Meet TN's first differently-abled politician to head a party's district unit
BS Bharathi Anna was a second-year BSc (mathematics) student when he took his first steps towards a political career in 1989. Being exposed to the Left ideology from school, he enthusiastically joined the Student Federation of India (SFI) – a student organisation affiliated with CPI(M) – as a member.
Intellectual debates at the organisation had made him an avid reader and continuous field work drew him more into the field of politics. Almost 32 years later, he has become the CPM’s district committee secretary of Chengalpet district and he is the first differently-abled politician in Tamil Nadu to head a district unit of a political party.
A native of Pakkam village near Marakkanam in Chengalpet district, Bharathi Anna had problems with his vision from a young age and wore thick glasses since he was in class III. Despite these challenges, he not only completed his studies but also actively pursued a political career.
He left SFI once he had completed his BSc in 1990.
“I moved to my village where with the help of other members, I started work on establishing the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI),” he recalls. As caste outfits were just mushrooming, it was really difficult to take their ideology to the people since people often associated communism with extremism, Bharathi Anna says.
“We had to approach people individually and create awareness among them. It was only after three years, we were able to create a presence in my village,” recounts Bharathi Anna.
The intrepid grass-roots worker succeeded in creating a DYFI presence in other villages as well. “In the next few years, we took DYFI to about 30 to 40 other villages,” he says proudly. His hard work paid off as the party elevated him to the post of a block secretary of Maduranthakam.
Even as he had devoted his entire life to politics, his father, who was worried about his future, appealed to the party members to allow him to study law. “Due to my father’s compulsion, I did my bachelor’s degree in Ambedkar Law College in 1995. Again, I was involved with SFI and that period shaped my ideas and beliefs further,” he said.
After Bharathi Anna had completed his studies, he had decided to undergo an intraocular lens surgery to improve his vision. “I underwent the surgery in 1998 after getting multiple medical opinions and it helped me to see things clearly without my glasses. I could enjoy the birds that were flying high in the sky and I learnt to drive a motorcycle,” he reminisces with a chuckle.
More importantly, he was no longer dependent on anybody to drive him around. And, he was able to reach troubled spots quickly and take charge of the situation, he says.
Meanwhile, Bharathi Anna was also simultaneously trying to embark on a law career. Enrolling himself as an advocate with the Bar Council, he began working as a junior for prominent advocates before setting up his own office in Maduranthakam and Chengalpattu. But the work did not interest him after a point in time. So, he joined The Untouchability Eradication Front, an outfit affiliated to CPM in 2011 and started working with the victims of caste-based issues.
Just when everything was sailing on smoothly, his life took a U-turn when his vision started to deteriorate. Initially, he dismissed it as an illusion but the deterioration was rapid. “Initially, I was finding it hard to read the case files. I dismissed it thinking I was unhappy with my profession. But, after some time, I found it difficult to ride the vehicle and even walk because I could see only up to a short distance,” he remembers.
He hesitated to tell his family and friends about his condition. “It was difficult for me to accept,” he says. There were several occasions when he had not acknowledged his friends, party members and others in public functions because of his lack of vision and they mistook it as a form of arrogance, he remembers.
“I started to avoid functions. I would attend a function only if someone accompanied me and stayed with me. People were hurt and started to avoid me and what is worse is that I started to isolate myself and went into a depression,” explains Bharathi Anna.
In fact, he had approached party leaders to relieve him from party duties because of his failing eyesight but the party refused. He recollects crying for long periods of time because he could not easily accept his disability.
Bharathi Anna confessed his fears to his wife who suggested several other ways to regain the vision. “But then, I accepted my disability and received a differently-abled identity card in 2018. It gave me confidence. No longer did I panic if I bumped into someone because the other person now knew that I cannot see. Once I made it public, my friends understood me, supported me and changed themselves for me,” he says.
“This period was painful but I overcame it,” he reminisces. Even during those difficult times, he continued to work for the victims of caste-based injustices in all the possible ways he could. He was then affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC).
After three years, the district committee of the CPM party nominated him as the secretary during a meeting on January 10 and 11 of this year and four out of five members voted in favour of him. That’s how he became the district secretary of the party.
The CPM party is conscious of all the hard work he has put in. In a conversation with The Federal, the CPM state secretary K Balakrishnan says about Bharathi Anna: “It is not that he got the post all of a sudden. Bharathi Anna is one of the long time workers of the party and had participated in several protests. He is one of the prominent party leaders at Chengalpet district. Besides, he is also an efficient advocate.”
Earlier, Bharathi Anna had been a part of the party’s district executive committee. Explaining that this loyal party worker has been working effectively despite the disability, Balakrishnan says that he has been up to date with all the technologies to read and keep himself updated. He was nominated by the outgoing secretary and the district committee had voted and selected him as the district secretary, he adds.
According to Bharathi Anna, many disabled people are keen on a political career but society discriminates against them. Many times he has been advised not to take risks by involving himself in political activities because of his health condition. But he did not let that come in the way. His goal was clear, he wanted to show the world that he could make a difference despite his disability.