KR Gouri Amma, Kerala’s first Revenue Minister and a member of Kerala’s first democratically elected government breathed her last at 102 years on May 11. Prominent politicians and close family members paid homage to the revolutionary leader at Ayyankali Hall. Her powerful voice saying, “If lathi had the power to impregnate, I would have conceived a thousand times,” resonates in our hearts loudly as ever. She led an unparalleled political life in the history of Kerala, and what makes it all the more notable is her identity as an Ezhava woman.
Early days of her life
KR Gouri Amma had a revolutionary upbringing as her family followed the ideology of Sree Narayana Guru in life. She went on to become the first woman lawyer from the Ezhava community and refused the offer to become the Magistrate from the then Divan of Travancore, CP Ramaswamy Iyer to actively engage in politics. It was relatively possible and expected for a person with her educational qualifications to go in search of high-ended jobs and positions. But she chose to fight for the disadvantaged section of working-class people she was a part of.
When Aruna Asaf Ali came to Trivandrum during Quit India Movement, KR Gouri led the students to attend the talk and had encouraged fellow students to bunk their classes for the same. She received flak from CP Ramaswami Iyer and was warned that she would be suspended if she continued to mobilise the students; but she did not budge.
Working closely in grassroot politics, she made her way into the first elected government of Kerala, being the only woman minister in the cabinet of EMS Namboothiripad. When the Communist party broke up into two factions in 1964, she joined the CPM, which created tensions in her married life. Her husband, veteran leader TV Thomas was also a minister in the Communist government and stayed with the CPI faction. Ideological differences became insurmountable and the couple separated. This was her way of life, where politics was inseparable from the personal domain.
KR Gouri Amma embodied the voice of women in state politics to silence the domination of Dwij Savarna males in the Parliament. Piloting the historic Land Reforms bill and Agrarian Relations bill, she paved the way for the social and economic progress of later Kerala through initiating industrial developments like Keltron, Infopark etc.
Gouri amma and Anti Feudal policies
The bill acknowledges the prohibition of illegal evictions of tenants and occupants of homestead-land under any circumstances. The Agrarian Relation bill put forward a low-ceiling of land (a five-member family cannot own more than 15 acres of land) and the ceiling surplus land was distributed to landless peasants. This created huge tremors in land relations in Kerala. Due to the vested interests of opposition forces through the “liberation struggle”, the communist government underwent vicious attacks, and eventually President’s rule was enforced in the state.
It took another ten years for KR Gouri amma to completely abolish the feudal system, in the second tenure of the communist government. This helped almost 3.5 lakh tenant farmers, 5 lakhs ‘kudikidappukar‘ (a person who has no homestead). It is noteworthy that 1 lakh acre land was declared as surplus land which was finally distributed to agricultural labourers. This marks the retreat of feudalism and led to the development of the industrial and service sector in Kerala.
Pillar of Welfare policies
The unique trajectory of Kerala in becoming a welfare state was not achieved in a day. The male-centric narrative often glorifies this as solely due to the leadership of eminent Chief Ministers of Kerala. But KR Gouri Amma deserves significant credit for the same too. She was the only woman representative in Kerala legislative assembly for a quarter-century, handling six ministries and ten portfolios including sales tax, revenue, agriculture, industry etc. Her sheer audacity to promote the growth of new industries despite strong trade unionism, which was hostile towards industrialism, marked a combination of strong ideology and development.
This fueled the establishment of Technopark in Trivandrum under her leadership, which emerged as one of the largest IT park in India, generating massive employment and house for more than 400 companies.
Gauri amma became the torchbearer of the state’s transformation from having a huge deficit in food grains, loss of agricultural productivity, into attaining “Atmanirbarata” (self-reliance). This includes modernising the Public Distribution System (PDS), the establishment of MILMA (the milk cooperative), and the Cashew Corporation.
An unparalleled icon
Modern Indian history is intertwined with instances of misogyny and prejudice against its women politicians including Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati. Gouriamma was the first among many to face the same obstacles and these instances gave her the courage to fight against the atrocities against women. It was during her tenure in 1987 that the historic Women’s Commission bill and Anti-Corruption bill were passed.
Gouri Amma was widely believed to be the party’s choice of Chief Minister in 1987, as her popularity grew as a capable and kind communist leader. However, contrary to all expectations, the post went to EK Nayanar after the left front’s victory in elections.
She later wrote in life that EMS was a ‘Namboodiri’ who believed that only the upper class should wield power. “Otherwise, why would he have invited Nayanar who had till then never been in the picture to suddenly helm the government?” she had asked.
Slowly, relationships turned sour inside the party and she was formally expelled in 1994 alleging anti-party activities. Even though she dedicated her entire life to politics and the party, the progressively worsening situation did not offer any choice to Gouri Amma. She went on to create her political outfit called the Janadhipatya Samrakshana Samiti (JSS), joining hands with the UDF and becoming a UDF Minister in 2001. Nevertheless, her politics and ideology always aligned with that of the Left.
A female icon of immeasurable political acumen, experience and ideology, KR Gouri Amma always stood undaunted before obstacles. Her illustrious career and admirable life echoes throughout the history of modern Kerala and the communist movement. Her life and struggles will inspire generations of women to come. Rest in peace, comrade.
The Gouri who never cries and tires
The Gouri who becomes Kali in her rage
Hearing her stories, throughout our childhood
We routinely escaped from our fears
– from Gouri, Balachandran Chullikad.
Shravan MK is an Economics Masters student at JNU. He loves writing articles on politics, economics and public policy. Passionate about dance and economics, he can be found reciting poetry or eating biscuits most times. He can be found on Instagram.
Faizy is a Masters student in English at JNU. She loves reading books and journals, cooking and gardening. Currently devouring a newfound love for podcasts, she can be found on most social media platforms, albeit minimally. She can be found on Instagram.