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K Hemalata – the first woman president in India’s trade union history

Hemalata was elected as the national president of CITU at its 15th national conference concluded on Wednesday. Her contributions were decisive in bringing up the issues faced by the marginalised Anganwadi workers and helpers to the mainstream political discourse.

In the history of India’s trade unions, never has a woman become the leader at the centre till Dr K Hemalata has been elected as the national president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) at its 15th national conference held at Puri in Odisha. Hemalata has been on forefront of the fights taken up by CITU since 1970s. She is now leading the national-level efforts to organise the unorganised sectors where the exploitation of workers is the most rampant. Her contributions were decisive in bringing up the issues faced by the marginalised Anganwadi workers and helpers to the mainstream political discourse.

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Anganwadi workers of Haryana observing their Demands Day (Image Credit- Ganasakti)

She was born in Andhra Pradesh, and joined MKCG College at Brahampur in Odisha to study medicine. She started career as a doctor with ‘The People’s Clinic’ run by legendary communist leader, P Sundarayya in Nellore in 1973. After 3 years, she started her own clinic at Machilipatnam. Hemalata was actively involved actively in politics, and elected as a municipal councilor in 1987. In 1995 she quit her profession and decided to be a fulltimer in trade union politics. She worked as the Andhra Pradesh state secretary of CITU and was chosen as one of the national secretaries of CITU in 2000. Later she was elected as the national general secretary of All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers.

“CITU, compared to other trade unions, has always had better women representation. But even now women are just 22% in the leadership. This situation has to be changed. We will take serious efforts to bring more women into trade unions”, she said while addressing the delegates of the conference.

Hemalata is also the central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to which CITU is affiliated. She has also been serving as the convenor of Working Women Coordination Committee. She was married to R. Syam Sundar who was in the leadership of bank employees union and CITU. Her son Arun Kumar is a permanent invitee in CPI(M)’s central committee.

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