NEWS: A book titled “The Life and Times of Valliamma” will be translated into the Tamil language by South African of Indian origin cultural and linguistic expert, Mala Lutchmanan.
A lesser-known figure in history, Valliamma Munuswami Mudliar was a child martyr who fought for the freedom of South Africa. Mudliar was born in South Africa in 1898 but her indentured parents were from the a small village in India. Along with her mother, she become heavily involved in campaigning against discrimination before being imprisoned and then dying at the age of 16.
Valliamma was born on 22 February 1898 and was the daughter of immigrant Indian parents from Tamil Nadu. She grew up in Johannesburg and as she entered her teenage years, she became increasingly aware of the oppressive system under which she and her family lived. Also, both her parents were passive resisters. The participation of women passive resisters was a key element to the Satyagraha campaign.
Indian women joined for the first time, after they were collectively angered by a Supreme Court judgment of 1913, in which a judge refused to recognise Hindu and Muslim marriages in South Africa. When Valliamma was only 16, she joined her mother and a large group of women in an illegal march from the Transvaal to Natal. In October 1913, mother and daughter again marched to Natal. They were arrested and sentenced to 3 months of hard labour at the Pietermaritzburg prison. At this time, Valliamma was unwell and being in prison, her condition deteriorated further but she refused an offer to be released early. She was not prepared to give up the passive resistance struggle.
Only after a provisional agreement was signed by General Smuts and Gandhi, was she released on 11 February 1914. She died when she arrived home, on 22 February 1914, in Johannesburg. Gandhi visited Valliamma while she lay on her deathbed. He designed the Indian flag with the colours of Valliamma’s sari – which she used to hold up in defiance, as she did not have any other flag.
Lutchmanan explains why she found it important to highlight Valliamma’s life in an ethnic language.