The Autobiography of Anna Chandy – Part 3 Continued

[The next part of this chapter is of the many congratulatory letters that senior lawyers — the Advocate General K V Surianarayana Iyer and Taikad N Subramonia Iyer- published, and felicitatory reports in the Kerala Law Times]

Continue reading “The Autobiography of Anna Chandy – Part 3 Continued”

The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 3 Continued

A High Court Judge

I was the District Judge at Kozhikode when I was appointed High Court Judge. The appointment came when I was 54; with just one more year for retirement as District Judge. By then, my desire to enter the High Court had more or less died down. But Mr Chandy’s scolding began. Because he was now retired and living with me in Kozhikode, he had ample opportunity too. “Do you know see what happened from jumping to take the Munsiff’s post, not paying attention to my warning that you will end up old and grey and won’t be able to enter the High Court?” He kept pestering me thus.

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The Labour of the Matrilineal Woman: From the Memoirs of P Kesavadev

[The well-known progressive writer of the early 20th century, P Kesavadev (1904-83) wrote his memoir titled Ethirppu in the late 1950s, when he was at the height of his fame. Born in a declining matrilineal Nair joint family from Kedamangalam in North Paravur, his memoir contains interesting recollections of women’s labour in his family, especially in the challenging circumstances which included those from internal dissensions in the family as well as external pressures such as those from the First World War. Below are translations of some relevant passages, about his mother Karthyayani Amma, who labored very hard to support her large joint family and steer it through excruciatingly difficult times – battling the senior men of the matrilineal families who no longer cared much for their sisters and their children, and the near-poverty of war times.

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Elizabeth Kuruvila: from the biography of K K Kuruvila

[Elizabeth Kuruvila was a vocal champion of women’s rights in the Travancore Legislative Council in the late 1920s as a nominated member representing Women. The part that these women members played in extending women’s rights in Travancore is enormous, but they are among the most forgotten of those who strove to advance democracy in early twentieth century Malayali society. A few, like Anna Chandy or Tottaikkattu Madhavi Amma (in Kochi) may be remembered, but no biographies, not even simple biographical notes, are available of these women. Elizabeth Kuruvila is not an exception.

When I first began to seek out women writers in early 20th century who seemed to have disappeared except for the sparse writings they left behind, I often discovered that they were wives or sisters or mothers of very famous men. The same applies, it seems, for Elizabeth Kuruvila. The little information I was able to find out about her was from a biography of her husband, Mr K K Kuruvila who was a noted Syrian Christian educationist, legislator, social reformer, theologian, freedom fighter, and leader of the Mar Thoma Church (T Chandy, K K Kuruvila, Manushyasnehiyaaya Oru Karmayogi, Thiruvalla: Kraistava Sahitya Samiti, 2010, pp. 60-3). Below is the translation of the short section.

Not surprisingly, very little is devoted to her own work; she is projected as an exemplary wife who worked to further her husband’s ideals. There are but fleeting references to her intellectual prowess and causes – for example the admission that she even helped him write his speeches. ]

He [K K Kuruvila] chose as his life-partner Ms Elizabeth Zachariah M A who was the daughter of the famous Maaruthottathil Rao Bahadur George Zachariah of Vennikkulam, and the sister of the famous educationist Kuruvila Zachariah. The wedding took place when our hero [K K Kuruvila] was the headmaster of the M T High School — on 1924 May 15.

They were married at the Thiruvalla C S Seminary Church. … Elizabeth Kuruvila was a noble lady who adhered to our hero’s ideals of life perfectly. Her education began in Kozhikode where Rao Bahadur Zacharia was posted. She showed extraordinary talent for learning, attaining such a command over English literature that left even westerners dazzled. She passed the Literature Hons exam from the Presidency College, Madras, in flying colours and later, joined the YWCA as Students’ Secretary. She travelled in many parts of India to study the problems faced by students and also took part in the Students Conference that was held in China around that time. After working five years as the Students’ Secretary of the YWCA, she moved to Calcutta in 1922 to join the national council of the YWCA. She got married to K K Kuruvila in 1924.

