Krishnammal Jagannathan(1926 – Forever)
She is a social service activist from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. She and her husband, Sankaralingam Jagannathan, have protested against social injustice and she is well known as a Gandhian activist. Her work includes upliftment of Dalits, the landless, and the poor; she has sometimes fought against governments as well as big industries. She was earlier involved in the Indian independence movement, along with her husband, and was also a close associate of Vinoba Bhave. She has received several awards and recently has been listed for Right Livelihood Award for 2008, which she would share with four others, including her husband.
Her first encounter with social injustice and poverty was by looking at her mother Nagammal who had to toil very hard and had to work even when she was in advanced stage of pregnancy. Despite being from a poor family she managed university education and was soon involved with the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement. It was through Sarvodaya did she meet Sankaralingam Jagannathan, who was much later to be her husband. Sankaralingam Jagannathan hailed from a wealthy family, yet gave up his college studies in 1930 in response to Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation movement and civil disobedience. At one stage Krishnammal even shared a stage with Gandhi and also met Martin Luther King. Sankaralinga later joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 and spent years in jail before India gained its independence in 1947. Having decided only to marry in independent India Sankaralingam and Krishnammal married in 1950. She would later head the Salt Satyagraha march in Vedaranyam, this time not in protest, but to commemorate the platinum jublee of the event in 2006.
Sankaralingam Jagannathan and Krishnammal Jagannathan believed that one of the key requirements for achieving a Gandhian society is by empowering the rural poor through redistribution of land to the landless. For two years between 1950 and 1952 Sankaralingam Jagannathan was with Vinoba Bhave in Northern India on his Bhoodan (land-gift) Padayatra (pilgrimage on foot), the march appealing to landlords to give one sixth of their land to the landless. Mean while Krishnammal completed her teacher-training course in Madras (now renamed Chennai). When Sankaralingam returned to Tamil Nadu to start the Bhoodhan movement the couple, until 1968, worked for land redistribution through Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdan movement (Village Gift, the next phase of the land-gift movement), and through Satyagraha (non-violent resistance). Sankaralingam Jagannathan was imprisoned many times for this work. Between 1953 and 1967, the couple played an active role in the Bhoodhan movement spearheaded by Vinoba Bhave, through which about 4 million acres (16,000 km2) of land were distributed to thousands of landless poor across several Indian states.
After the burning of 44 Dalit Christians including women and children in Kilavenmani in Nagapattinam district following a wage-dispute with the landlord in 1968, the couple started to work in Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu to concentrate on land reform issues. It was this incident that would inspire the couple, Krishnammal and Sankaralaingam to start the organisation LAFTI.
From 1992 Krishnammal started working issues concerned with prawn farms along the coast of Tamil Nadu. This time the problems were not from the local landlords, but from large industries from cities such as Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Delhi and Hyderabad which occupied large areas of land for aquaculture along the coast, which not only threw the landless laborers out of employment but also converted fertile and cultivable land into salty deserts after a few years when the prawn companies moved on. The prawn farms also caused heavy seepage of seawater into the groundwater in the neighborhood, thus the local people were deprived of clean drinking water resources. The result is that even more small farmers sell their meager land-holdings to multinational prawn companies and move to the cities, filling urban slums.
A Collection By Chetan.