MADURAI: 1965 bears a special significance for India. It went down in history books as the time when a full-fledged war raged between India and Pakistan.
However, lost in the din of this war in the western theatre was another fight down south of the subcontinent, inside a prison in Tirunelveli.
Languishing in the Quarantine Cell Number 5 of the Palayamkottai Central Prison was another war veteran, M Karunanidhi.
The legacy of his battles for justice lives even at a place he was lodged as a prisoner. Installed in front of the cell is a black granite plaque with the message, "Kalaignar Karunanidhi was arrested under the Defence of India Rules during the Anti-Hindi agitation of 1965, and kept solitarily in this cell from 18-2-1965 to 4-4-1965.”
The plaque stands testimony to the determination of Kalaignar, who spent 46 days inside the prison during the anti-Hindi agitations, initiated in 1937 by Justice Party leader Periyar EV Ramasamy Naicker and continued till 1939.
During the period between 1946 and 1950, the anti-Hindi agitation again gained momentum after the government made Hindi compulsory in schools. Faced with stiff opposition, authorities had to demote it to an optional language in the curriculum.
Even after the DMK split away from the Dravidar Kazhagam in 1949, the former espoused a strong stand against Hindi imposition.
The agitation the party staged in July 1953 against changing the name of Kallakudi to Dalmiapuram was etched in the annals of history.
At the helm of the protest was Karunanidhi, who erased ‘Dalmiapuram’ from the name board of the town’s railway station.