Mrs Kuruvila was a highly educated, idealistic woman, endowed with unusual efficiency. She strove tirelessly to lead a fruitful family life and cooperate actively with our hero in his many fields of service.

There were many who readily exploited his tender heart. He was unable to bear the tears of others, and so some undeserving people took advantage of this ‘weakness’ and approached him, and he was made a fool of many a time. But once Mrs Kuruvila began to take over family affairs, this lack came to be remedied and unnecessary expenditure was curtailed. The management of income and expenditure became better organized. .. she stayed in the backstage of many of his public activities offering very useful support. Even in the drafting of his speeches, this noble woman helped her husband amply.

… On the strength of her higher education, considerable talent, the experience accrued from her work and travel associated with the YWCA, and sensible disposition, Mrs Kuruvila was able to do much along with her husband in public forums.

In 1928, this noble lady was nominated to the Travancore Legislative Assembly as a nominated member. This was public recognition of her ability and leadership qualities. The role she played in managing the kindergarten at M T School and the boarding were praiseworthy indeed. She was the president of a great women’s conference that was organized in Thiruvalla by the Kraistava Seva Samiti. Thus this great lady was able to gain a position of considerable dignity in society.

But how unfortunate! This couple could not spend the dusk of their lives together. In the high-noon of her life, she bid goodbye to her beloved husband and darling daughter. She developed a reaction when a medicine was injected to treat her rheumatoid arthritis and passed away quite unexpectedly.

The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 3 – Continued

The District Judge is the Defendant!

When I was the Ernakulam District Judge, there was an incident and I had to climb the witness box and suffer a sentence. Except for the few months when my son stayed with me, I was a resident of the Ernakulam YWCA hostel. The YWCA president was the Chief Justice K T Koshy’s wife. That was the time when  subscriptions were being raised to build a new wing of the YWCA hostel. It was decided that a performance should be organized to raise money for the new building. I suggested that women in the legal field should stage a court room scene. And so a play was written. The matron of the YWCA (chedathy) was the real inspiration behind it. She knew a handful of English words, just a fistful, like enough mustard to temper. She would use them correctly or otherwise whenever she could, without much grasp of their meaning.

Continue reading “The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 3 – Continued”

The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 3

The Nagercoil Munsiff: In a Hurry to Become ‘Your Honour’

My participation in the dramatics at the VJT Hall in connection with the Sri Chithira Tirunal Library’s anniversary celebrations brought me the special goodwill and affection of the Queen Mother. Before six months passed, I was summoned to the palace and she asked if I would accept a Munsiff’s post if offered. Without thinking of the pros and cons, I said that I would be happy to accept it.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 2 –Continued

In the Legislative Assembly

The nominated members were often derided as mere kaipokkikal –aye-sayers. But during my term in the Assembly (from ME 1106 – 1108) [1930-32], I made a conscious effort to prove myself to be much more than just an aye-sayer.  Let me give you an example. According to the eleventh section of the Travancore Municipal Regulation (the Fifth Regulation of 1095), women, along with people with mental instability, people who cannot see and hear, and leprosy patients, were excluded from membership in Municipal Councils.

Continue reading “The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 2 –Continued”

The Autobiography of Anna Chandy — Part 2 (Continued)

The Field of Action of Abala Women: Only the Home?

I will not narrate anything more on my career as a lawyer. Before I entered office, I had the opportunity to participate in many social arenas. As the fame of being the first woman lawyer spread, I kept receiving a steady stream of invitations to speak and preside at innumerable stree samajam (women’s association) anniversaries , and girls’ school annual days, and so on. I was also invited as a guest to some artistic performances. I did not waste such opportunities. I knew that these would help me as a lawyer and besides, my husband was extremely encouraging and he helped me prepare speeches and even accompanies me when I had to travel far.

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The Autobiography of Anna Chandy Part II — Continued

The Son Shot the Father: Who Won? Who Lost?

After the favourable verdict in the Pottal case, I began to receive many offers to fight murder cases. I will not describe all of those here. Still, I will end this narration of my career as a lawyer after giving you an account of a case that caused a sensation in Travancore those days, which was fought at the Paravur Sessions Court — the Kaloor murder case.

Continue reading “The Autobiography of Anna Chandy Part II — Continued”