AFFLUENT FREEDOM FIGHTER
Ambujammal was born on 8 January 1899 to S. Srinivasa Iyengar and his wife Ranganayaki. Srinivasa Iyengar was one of the foremost leaders of the Indian National Congress in the Madras Presidency and had served as the President of the Swaraj Party. Ambujammal's maternal grandfather was Sir V. Bhashyam Aiyangar, the first native Indian to be appointed Advocate-General of the Madras Presidency.
Ambujammal married S Desikachari in 1910. He was an advocate from Kumbakonam.Early on in her life, she was fascinated by Gandhiji’s ideas, especially his constructive socio-economic program. This interest was fanned by her contact with Sister Subbalakshmi, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, and Margaret Cousins.
Ambujammal qualified as a teacher and taught at Sarada Vidyalaya girls school part-time. She was a committee member of Sarada Ladies’ Union from 1929 to 1936. She worked very closely with Sister Subbalakshmi. In 1929, she was nominated Treasurer of the Women’s Swadeshi League, Madras. This League was a non-political wing of the Congress, implementing Gandhi’s social and economic programs.
She joined a number of women who donated their jewelry to support the national movement on Gandhiji’s request. She was a strong proponent of Swadeshi, and embraced Khadi.
Her entry into political life was in 1930, during the civil disobedience movement. She joined the Salt Satyagraha, and courted arrest. In 1932, she was hailed as the "Third Dictator" of the Congress, and led the Satyagrahis to boycott foreign cloth. She was arrested and sentenced to six months of imprisonment.
A thorough Congresswoman, she was part of the Managing Committee of the Hindi Prachar Sabha from 1934 to 1938. She did a lot of propaganda work for Hindi. As part of her activities with the Hindi Prachar Sabha, she attended the All-India Congress Session in Bombay in 1934. She stayed at Wardha Ashram with Gandhi from November 1934 till January 1935.
As part of the role as Secretary of the Mylapore Ladies Club (a post she held from 1936), she conducted Hindi classes.She was a significant part of the Women’s India Association (WIA), taking the post of Secretary from 1939 to 1942 and that of Treasurer from 1939 to 1947. With the WIA, the issues she worked of were: Abolition of Child Marriage, Polygamy, and the Devadasi system; and bringing about legislation to protect the rights of women and their property rights. On behalf of the WIA, she was nominated to the Madras Corporation. In 1947, during the All-India Women’s Conference in Madras, she was nominated as the Chairperson of the reception committee.
A dedicated social worker, she was the President and Treasurer of the Srinivasa Gandhi Nilayam from 1948, an institute she founded. It provided free coaching to poor girls, had a free dispensary, and also provided training and employment to women in its printing press. An associate of Vinoba Bhave, Ambujammal toured Tamil Nadu with him to publicise the Bhoodan movement in 1956. Ambujammal was not in favour of too much industrialization; she believed in the Village Self-Sufficiency model – as advocated by Bhave.
She was the Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee from 1957 to 1962, and the Chairman of the State Social Welfare Board from 1957 to 1964.Ambujammal was a notable scholar in Hindi and Tamil. She has written three books about Gandhi in Tamil. In 1964 Ambujammal won the padma shri award.
She died at the age of age of 82 years.
FORMER CM OF TAMIL NADU
Bhaktavatsalam.M was born on 9 October 1897 to C. N. Kanakasabhapathi Mudaliar of Minjur and Mallika of Nazarethpet village, Poonamallee, Chennai. His father died when he was five and Bhaktavatsalam was brought up by his uncles C. N. Muthuranga Mudaliar and C. N. Evalappa Mudaliar. He completed his schooling in Madras and enrolled at Madras Law College. On graduation in 1923, Bhaktavatsalam commenced practice as a lawyer of the Madras High Court.
Bhaktavatsalam joined the Indian Independence Movement even during graduation. He joined the Indian National Congress and became a member of the Madras Provincial Congress Committee in 1922. In 1926, he became a member of the Congress Working Committee.
Bhaktavatsalam started the daily newspaper India which he managed till 1933. He was the Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Congress Civic Board during the district board and municipal elections of 1926 and 1935. He also served as the Secretary of the Madras Mahajana Sabha for sometime.
Bhaktavatsalam was injured during the Salt Satyagraha at Vedaranyam. He was arrested in 1932 for conducting India's independence day celebrations and spent six months in prison. In the 1936 municipal body elections, Bhaktavatsalam was elected to the Madras City Corporation and served as Deputy Mayor.
