crued dur­ing her time in power. An es­ti­mated one mil­lion peo­ple lined the streets to watch her glass cof­fin trans­ported to the burial site amid tight se­cu­rity in a city that has seen out­breaks of vi­o­lence af­ter the deaths of past lead­ers.

Most shops and restau­rants re­opened yes­ter­day as the city be­gan re­turn­ing to nor­mal, al­though schools and col­leges will re­main closed for an­other two days. The at­mos­phere at her grave­side was largely calm, the peace oc­ca­sion­ally bro­ken by an­guished cries of “Amma” from the mourn­ers. One el­derly woman screamed and beat her head re­peat­edly with her hands, bang­ing her­self against the po­lice bar­ri­cades around the grave. “She took care of ev­ery­thing and we wanted for noth­ing,” said 47-year-old Para­mashiva af­ter hav­ing his head shaved.

—AFP

CHEN­NAI: In­dian sup­port­ers of Tamil Nadu Chief Min­is­ter Jay­alalithaa Jayaram pay trib­ute by hav­ing their heads shaved at the memo­rial where she was laid to rest.

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