A Strike in the Indian Nut Company: Theyi

[This is an account given by a cashew worker who worked in the Indian Nut Company, Kollam, about a strike they organized in the 1930. Theyi was born in the Kurava community in 1922. She was an eight-year-old at the time of this strike and remembers with great clarity, a strike led by women workers. As retold to Anna Lindberg in Experience and Identity, Lund: Lund University Press, 2001, This strike was probably in 1937.]

Continue reading “A Strike in the Indian Nut Company: Theyi”

An Organization of Our Own: Kumari Saraswathi on Women Organizing

Translated by J Devika

[From the style it seems that this was probably written by K Saraswathi Amma, and ‘Kumari Saraswathi’ was probably one of her pseudonyms. In this amazing essay, the authors offers a feminist analysis of women’s mass organizations of political parties. It is impossible to disagree with the opening parts of the argument, just as it probably impossible to agree with the last, concluding argument. The latter marks the difference between the first generation of feminists and the present one.] Continue reading “An Organization of Our Own: Kumari Saraswathi on Women Organizing”

A Reply: Thottaikkattu Madhavi Amma

Translated by J Devika

Thottaikkattu Madhavi Amma (1888- 1968) was born in Ernakulam. Her mother, Thottikkattu Ikkavu Amma was a well-known playwright whose play Subhadrarjunam won much critical acclaim in the late 19th century. Madhavi Amma gained proficiency in Malayalam, Sanskrit, English and other European languages and was known as a poet and commentator on poetry. Her major works are Hemapanjaram (a translation of Seeta Chatterjee’s A Cage of Gold), Saradamani and Tatvachinta. She was active in the Ernakulam Women’s Association and was nominated an unofficial member to the Legislative Council of Kochi in 1925. She was the President of the Women’s Conference held as part of the Nair Conference at Karuvatta in 1929. In 1932, she married the prominent Nair reformer, Mannath Padmanabhan. This short article was a response to a pen-portrait published by the Malayala Manorama in a series on the members of the Kochi Legislative Council. Continue reading “A Reply: Thottaikkattu Madhavi Amma”

Women’s Honour and the Travancore Census Report, 1941: T Narayani Amma Responds

[This short speech, below, by T Narayani Amma who represented the constituency Women in the Travancore Sree Mulam Assembly was part of the debate over the Adjournment Motion moved by Puliyoor TP Velayudhan Pillai on 26 January 1943 which claimed that the Census Report of Travancore of 1941 contained scandalous untruths about Marumakkathayi women in the state (besides untruths about savarna opposition to the spirit of the Temple Entry Proclamation). The Census Report contained statements that claimed (rather colourfully) that many women had become economically insecure after the dismantling of the joint family system and so were resorting to loose arrangements in order to secure “their daily bread.” To establish this, the Census Commissioner cited the statistics of larger number of married females compared to married males. Pillai expressed “great pain, sorrow, and disappointment” at this statement as he moved the Motion. Several other male members, including Pillai, supported the Motion, vehemently opposing this alleged attack on “the chastity of the whole of womenfolk of Travancore” (Pillai’s statement) and many indignant speeches followed. In general, the Census Commissioner Narayanan Tampi was accused of denigrating the respectability of women in Travancore with any real data on it. In general, they were also convinced that Marumakkathayi women would never “swerve from the path of true honour and chastity” (Sadasyatilakan T K Velu Pillai). Continue reading “Women’s Honour and the Travancore Census Report, 1941: T Narayani Amma Responds”

The Government’s ‘Women Visitors’ and Jailed Nationalist Women: Accamma Cherian

Translated by J Devika

[Accamma Cherian (1909-1982), one of the foremost nationalist leaders in South Kerala, is best known for her daring leadership of the march on the royal palace in Thiruvananthapuram on 23 October 1938, but the manner in which she, one of the tallest nationalist activists in Travancore, was forced out of the Indian National Congress and politics itself by self-seeking, narrow-minded men in the 1950s is rarely discussed in Kerala. Once referred to as the Jhansi Rani of Kerala, Accamma left active politics in the 1950s devoting herself to constructive work. In the Congress she was known for her active advocacy of women in politics, and indeed, to their share of power in politics — which finally seems to have provoked patriarchal forces. She was born in Kanjirappally and was educated by her father who actively encouraged her and her sister, the noted politician Rosamma Punnoose. In 1926 she entered the St Theresa’s College, Ernakulam, and earned her degree in 1931 and became a school teacher for some time. Later, she moved to Thiruvananthapuram to study at the Teacher Training College in 1934, and it was then her interest in politics turned serious. She led the nationalist struggle in Travancore as the twelfth Dictator of the Travancore State Congress, leading a massive jatha towards the royal palace. Continue reading “The Government’s ‘Women Visitors’ and Jailed Nationalist Women: Accamma Cherian”

