Krishnammal Jagannaathan – India

Linked with Land to the tillers, and with Land for Tillers Freedom LAFTI.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

… Early lives (1930-1950): Krishnammal Jagannathan was born to a landless Dalit family in 1926. Despite her family’s poverty, she obtained university level education and was soon committed to the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement, through which she met her husband, Sankaralingam Jagannathan (born in 1912), also a noted Gandhian. Sankaralingam Jagannathan came from a rich family but gave up his college studies in 1930 in response to Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation and disobedience. He joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 and spent three and a half years in jail before India gained its independence in 1947. During this time he already had considerable impact as campaigner on behalf of the poor. Sankaralingam and Krishnammal married in 1950, having decided only to marry in independent India … // … Further achievements and honours: In their lives, Sankaralingam Jagannathan and Krishnammal Jagannathan, either independently or together, have established a total of seven non-governmental institutions for the poor. Besides this, Krishnammal Jagannathan has also played an active role in wider public life: she has been a Senate member of the Gandhigram Trust and University and of Madurai University; a member of a number of local and state social welfare committees; and a member of the National Committee on Education, the Land Reform Committee and the Planning Committee. These activities have gained for the Jagannathans a high profile in India and they have won many prestigious Awards: the Swami Pranavananda Peace Award (1987); the Jamnalal Bajaj Award (1988) and Padma Shri in 1989. In 1996 the couple received the Bhagavan Mahaveer Award “for propagating non-violence.” In 1999 Krishnammal was awarded a Summit Foundation Award (Switzerland), and in 2008 an ‘Opus Prize’ given by the University of Seattle … (full text right livelihood).


Krishnammal Jagannaathan – India

She works for Land for Tillers Freedom LAFTI.

Listen her video: Krishnammal Jagannaathan, Founder of LAFTI, 9.21 min.

She says: “I realized then that being a peasant woman was hard enough, but to be a Harijan woman was harder still” … and: “Father disciplined us with corporal punishment,” she remembers. “We simply weren’t allowed to mingle with village children. Mostly, we were taken outside the village during the day and brought back home only at night” … and: “Those were three memorable days,” says Krishnammal. “Gandhi and many of us went around collecting money for the cause of the Untouchables” … and: Of her mother, she recalls, “Mother had no knowledge of the outside world. During the day, she used to work very hard under the hot sun in the paddy fields, and at night she used to pound and husk the paddy with her own hands to sell in the market” … (1000peacewomen).

… As a young student, Jagannathan worked with Mohandas Gahndhi and later with Vinobha Bhave to help untouchable bonded laborers. Krishnammal will receive an Opus Prize Award in a ceremony at Seattle University on November 18. She will travel to Sweden in December to receive the Right Livelihood Award at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament … (full text).

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 of land were distributed to thousands of landless poor across several Indian states … (full long text).

Find her and her publications on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

(1000peacewomen): Freedom-fighter and Dalit activist Krishnammal Jagannaathan (born on 16 June 1926) is often referred to as India’s Joan of Arc. Krishnammal believes in a participatory approach, motivating people to change their own lives. In 1981, she cofounded Land for Tillers Freedom (LAFTI) to facilitate the distribution of land to landless peasants. LAFTI takes bank loans to buy land; the peasants pay the organization back over time. She has also mobilized women on many issues, including wages, land, housing, and sexual harassment, and encouraged many of them to better their own lives.

Born into a Dalit family in a village near Batlagundu, Tamil Nadu, her earliest memories are of segregation.

Her mother would wake up at 3 am and walk seven miles to collect leaves for manure for the paddy field. When the group of women who went hunting for manure returned in the evening and queued up at the local landlord’s place for payment, they would be cheated of even their meager dues.

Krishnammal, who was studying in Class IV, was the most literate person in the area, and would be asked to read out the names of the conned women. It was a painful experience. She resolved that she would work for the uplift of these women when she grew up.

On 26 February 1946, Krishnammal met Gandhi for the first time. He had come to Madurai to collect funds for the uplift of the Harijans (’Harijan’, or God’s children, was Gandhi’s name for the Untouchables, today’s Dalits.)

Meeting the great man further strengthened her resolve to work to liberate Dalit women. The meeting also converted Krishnammal to a lifetime of Gandhianism.

The other important influence in her life has been the ancient Tamil saint Ramalingam, her “divine friend”, who preached non-violence and compassion for all human beings.

