If the budget speech of Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac was replete with references to the reformatory works of Sree Narayana Guru, his disciple and poet Kumaran Asan, and Mahatma Ayyankali in the backdrop of the emerging fault lines of Kerala’ s polity, a pervasive quest for gender parity characterised budget documents in terms of political emphasis, allocation of resources, and even the design.
Paintings by three women artists of renown – the legendary T.K. Padmini and Amrita Sher-Gil besides contemporary artist P.S. Jalaja – adorned the covers of six budget-related documents in a meticulously-conceived construct.
A striking Padmini abstract, featuring aquatic life, nude male with a child on his shoulder and a luxuriating female nude, was on the cover of the document on Gender and Child Budget, while another work of hers formed the cover of the Medium Term Fiscal Policy document.
Public Expenditure Review Committee Report and Budget in Brief had Amrita Sher-Gil paintings on the cover. Ms. Jalaja’s water colour painting of Ayyankali with Panchami, the Dalit girl at the heart of his Kandala agitation for educational rights, formed cover of the budget speech in English and Malayalam.
“This was a carefully made choice, as the Finance Minister was particular about featuring works of women artists,” Godfrey Das, who designed the covers, told The Hindu. Ms. Jalaja said the work formed part of her ongoing series, started in 2018, on the ‘101 Inspiring Speeches for Indians (You Can’t Afford to Miss)’.
The covers complemented Dr. Isaac’s speech, which was unequivocal in its political tenor, what with the obscurantist resistance to women’s entry in Sabarimala, the Wall of Women campaign and measures for creation of an enabling environment for livelihood for women punctuating it. If it was women writers who swayed his imagination in the last budget, it was the reformist poet Kumaran Asan who got several mentions. Asan’s entrepreneurial forays, poetic utterances to usher in a change in the social customs, and call for emancipation of the doubly disadvantaged women found forceful mention in the speech.
Dr. Isaac paid tributes to Asan’s questioning Sita, from his 100-year-old poem Chinthavishtayaya Sita, linking it with the practice of treating women as impure in their menstruating age.