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Valli Arunachalam, daughter of Murugappa group’s late executive chairman M.V. Murugappan.
Valli Arunachalam, daughter of Murugappa group’s late executive chairman M.V. Murugappan.

Murugappa scion alleges sexist bias

A day after family members rejected Valli Arunachalam’s bid for a seat on Ambadi Investments’ all-male board at its AGM, she says is ready to take the battle to courts

A family battle may be brewing at the 120-year-old Murugappa Group, with Valli Arunachalam, daughter of its late executive chairman M.V. Murugappan, taking on the male members on the board of group holding company Ambadi Investments Ltd (AIL). A day after family members rejected her bid for a seat on AIL’s all-male board at its annual general meeting, Arunachalam said she was ready to take the battle to courts.

“It is evident that the family cannot tolerate women in their boardrooms, and they have showcased their considered view in this regard. It is very unfortunate that the AIL shareholders, the overwhelming majority of whom are also board members, are not able to understand what contributions women can make on the board. It is a clear indication that gender bias exists at the highest levels of the Murugappa group," 59-year-old Arunachalam, a scientist based in New York, said in a statement.

At the Monday AGM of AIL shareholders mostly comprising Valli’s uncles and cousins, her bid to become a non-executive director was rejected with 91.36% of votes cast against her.

Had the shareholders approved the resolution, Arunachalam, who has been demanding a position on the company’s board for a long time, would have been the first woman director of AIL.

Murugappa Group didn’t respond to Mint’s queries.

Arunachalam, her sister Vellachi Murugappan and their mother M.V. Valli Murugappan, collectively hold 8.15% in Ambadi, a stake they inherited from M.V. Murugappan. According to a person familiar with the development, who spoke on condition of anonymity, she is the ‘Karta’ of the three-member Hindu Undivided Family. Under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005, women could become the Karta or head of the family and daughters became coparceners, allowing them to inherit as much as sons.

Arunachalam said she was not going to take this lying down, saying her family (she, her sister and mother) would pursue justice and take all the steps needed for the same.

“It was always our wish that the family issues remain within and are settled at the family level, but clearly, it seems the family is more concerned about protecting its draconian perspectives and practices, even if it means forcing us to take the battle to courts. We will not shy away this time," said Arunachalam, the eldest daughter of Murugappan.

Citing US Supreme court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on 18 September, Arunachalam said in her statement, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made and it cannot be truer for this company."

Based in Chennai, Murugappa Group was founded in 1900 and has over two dozen businesses, from farm to finance, including nine listed companies.

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