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From reservation to bus passes, how Karunanidhi's educational reforms changed lakhs of Tamil lives

It is not without reason that lakhs of people thronged late DMK supremo Karunanidhi's funeral today. He was one of the last few Dravidian leaders to fight a relentless fight against caste, a man who believed and worked till the end for equality and his policies will remain the proof of his work for years to come. Even when it came to gender equality, many say that Kalaignar was way ahead of his time.

It was these reforms that continue to set Tamil Nadu far ahead of the other states in India.Tamil Nadu is the only State in the country to have 69 percent reservation in educational institutions. Karunanidhi made higher education free for first generation learners and even launched the EVR Nagammai Memorial free graduate education for girls scheme. He was constantly launching similar schemes that made education accessible to everyone, especially the under-privileged sections of society. There was 15 percent reservation for rural students in professional courses. Entrance exams for professional courses was scrapped. Dr Ambedkar Law College, the first in India was set up. Free Computer training was launched. He insisted on five eggs and bananas to be supplied along with the mid day meal in government schools. These are just a few of the many schemes that Karunanidhi brought to make education accessible to the women, OBC, SC and ST students in the State.

Many of those who benefited from these schemes took to Facebook to show the late leader their gratitude. One of these people wrote about how Kalaignar's move to scrap entrance exams changed his life - "I am a BTech graduate now because of him (Kalaignar). I was working as a labourer in a textile company for three years after my schooling. If he had not scrapped the entrance exam I would not have gotten the chance to study engineering. Indeed, my parents stood by me, but the foundation was laid by Kalaignar (financially as well legitimately). Providing education loans, OBC scholarship etc. I was a government school student from a small village who took a five-year gap after my education and yet managed to get a job at a Fortune 100 companie because of the social reforms brought about by my Kalaignar," wrote Dilip Rajendran.

Kiruba Munusamy, Supreme Court advocate recalled how the free bus pass scheme for school students helped millions get to school, "No poor, lower and middle class 80's, 90's kids will ever forget the free bus pass scheme for school students brought by Dr Kalaignar Karunanidhi. As a transport employee's daughter who was issued with a transport bus pass, I've witnessed many students getting the same benefit to continue their education," she wrote.

She also wrote a post on FB about how the late CM's insistence on caste certificates helped students get access to schemes drafted for their benefit, "Though I already had a caste certificate, because of the order passed by Dr Karunanidhimaking compulsory issuance of caste certificate to 10th, 12th standard government school students, now I have two original certificates. Others who had difficulties got their caste certificate effortlessly.Do remember that several first generation students from oppressed communities still have to file petitions in court for the issuance of a caste certificate!"

This is just a little glimpse of the DMK leader's educational reforms, the list of social and economic reforms in the state is a much longer list. He managed to carry on his mentor Periyar's dreams of a equitable society till the very end.

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