04 October Wednesday

KR Gouri Amma - Witness To A Century

Anilkumar A VUpdated: Friday Apr 8, 2022

George Seldes was one of the World renowned American  investigative  journalists; editor, author, media critic.  Best known for publication of the newsletter In Fact. Wrote 20 books  including Witness to a Century. Influenced by Abraham Lincoln, Walter Lippmann and others  used  journalism to fight injustice and thus held head high as a socialbeing. In politics also such towering personalities left their footsteps. In that respect K R Gouri Amma, the most known woman face and voice in Kerala's political arena for eight  decades, shines even after death. Year-long official birthday celebration that occurred in the state by the government became a political festival. Her  foray into social life was at a time women were hardly seen in public affairs or in politics.

 She fought first election in 1948; and  like most communists, lost. During communist hunt  imprisoned and subjected to brutal police action. She held her campaign for the next election in 1952 from prison; and was victorious.   In the 16 elections fought, Gouri Amma won 13. Gouri Amma was a Minister in all Left governments until her expulsion from the party in 1994.  Later brief tie with UDF.  Realising the fault soon said goodbye to the rightist camp.

 In the decades preceding Independence, Gouri Amma became  an icon of  revolutionary storm.

At the  time of unprecedented political tumult in the region, the movements against the British demanding responsible government in Travancore and Cochin were at its peak; Communist Party was gaining momentum. And mass struggles and public action challenging the ruling class, traditional customs and caste discrimination were becoming part of life. There were very few women gaining education beyond a certain level, and fewer still entering politics. Gouri was born into this milieu and yet became one of the most well-known women leaders of Communist  movement in India.  And  also regarded as a prominent woman in Kerala politics from pre-independence. She held prominent portfolios in all the Ministries she served and had the distinction of being one of the longest-serving  MLAs  in Assembly. She was the youngest member of the first communist Ministry, as Revenue Minister piloted the Agrarian Relations Bill, which triggered radical transformation of agrarian relations and paved the way for social and economic progress.

By young age  Gouri earned the wrath of British and Travancore governments and underwent imprisonment and police torture.   Provocative speeches and agitations are in the chargesheet. She started working for the Communist Party among coir workers even before getting party card. Most of the prominent leaders like P Krishna Pillai were either in prison or underground. So Gouri got prominence as a leader.  Her role as student activist in the Quit India Movement was commendable. That led to her victory in the election to the Assembly from Aroor in 1952. Was in prison throughout the campaign and   jailed on several occasions. Gouri Amma associated with numerous political and  social organisations. Was president of the Karshaka Sangham from 1960 to 84 and the Mahila Sangham from 1967 to 76. Secretary of Mahila Sangam from 1976 to 87. By late 1980s, her  popularity as a dedicated bold leader and administrator was at its peak.

Sketch: Shanavas Chavara

Sketch: Shanavas Chavara

Land Reforms Bill
Gouri Amma presented the revolutionary Land Reforms Bill in 1957. Ordinance was later made into Act. It set the ceiling on the area  of land a family could own, paving the way for landless to  claim excess land, which was a severe blow to the feudal system. She also helped to draft and present Women's Commission Bill of 1987 along with  presenting anti-corruption bill.As Revenue Minister  Gouri Amma was  instrumental in piloting land reform bills.

 In accordance with the interest of working class that she fought throughout life, these laws set a ceiling on the amount of land a family could own. They provided for the tenants and hut dwellers to receive a claim in the excess land, on which had worked for decades under feudal system. In addition, the law ensured fixity of tenure and protection from eviction.

Failed Poet
Gouri Amma's   autobiography `Atmakatha' which won the Sahitya Academy Award is intense and impassioned.  It  is not about her political life, but narrates how the educated backward caste youth joined Communist Party as a student activist during Quit India days. Gowri Amma once said that she wanted to become a poet, but  could not. Literally stopped in the early 80's with politics and social commitments swallowed  most of the time. She  first narrated memories through `Deshabhimani' 1978-79; but could not continue. Tells the childhood and family along with history of Cherthala taluk and Pattanakad village where she born. Autobiography ends with her first experience in jail.

During initial stages she and comrades started  Library, reading rooms, night class and cultural centres for  inculcating workers. The attack by Landlords and police continued and workers organised resistance movements.  In the agitation for responsible government, the State Congress failed to act according to workers' interest. Sir C P, adopted strict measures to contain Labour Unions of coir and beedi, fisherman and agricultural labourers. Communist party became popular among people; leaders went  underground. Young Gowri entrusted to distribute  pamphlets secretly. After Independence, situation drastically changed. Supporters of C P; all on a sudden  became Congress office bearers. All candidates filed by Communist party defeated in 1948 election. Congress came to power and landlord  influence continued in the helm of affairs. Communist leaders arrested.

Changampuzha Classmate; 
Sankara Kurup teacher

Gouri was born on July 14, 1919, as the seventh daughter of K A  Raman and Parvathi Amma in a wealthy backward caste (Ezhava) family which owned acres of land. Inspired by the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru, Raman wanted daughters to have a good education. After studies at the nearby  government high school, Gouri joined Maharaja's and St. Teresa's Colleges in  Ernakulam.  She passed  BA history with distinction and gold medal from Madras government. Gouri was a prestigious alumni of Maharaja's.

Poet Changampuzha Krishna Pillai was her classmate and G Sankara Kurup Malayalam lecturer. She, the first women graduate from Ezhava background, completed it  from Government Law College Thiruvananthapuram. Soon enrolled as advocate at Cherthala.  At that time Divan Sir C P Ramaswami Iyer, offered her the post of magistrate. Rejecting it, she   joined the Communist Party in 1948 at the behest of her brother, K R  Sukumaran, who was a trade union leader.  In 1957, Gauri Amma was Revenue Minister and married party leader and Industries Minister T V Thomas. When the Communist Party split in 1964, Thomas stayed with CPI and  Gauri Amma CPI-M. The couple separated in 1965.