Bhaktavatsalam stood in the Madras Assembly elections held in 1937 and was elected from the Thiruvallur Rural constituency. Bhaktavatsalam served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Local Self-Government in the Rajaji government. Bhaktavatsalam resigned along with the other office-holders of the Indian National Congress on declaration of war by the British government during 2nd world war .
Bhaktavatsalam participated in the Quit India Movement agitations and was jailed by the British. On his release in 1944, he elected to the Constituent Assembly of India.
Bhaktavatsalam stood in the Madras Assembly elections held in 1946 and was re-elected. He served as the Minister of Public Works and Information in the O. P. Ramaswamy Reddiyar cabinet. He was a senior minister in Rajaji in 1954 and K Kamaraj ministry from 1954 to 1963.
In 1962, the Indian National Congress won the assembly elections and formed the government in the state. On Gandhi Jayanti day, 2 October 1963, Bhaktavatsalam took office as the Chief Minister of Madras, after Kamaraj resigned to spend more time as an office bearer of the Congress Party under K Kamaraj plan. Bhaktavatsalam is, till date, the last Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from the Indian National Congress.
In August 1963, M. S. Golwalkar, the Sarsangchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh established a Swami Vivekananda Centenary Committee and a Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee and appointed Eknath Ranade as its Secretary. The main function of the committee was to construct a rock memorial at Kanyakumari in order to honour Swami Vivekananda on his birth centenary. The Chief Minister Bhaktavatsam and the Union Minister for Cultural Affairs, Humayun Kabir vehemently opposed the move. However, Bhaktavatsalam yielded when Ranade presented him a letter with signatures of 323 members of Parliament in support of a memorial.
Bhaktavatsalam's tenure as Chief Minister witnessed severe anti-Hindi agitations in Madras state. Bhaktavatsalam supported the Union Government's decision to introduce Hindi as one of the languages. On 7 March 1964, at a session of the Madras Legislative Assembly, Bhaktavatsalam recommended the introduction of a three-language formula comprising English, Hindi and Tamil.
As 26 January 1965, the day when the 15-year-long transition period recommended by the Indian Parliament came to an end, neared, the agitations intensified leading to police action and casualties.
On 13 February 1965, Bhaktavatsalam claimed that the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Left parties were responsible for the large scale destruction of public property and violence during the anti-Hindi agitations of 1965
He served as the able chief Minister but was defeated in the 1967 elections. In 1970s Bhaktavatsalam partially retired from politics. He died on 31 January 1987 at the age of 89.
CAPTAIN LAKSHMI SAHGAL
REVOLUTIONARY CAPTION OF INDIAN NATIONAL ARMY UNDER NETAJI
Sahgal was born as Lakshmi Swaminathan in Malabar under Madras Presidency on 24 October 1914 to S. Swaminathan, a lawyer who practiced criminal law at Madras High Court, and A.V. Ammukutty, better known as Ammu Swaminathan, a social worker and independence activist from an aristocratic Nair family known as "Vadakkath" family of Anakkara in Palghat, Kerala.
Sahgal chose to study medicine and received an MBBS degree from Madras Medical College in 1938. A year later, she received her diploma in gynaecology and obstetrics. She worked as a doctor in the Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital located at Triplicane,Chennai
In 1940, she left for Singapore after the failure of her marriage with pilot P.K.N. Rao. During her stay at Singapore, she met some members of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. She established a clinic for the poor, most of whom were migrant laborers from India. It was at this time that she began to play an active role in the India Independence League.
The INA marched to Burma with the Japanese army in December 1944, but by March 1945, with the tide of war turning against them, the INA leadership decided to beat a retreat before they could enter Imphal. Captain Lakshmi was arrested by the British army in May 1945, remaining in Burma until March 1946, when she was sent to India – at a time when the INA trials in Delhi heightened popular discontent with and hastened the end of colonial rule.
Sahgal married Prem Kumar Sahgal in March 1947 in Lahore. After their marriage, they settled in Kanpur, where she continued with her medical practice and aided the refugees who were arriving in large numbers following the Partition of India. They had two daughters: Subhashini Ali and Anisa Puri.
In 1971, Sahgal joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and represented the party in the Rajya Sabha. During the Bangladesh crisis, she organised relief camps and medical aid in Calcutta for refugees who streamed into India from Bangladesh. She was one of the founding members of All India Democratic Women's Association in 1981 and led many of its activities and campaigns. She led a medical team to Bhopal after the gas tragedy in December 1984, worked towards restoring peace in Kanpur following the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and was arrested for her participation in a campaign against the Miss World competition in Bangalore in 1996. She was still seeing patients regularly at her clinic in Kanpur in 2006, at the age of 92.