Freedom from Forced Labour: Dakshayani Velayudhan

Dakshayani Velayudhan (1912-1978), the only dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly of India, was born in Kochi. She distinguished herself early in life as the first dalit woman in Kerala to obtain a college degree, which she remembers, was won in the face of continuing caste discrimination in college and outside. She worked as a teacher after her education and also served in the Cochin Legislative Council during 1945-48, actively participating in the debates. At the age of 34, she became a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly. Some of her legislative assembly debates have been included here,for example,this one. Continue reading “Freedom from Forced Labour: Dakshayani Velayudhan”

Vignettes of the Memory: Lakshmi N Menon

Translated by J Devika

Lakshmi N Menon (1899-1994) was one of the most successful Malayali women in Indian politics  despite the fact that she never really entered formal politics, though attracted to nationalism and international politics as a student abroad in the 1920s. Her father was the well-known reformer, educationist, and rationalist Ramavarma Thampan, (her mother was Madhavikkutty Amma) and her husband the educationist and scholar V K Nandana Menon — but she was one of the rare women who were better known than their male relatives. Lakshmi N Menon was educated in Thiruvananthapuram and she worked for a time as a teacher and later as a lawyer, growing closer to social activism in the 1920s and 30s especially associated with the All-India Women’s Conference. She was a member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s; she represented as the head of the India delegation at the UN in the 1950s and was a Minister of State in the 1960s.  She was nominated to the Committee on the Status of Women at the UN. Continue reading “Vignettes of the Memory: Lakshmi N Menon”

Female Friendships and Marriage: Lakshmi N Menon

Translated by J Devika

[Lakshmi N Menon (1899-1994) was one of the most successful Malayali women in Indian politics  despite the fact that she never really entered formal politics, though attracted to nationalism and international politics as a student abroad in the 1920s. Her father was the well-known reformer, educationist, and rationalist Ramavarma Thampan, (her mother was Madhavikkutty Amma) and her husband the educationist and scholar V K Nandana Menon — but she was one of the rare women who were better known than their male relatives. Lakshmi N Menon was educated in Thiruvananthapuram and she worked for a time as a teacher and later as a lawyer, growing closer to social activism in the 1920s and 30s especially associated with the All-India Women’s Conference. She was a member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s; she represented as the head of the India delegation at the UN in the 1950s and was a Minister of State in the 1960s.  She was nominated to the Committee on the Status of Women at the UN. Continue reading “Female Friendships and Marriage: Lakshmi N Menon”

Will Not Women Awake? Editorial: Vanitakusumam

Translated by J Devika

 

[this is an earlier version of a translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, from Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]

 

 [ Editorial, ‘Streekal Iniyum Unarukayille?’, Vanitakusumam* 1 (11) M. E. 1103 Dhanu ( December-January 1927-28): 387-88]

 

* The Vanitakusumam was published from Kottayam in 1927 and was edited by V. C. John, who also edited the newspaper Pratidinam. It is said to have had a subscription of more than 2000, the largest of all women’s magazines in Malayalam at that time, though it proved to be quite short-lived. Raghavan 1985, p. 147.

The elections and nominations to the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly are over. The government of Tiruvitamkoor has not been benevolent enough to appoint a single woman member. We would, however, blame women themselves for the government’s present unwillingness to appoint at least one member from womenfolk, who constitute the majority of the country’s population. Continue reading “Will Not Women Awake? Editorial: Vanitakusumam”

The Impossibility of ‘Women’s Politics’: A Clue to Why the Memory of the First-Wave Feminists in Kerala Was Erased

 [This is an excerpt from a historical chapter on women and politics in 20th century Kerala from J Devika and Binitha V Thampi,  New Lamps for Old? Gender Paradoxes of Political Decentralisation in Kerala, New Delhi: Zubaan)

…. From the early 20th century onwards, a clear divide is perceptible between the the Travancore government and the newly-educated male elite active in the nascent civil society on the question of women’s role in public politics. For the former, fostering women’s presence in this new domain was linked to the Travancore kingdom’s need to convince the British rulers of its ‘progressiveness’. For the latter, however, public politics was the arena for the modernising communities of Travancore to compete for resources and make demands for rights upon the state. Advancing the interests of women as a separate group was read as undermining the internal unity that communities required in these contests.1 In the discourse of the former, ‘women’ often referred to matrilineal women; in that of the latter, the same category was conceived of within the new patriarchy emergent in social and community reformism, in which secularised brahmanical patriarchy identified women with the ‘social’, rather than the ‘political’. Continue reading “The Impossibility of ‘Women’s Politics’: A Clue to Why the Memory of the First-Wave Feminists in Kerala Was Erased”