|Tamil Nadu is famous for its various forms of arts, culture, entertainment, dance, and heritage. An important aspect of Tamil Nadu culture is the courage and achievement of the Tamil people. One outstanding woman from Tamil Nadu is Chinna Pillai.
Madurai Chinna Pillai – as she is famously known after her place of origin—is one of the most respected women in India for her great achievements in banking services to her community. She has lifted up the lives of many poor, illiterate women with her motto, “Simple living, but high thinking.”
She came into the limelight when the former Prime Minister of India, Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, touched her feet seeking her blessings when she received the Mata Jijabai Stree Shakti Puraskar award in 1999.
Initially, Madurai Chinna Pillai was involved in organizing and working with her agricultural co-laborers, undertaking agricultural operations on a collective basis to yield more profit. As she was a good negotiator, she used to talk to the landlords and the farmers on behalf of farm work groups and obtained better labor conditions for the workers, leading to fast and quality work.
PATH TO SUCCESS
Her work was recognized by the Dhan Foundation, which was promoting a movement called Kalanjiyam. Chinna Pillai joined the Kalanjiyam movement as an ordinary member in 1989 and worked hard for the development of individual groups at the village level. She was recognized for her good work and later she became a part of a 13-member executive committee.
Chinna Pillai started with the collection of 20 rupees each from ten people in a group. Kalanjiyam now has over 400,000 (four lakh) members over nine Indian states. By 2007, there were a billion rupees (100 crores) in savings and two billion rupees (200 crores) in revolving loans. This money circulates within the organization and it prevents the members from needing to approach a moneylender. The members mostly use the loans for starting and developing their businesses, for building houses, or for other micro-credit needs.
Chinna Pillai has taught women of poor communities how to be independent and self-sufficient. She is definitely a role model for all the women in our nation.
Kalanjiyam members have managed to suppress caste differences in all the places where they have established their branches. They have also worked with Panchayats in improving the bus facilities and health services.
Kalanjiyam has also addressed community issues. In Pulicherri village, the powerful landlords were typically awarded the fishing contracts of the village pond, an enterprise that yielded a good profit. Chinna Pillai wondered why the poor people, especially women, could not bid for the contracts. She marched to the collector’s office, along with members of her community, and conveyed to the collector that the contracts were not only meant for the landlords, but also for those who can do justice to the work. Being poor did not mean that they were weak, but a group of poor hands could create a tremendous work. The collector was impressed by her thoughts and he promised to support her.
But the landlord did not want to let the contract out of his hands. As he was a politically influential man in his village, he struck back by denying the villagers access to the fields. They were courageous enough to move out of the village to seek work, and there were many other landlords who were ready to offer them jobs. The message of Chinna Pillai was very strong and clear. The villagers fought for their rights. Today, Pisciculture (fish farming) is another source of income for the Kalanjiyam women.
The next challenge was religion. There was a practice that the landlords used to welcome the procession of Lord Vishnu that came from Alagar Kovil to Madurai. Chinna Pillai wondered why the poor devotees of Lord Vishnu were not permitted to welcome the procession. As a result, Kalanjiyam now proudly welcomes the procession. As Kalanjiyam did not consider the religion to be a hindrance, a Muslim leader welcomed the procession one year, representing the poor laborers without any objection.
Chinna Pillai gained countrywide popularity while receiving the Stree Shakthi award. It was the first time she had travelled from her home to far-away New Delhi. The 63-year-old was wearing her normal sari and a pair of sandals. It was the first time she had met the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in person. When she tried to bend and touch his feet, unexpectedly the Prime Minister of India touched her feet in turn, as a token of gratitude for the social work she was doing. This incident took her to the heights of popularity. She was also the receiver of the Doordarshan Podhigai award for her meritorious social work.
Chinna Pillai gives speeches on various occasions. Wherever she goes, she insists that people, especially women, develop a habit of saving money, and she encourages the practice of reducing unwarranted expenses among family members. She has also started missions to engage the rural poor of other countries in community banking.
Chinna Pillai keeps insisting that she hates publicity, as it may destroy the real justification of the organization. She also says that she is not the only leader of Kalanjiyam and there are a lot more people who are working for the welfare of the community.
Chinna Pillai was born in Pulicherri village, which is located in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. She is a great admirer of Abdul Kalam.
During her visit to New Delhi, she stayed in an ordinary, inexpensive hotel room, even though she was a recipient of 150,000 rupees (Rs. 1,50,000/-) from the Indian government. This shows how simply she leads her life.
With courage as a sole investment, Chinna Pillai has enlightened the life of many poor women of Tamil communities as well as other South Indian communities. Her future plans are to reach out to other people living in poverty and to spread the movement to all the states of India.
She has planned to step aside from the leadership post of Kalanjiyam after few more years, as she wants other, younger women to have the opportunity to serve the nation.
Chinna Pillai does not know how to read. Her writing skills are limited to her signature. But she has empowered herself and other women to fight against corruption, politicians, officials, landlords, moneylenders and callous bankers. Chinna Pillai has taught women of poor communities how to be independent and self-sufficient. She is a role model for the citizens of our nation.