The Sahgals' daughter, Subhashini, is a prominent Communist politician and labour activist. According to Ali, Sahgal was an atheist. The filmmaker Shaad Ali is her grandson.
PERIYAR E Ve RAMASAMY
REVOLUTIONARY RATIONALIST AND SOCIAL REFORMER
Periyar E V R joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 after quitting his business and resigning from public posts. He held the chairmanship of Erode Municipality and wholeheartedly undertook constructive programs spreading the use of Khadi, picketing toddy shops, boycotting shops selling foreign cloth, and eradicating Untouchability.
In 1921, Periyar courted imprisonment for picketing toddy shops in Erode. When his wife as well as his sister joined the agitation, it gained momentum, and the administration was forced to come to a compromise. He was again arrested during the Non - cooperation movement and the temple entrance movement.
In 1922, periyar was elected the President of theMadras Presidency. Congress Committee during the Thirupur session, where he advocated strongly for reservation in government jobs and education. His attempts were defeated in the Congress party due to a strong presence of discrimination and indifeference, which led to him leaving the party in 1925.
In 1956, despite warnings from P. Kakkan, the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Periyar organised a procession to the Marina to burn pictures of the Hindu God Rama. Periyar was subsequently arrested and confined to prison.
The activities of Periyar continued when he went to Bangalore in 1958 to participate in the All India Official Language Conference. There he stressed the need to retain English as the Union Official Language instead of Hindi. Five years later, Periyar travelled to North India to advocate the eradication of the caste system. Nearing Periyar's last years, an award was given to him by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and it was presented to him by the Union Education Minister, Triguna Sen in Madras (Chennai), on 27 June 1970. In his last meeting at Thiagaraya Nagar, Chennai on 19 December 1973, Periyar declared a call for action to gain social equality and a dignified way of life.
E.V. Ramasamy propagated the principles of rationalism, self-respect, women’s rights and eradication of caste. He opposed theexploitation and marginalisation of the poor people.His work has greatly revolutionised the Tamil society and has significantly removed caste-based discrimination. He is also responsible for bringing new changes to the Tamil alphabet.
The citation awarded by the UNESCO described E.V. Ramasamy as "the prophet of the new age, the Socrates of South East Asia, father of social reform movement and arch enemy of ignorance, superstitions, meaningless customs and base manners.
On 24 December 1973, Periyar died at the age of 94.
Through this period, Thiru Vi. Ka. continued to remain active in politics and the Indian independence struggle. He was considered to be one of the three pillars of the Indian National Congress in Tamil Nadu, even becoming the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee in 1926. He spent much time touring Tamil Nadu, making speeches on the need for independence. He remained active well into his sixties, and did not retire from politics until Indian independence in 1947.
Thiru Vi. Ka. died on 19 September 1953 at the age of 71.
During the late 1970s and early 80s, subaltern historiography emerged as an alternative to the nationalist, Marxist and colonial historiography, accusing the latter of robbing the common people of their agency. However, within the nationalist historiography there were attempts to marginalise nationalists owing to religious reasons.
One such marginalised figure was George Joseph (1887-1938), who was always seen as a Christian nationalist. A multifaceted personality, he was a famous lawyer, journalist, a trade unionist and a champion of subaltern.
George Joseph remains practically unknown among the freedom fighters of suth India, despite his being in the vanguard of struggle for freedom along with great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahadev Desai.
Born in Chengannur, Kerala, on June 5, 1887, Joseph had his school education in Kerala and went to the Madras Christian College in 1903. He did M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and went on to study Law at Middle Temple in London in 1908. During his stay in London, he came into contact with several great Indian revolutionaries and freedom fighters of the day. George Joseph, completing his studies, left London in December 1908 and arrived in India in January, 1909.
AGAINST CRIMINAL TRIBES
George Joseph married Susannah and both went to Madras in 1910. During his short stay in Madras, he contributed to the South Indian Mail, which later became defunct. Later, he, through his friend Gopala Menon, a criminal lawyer, came to Madurai and started his legal practice in 1910.
Within a few years, Joseph, modelling himself on Eardley Norton, a prominent lawyer and one of the founding members of Indian National Congress, established himself as a leading criminal lawyer in Madurai.
