Cabaret Dancing and the Malayali Feminists’ Moral Burden – K R Gouri Amma from the 1970s

[On 27 February 1974, K R Gouri Amma called for attention under Rule 16 in the Kerala State Legislative Assembly, drawing attention to the ‘menace’ of ‘naked dancing’ in Kerala. The translated version of her speech is below. It was perhaps one of the few matters on which the right and left, men and women who claimed to be decent, were all in public agreement – ‘naked dancing’ lowers the moral standards of a culture. This page from the records of the Kerala State Legislative Assembly does not give us any clue of who these ‘naked dancers’ were – they seem to have been a group of women with a male manager. They had actually secured permission from the local government authorities for their performances.

Continue reading “Cabaret Dancing and the Malayali Feminists’ Moral Burden – K R Gouri Amma from the 1970s”

More on Elite Women’s ‘Social Work’ and the History of Caste in Kerala

[This is a continuation from the post on the autobiography of Jooba Ramakrishna Pillai which gives us a glimpse into how educated neo-savarna women usurped all the opportunities for social intervention by or for women in the state. It gives us food for critical thought on why social conservatism came to be so deep-rooted in Kerala despite high levels of women’s education won through struggle. Interestingly, many leading first-generation feminists enjoyed the most amicable relations with educated neo-savarna women even when their own visions of empowerment were different — for example, the friendship between Anna Chandy and Mrs Ponnamma Thanu Pillai.

Below is an excerpt from a discussion on the Social Welfare Advisory Board constituted in Tiru-Kochi, during an assembly session of the Tiru-Kochi State Assembly, from the Proceedings of the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly (vol.XIII, no. 2 ), 15 March 1955, Starred Question No. 30, pp. 93-6.

I am struck by how the discussion completely bypasses the question of dalit representation that Mr K Kunjan tried to raise in it. Indeed, he initiates this discussion but is completely ignored in the actual exchange that follows. Most of the women in the Board are neo-savarna; they have been chosen for ‘reasons that are not clear’. Yet no one really questions this appalling exclusion of avarna women! Smt K R Gouri intervenes not for Mr Kunjan or for dalit women, but for Mahila Sangham, the communist movement’s women’s wing, which she seems to think, can balance the neosavarna women’s overwhelming presence. Then the discussion deteriorates into frivolous questions. Also striking is the carelessness with which the Chief Minister answers questions in the debate, mixing up positions, even.

Once again, the absence of avarna women is ignored in so casual a way, it takes your breath away!

I do believe that this incident, and many like it, must be retrieved to build a history of casteist women’s empowerment in twentieth century Kerala.]

Social Welfare Advisory Board

Starred question 30 [15] Shri P Kunjan: Will be Chief Minister be pleased to state

(a) How many members are there in the State Social Welfare Advisory Board?

(b) who constituted this Board, this Government or the Central Government, and,

(c) is there any representation for scheduled castes?

Chief Minister (Shri Panampalli Govinda Menon): There are nine members in the State Social Welfare Advisory Board in Travancore-Cochin;

(b) the Board was constituted by the State Government with the concurrence of the Central Social Welfare Board.

(c) the representatives do not appear to have been selected on consideration of their caste.

Shri P Kunjan: May I know the names of the Members of the Board?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon: The names of the Members are these —

  1. Sry. P Thankamma, Secretary, Mahilamandiram, Trivandrum (Chairman)
  2. Miss Sosa Mathew, Secretary, Y. W. C. A, Kerala Branch, Thiruvalla.
  3. Mrs Leela Damodara Menon, Ottappalam.
  4. Mrs. Pattom Thanu Pillai.
  5. Shri Cherian Thomas, District Organiser, Bhoodan Committee, Kottayam
  6. Mrs. Pavizham Madhavan Nair, Ernakulam.
  7. Sry P Janaki Amma, Chairman, Municipal Council, Ernakulam.
  8. Mrs K A Mathew, Thiruvalla
  9. Secretary to the Government, Education Department.

Smt K R Gouri [in Malayalam]: On what basis were these persons made representatives?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon :[answers in Malayalam] The basis is not clear from the file. Four of them have been nominated at the recommendation of the Central Board. These are Miss Sosamma Mathew, Leela Damodara Menon, Mrs Pattom Thanu Pillai and Shri Cherian Thomas. It appears that the others have been appointed on the recommendation of this government.

Smt K R Gouri: Is Leela Damodara Menon a native of Tiru-Kochi?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : Shri Damodara Menon is of this State.

Smt K R Gouri: Will it be believed if I said that he is an elected MP from Malabar?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The address given is of Ottappalam.

Smt K R Gouri: Was someone from Malabar selected because there are no women in Tiru-Kochi?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : I too have no idea about that.

Smt K R Gouri: Has any attention been paid to granting representation to a Mahila Sangham that is now active in Tiru-Kochi now?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The Chairman of that organisation is the Secretary of this committee. [PGM has inverted the positions here]

Smt K R Gouri: That is the Mahilamandiram. It is a mere institution.

