|Tara Cherian, India's first independent woman Mayor of Madras|
''To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is a man's injustice to woman. If by strength it is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not more self-sacrificing, has she not great powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non- violence is the law of our being, the future is with women.''
.......... Mahatma Gandhi
A century ago you cannot expect Indian women to be occupying positions of power and eminence in the government as almost all of them were not allowed to study beyond Middle school. Even among the educated women, only a small percentage of them took active role in freedom struggle. During the freedom moments, however, women across India gained low-key recognition and some visibility. In a way, the freedom struggle removed some restrictions on the women participating in public meeting and protests. As for jobs, before independence days there were no opportunities for women, expect some menial jobs done by poor, low caste women in the rural areas and also in the cities. Long ago consistently in India the area of politics and Government administration had been male bastions and women barely got a chance to show their talents.
During the freedom struggle and roughly ten years after India's independence there were very few women in politics such as Sucheta Kripalani, Vijayalaksmi Pandit, Muthulakshmi Reddy, et al. In the last few decades things have changed to such an extent now in India several Municipal Corporations have a woman Mayor. But in the 1950s a woman becoming a Mayor of a big city was a tough one.The country was still on the fringe of conservatism. Mrs. Tara Cherian broke all hurdles and social stigmas with her indomitable spirits to get the Mayorship of Madras (Now Chennai).
Tara Cherian (May 1913 - 7 November 2000), a native of Madras (now Chennai) and graduated from the Madras University, was a well-known Indian social activist and politician. Upon completion of her studies, Tara plunged into social activism and joined the Guild of Service and ultimately she became its head,
Like her well- known husband Dr. P. V. Cherian, Tara was nominated Mayor of Madras in November, 1957 and took the honor of being the first woman Mayor of Madras in independent India. Incidentally Madras corporation was the oldest and was the first one formed under the British rule.
Right from her early age she took keen interest in social welfare activities. At the age of 35 years, she became the chairman of the Guild of Service with which she had close association as it became a hub of social welfare activities. Thanks to Mrs. Tara's dynamism, leadership and passion.
Even though the duration of Mayorship is very short Mrs. Tara in a short period achieved as much as she could. She immediately started working to improve the quality of life in Madras and paid serious attention to improve civic administration. She was the first Mayor to point out the scourge of Madras that saw rapid development of slums- ghettos in certain parts that were devoid of civic amenities. She drew the attention of city leaders not only to bring in overall quality of life for the urban people and also of slum dwellers. The reason being influx of population from neighboring districts for employments. In the slums there were no proper basic amenities such as sanitation and electricity and Tara Cherian took serious efforts to improve the quality of life in the slums too. She said, "The slums are the black spots of Madras.'' She made this statement as early as in December 1957 and it shows Tara's deep sympathy for the poor and their welfare. One of her exemplary achievements was the introduction of Midday Meals Fund. Under the scheme, funds were provided to the schools, functioning under the Guild of Service and the needy students could take free lunch at home. Especially lots of poor people were very much benefited by this program initiated by Mrs. Tara. About 25,000 students were benefited by the mid-day meals scheme. In 1958, this scheme was introduced by Mrs. Tara under the auspices of T.T. Krishnamachari, Union Minister, Delhi.
In recognition of her managerial skill and leadership she became directors of some Public Sector companies such as Life Insurance Corporation and Indian Airlines. Mrs. Cherian held various positions including the Directorship in public sector units such as the Indian Airlines and Life Insurance Corporation. Besides, she was also chairman of Tamil Nadu Government Welfare board in the 1970s. During her sojourn in Bombay, Maharastra where her husband was transferred as the Governor of Maharastra (during 1964-69), there also she took active role in social welfare activities and introduce midday meal program through funds.
Right from her early life, coming from a well-disciplined Christian family(her ancestors were from Kerala), whatever social welfare activities initiated under her direction, she successfully completed them with meticulous care and in true Christian spirit of love and care. She passed away on November 07, 2000. Besides, her dedication to the cause of welfare of physically-challenged persons and children was quite well-known.
Tara's husband Dr. Cherian (of the Palathinkal family in Kerala) was an eminent doctor and was the Principal of the famous Madras Medical College, Madras(now Chennai). He had the honor of being the first Indian Surgeon General of Madras. He was a prominent member of the Congress party and in 1949, he was the Mayor of Madras. His wife, Tara, whom he married in 1935, was elected to this office in 1956, making the Cherians the only couple in India to have held the same office of the Mayor of Madras. Mrs Tara herself was a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) during M.G. Ramachandran's government and her husband held the same post - MLC in 1952. This couple spent tirelessly much of their lives for the welfare of the people in the society and they stood steadfastly by the motto, ''Serving the people is service to God Almighty.''
A recipient of Indian Government's prestigious award Padma Bhushan in 1967, Mrs. Tara Cherian (1913-2000), passed away on 7 November 2000.