Although Krishnammal had decided that she would remain single, she agreed to marry S Jagannaathan at the insistence of people she respected. After the wedding, she was pleasantly surprised to know that Jagannaathan, a fellow Gandhian, had spun the wedding saree himself while fasting.

In Jagannaathan, Krishnammal found more than a husband; she found a fellow traveller and a colleague. They joined Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement in 1951. Krishnammal travelled with Vinobaji to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. She was part of the movement throughout 1952. The experience also exposed her to many facets of the problems that landless peasants and workers face.

Krishnammal’s engagement with these issues is also reflected in the names she and her husband chose for their son and daughter–Bhoomikumar and Sathyagraha. Looking back, she realizes that she has never had enough time for her own children and is grateful for her mother’s help with raising the children. Both children are doing very well, academically and professionally, today.

Another important turning point in her life was the news that 44 Dalit women and children had been burnt alive in December 1969 in the village Kizhvenmani of Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu. Krishnammal built up a women’s movement there and expanded the struggle beyond wage issues to gain land and houses. She got free registration of houses in women’s names and also started production units for activities like mat weaving. Krishnammal says, “I have always considered this incident as a call from God to take up greater challenges.”

From 1975 to 1977, Krishnammal and Jagannaathan participated in Jaiprakash Narain’s campaign of “total revolution” in Bihar, an important part of which was the distribution of temple lands of the Bodhgaya Mutth (monastery). There, when Krishnammal discovered that the mahants were sexually exploiting women from the village, her first step was to organize the women.

From January 1975, she and her colleagues began holding regular satyagrahas in the mutth, raising a cyclone of resentment. Even a national leader of the stature of Jaiprakash Narain was not spared: when he visited the village in February 1975 to undertake a satyagraha in front of the mutthi, he was stoned from inside the complex. Krishnammal also received a letter threatening her with death if she did not withdraw.

When Krishnammal refused to give in, the police, in connivance with the temple authorities, tried to arrest her. She escaped, and Jaiprakash Narain’s Sangharsh Vahini continued the struggle. Later, Gaya’s Collector went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that 2,400 acres was to be apportioned among the landless.

In 1981, Krishnammal and Jagannaathan formed the Land for the Tillers (LAFTI) to facilitate the distribution of land to the landless. LAFTI has been involved in several projects in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, and Nagapattinam districts.

Immediate land distribution success eluded Krishnammal. Government officials were unhelpful. For two months, she tried to get funds and help from the local bank in Nagapattinam. Eventually, the bank manager agreed to help her draft a letter to the bank’s legal advisor of the bank. When the loan was sanctioned, the 82 acres they got was distributed among the peasants. Over the years, the LAFTI purchased more than 10,000 acres with bank loans, and distributed them to as many families.

LAFTI has devised a scheme by which poor peasants become owners of the land, and then repay the loan to LAFTI from their incomes. To prevent onwards sales, the land is usually registered in the name of the woman. LAFTI has also started a carpentry shop, a masonry training center, and a mat-weaving center for Dalit children. This so-called “mother of the landless” also met with many absentee landowners, inveigling some of them into selling their land to LAFTI and withdrawing to other areas.

Krishnammal started another revolutionary project in 2003 in Nagapattinam district – the construction of weatherproof houses in a Dalit colony. “Even 56 years after Independence, why should you live in huts?” she asked people to inspirit them into action. Employing the participatory approach that has been her signature method, Krishnammal got the beneficiaries to contribute their labor to building the new houses. “Natural calamities, such as floods, strike the delta districts regularly, and those living in huts are the worst hit,” she says simply. “I wanted to help them out.” In recognition of her monumental work, Krishnammal received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1988. A year later, the Indian government honored her with the Padmashri.

During the 1980s, agriculture in the Cauvery delta was ruined due to the promotion of prawn farms, depriving agricultural laborers of work and rendering drinking water non-potable. In December 1996, Jagannaathan filed a public- interest litigation against intensive aquaculture, and got a favorable judgment from the Supreme Court. Ever since, Krishnammal has been mobilizing people to enforce the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment.

Krishnammal’s work, however, goes far beyond securing land for the landless: That has just been a methodology for encouraging women to act to better their own lives, including laying siege to police stations. For many years, women have been running antiliquor campaigns by confiscating stills and burning illicit liquor, even shutting down many bootleg shops. The immediate victories have been invaluable, but even more so have been the long-term development of physical and mental courage to claim their space in society. (1000peacewomen).


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