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : That must be an institution. Whether it is a mere institution, I do not know.

Smt K R Gouri: Do you know that it is run in Poojappura?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : Yes, I do.

Smt K R Gouri: Since the women’s organisation has not been given representation, will you make an effort to secure it representation at least now?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : I do not know if it is possible to add new members. This is run according to the Central Government’s plan. I cannot say now if new members may be added.

Smt. K R Gouri: Should not a member of an organisation that does social work among women be coopted?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : The numbers of positions fixed for the Board have been filled. But that does not mean that no other deserving people exist.

Smt K R Gouri: In that case, can speedy measures be undertaken to coopt such people?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : A reply is possible only after finding out if it is possible to add more members.

Smt K R Gouri: If it is possible to do so after due inquiry, will it be done?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : If so, will see.

Sri N G Chacko: Can the sole woman Member of this Assembly be coopted too?

Mr Speaker [in English]: That is a very pertinent question.

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon [in English]: And it is a good suggestion too.

(Laughter)

Shri T K Divakaran: Is there anything that says that only women should do social work?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : There is a male Member on the Board. Shri Cherian Thomas is a man. He does welfare work too.

Shri T K Divakaran: Is social work to be done only among women?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : It is mainly to be done among women and children.

Shri T K Divakaran: What social work does Mr Cherian Thomas do?

Shri Panamballi Govinda Menon : He is a Bhoodan organiser.

Women Workers of Kerala: K O Aysha Bai and O Koran

[This is from the discussion on Resolution No. 3 moved in the Kerala State Legislative Assembly during the First Session , by P Ravindran, on 13 March, 1964 [Proceedings of the Kerala State Assembly Vol 25, pp. 2221-24]. Besides Aysha Bai’s intervention, it also gives us glimpses of the conditions under which the poorest-paid women laboured in Kerala. The text of the resolution was the following:

This House recommends to Government to appoint a committee to study the problems facing the women workers of Kerala regarding their wages, conditions of work, health and safety measures, training opportunities for higher jobs and facilities for the care and upbringing of their children.

Continue reading “Women Workers of Kerala: K O Aysha Bai and O Koran”

Marriage or a Job? T Narayani Amma

[From the Proceedings of the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly  16 November 1933, pp 95-100]

Intervention in the debate on Demand for Supplementary Grants — Education.

SRIMATI T NARAYANI AMMA (Nominated) :         Before I begin my observations on the Report of the Education Reforms Committee [the Statham Committee], I wish, Sir, to thank the Government of His Highness the Maha Raja, for the privilege that has been extended to us, the members of this House, to discuss the Report. It is a rare privilege so far as this House is concerned and a healthy move as far as such Reports are concerned. We feel grateful that unlike some other reports that are gathering dust in some of the archives of the Secretariat, the Education Reforms Committee’s Report gets the benefit of a discussion by the non-official members of the legislature, the welcome impression being created that early action is being contemplated by the Government. This is certainly as it ought to be, and the policy adopted by the Government, I am sure, will be immensely appreciated. Continue reading “Marriage or a Job? T Narayani Amma”

Appointment of Women in Public Service: Elizabeth Kuruvila

[Speech made in support of the Resolution moved in the House by A G Menon in support of the appointment of women in public service, Proceedings of the Travancore State Legislative Council XIV, no. 7, 1st Session, 25 April 1929, pp. 537-38.] Continue reading “Appointment of Women in Public Service: Elizabeth Kuruvila”

Encouraging Industrial Habits Among Women: K Bhagirathy Amma

[Proceedings of the Shri Mulam Popular Assembly, 11 March, 1932, pp. 45-46.]

27. Suggestions for encouraging industrial habits among women

SRIMATI K BHAGIRATHY AMMA (Nominated):    thanked the Government for nominating her as a member of the Assembly and prayed for a long and prosperous reign for His Highness the Maha Raja. She said that the future of the women of the country depended on their industry. The system of education obtaining in the country was fit only to produce persons for Government service. Continue reading “Encouraging Industrial Habits Among Women: K Bhagirathy Amma”

Defending Women of One’s Community and Outside: Mrs Walsalam Rose

[A noteworthy aspect of the interventions of the representatives of Women in the Travancore and Cochin legislative bodies was that these women were representatives of the women of both their communities as well as of Women in the general sense. There was no contradiction perceived between these two roles them — which came to be perceived much later. Mrs Walsalam Rose’s intervention in 1932 in the Shree Mulam Praja Assembly is an excellent illustration. The imagination of the ideal life for women as essentially that of “good mothers, efficient housewives, and responsible citizens,”  bolstered with equal property rights and compulsory education was a dominant strain in early feminist articulations of women’s rights, and this was already being critiqued by other feminists as early as the 1930s] Continue reading “Defending Women of One’s Community and Outside: Mrs Walsalam Rose”