He was one of the first members to have vehemently opposed the Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) at a time when even members from the affected communities such as Piramalai Kallars and Maravars did not raise their voice. He fought for their cause in courts, wrote extensively in newspapers and espoused their rights as labourers in the Madura Mill.
Even to this day, members of the Kallar community pay homage to him on his death anniversary and name their children as Rosappoo or Rosappo Durai . Elders in the community say it is not clear whether he was referred to as Rosappoo Durai because he used to wear a rose on the lapel of his jacket or a mispronunciation of Joseph.
Joseph's main contribution was against the punitive powers of CTA, 1911, by which members of the criminal tribes had their fingerprints taken and their mobility restricted. Under Section 10(a) of the Act, hours were fixed for them to report to the police.
In 1919-20, 1,400 Kallars were brought under this Section. The hours fixed were 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., which compelled them to sleep at the police station every day. This made life difficult for the Kallars and the women in the community had no safety. In April, 1920, the Piramalai Kallars rioted in Madurai and a subsequent official enquiry at which George Joseph was present directed that Section 10(a) be applied more sparingly in future.
Representations made by him and others resulted in a more humane approach by the government against these communities. His 1936-diary contains entries regarding visits by delegations of Kallars who had come to him for advice on various issues.
FIRST LABOUR UNION
He played a leading part in setting up one of the early trade unions in India in Madurai. Madurai Labour Union was formed with the help of J. N. Ramanathan of Justice Party and George Joseph in 1918.
Eamon Murphy, in his book, Unions in Conflict: A Comparative Study of Four South Indian Textile Centres, 1918-1939, ' states that Ramanathan's motives for becoming engaged in the labour union are not clear. Although he used labour meetings to criticise the Congress, he was ready to work with individual nationalists such as George Joseph within the union. It was the above said two events which formed the political evolution of George Joseph.
Joseph was introduced to Mahatma Gandhi by Rajaji on March 22, 1919, in Chennai and at once he was mesmerised by the presence and words of the Mahatma. Later, Gandhi came to Madurai on March 26, 1919, and stayed at the residence of Joseph. Joseph played a leading role in organising a public meeting for Gandhi in Madurai on March 29, 1919, in which 20,000 people attended.
They were administered the ‘Satyagraha pledge' as an act of resistance to the Rowlett Act. A resolution was passed at this meeting to the effect that the people of Madurai were fully prepared to observe a hartal on April 6, 1919. On April 5, 1919, Joseph organised a huge procession in Madurai. At the meeting, he appealed to the people to stop work and observe fast the next day. This was translated into rebellious action by a large section of people and all shops remained closed on April 6, 1919. Joseph became the trusted lieutenant of Gandhi in Madurai from that moment.
In the 1920s, he left Madurai to join politics at the national level. In February 1920, Motilal Nehru made Joseph the Editor of ‘The Independent' newspaper in Allahabad. During this time, Joseph was arrested with members of the Nehru family on the charge of sedition on December 6, 1921. On September 27, 1923, he assumed the editorship of Gandhi's ‘Young India' from Rajaji. The tenure lasted for about six months.
RETURN TO SOUTH
As a socially engaged leader, Joseph, after coming to south India, participated in the Vaikkom Temple entry struggle in March 1924, much against Gandhi's dislike. Gandhi wrote a letter on April 6, 1924 stating that temple entry was a problem of the Hindus and let them solve it themselves.
In his words, “I think that you should let the Hindus do the work. It is they who have to purify themselves. You can help by your sympathy and by your pen, but not by organising the movement and certainly not offering Satyagraha.” (Gandhi M.K. (1959) Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi XXIII P.391)
Joseph did not look at the Vaikkom struggle as an isolated movement for temple entry but perceived it as a denial of basic civic right of free entry to public space for the ‘untouchables' and participated in the struggle.
In January, 1925, Joseph and his wife returned to Madurai where they took up Gandhi's constructive programmes, which included promotion of khadi, removal of untouchability and restoration of communal harmony.
From 1925 to 1938, Joseph kept himself in touch with all political activities. In 1929, at the request of the Congress, he contested the municipal elections believing that the Congress would support him. However, he lost the election which made his political isolation complete. Yet, he came back to politics. In July 1937, he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly from Madura-cum-Ramnad-Tirunelveli constituency.
An avid reader, George Joseph was to be found more often in the Connemara Public Library and Literary Society in Chennai, and on his return to Madurai he renewed his membership at the Victoria Edward Library where he used to spend at least two hours in the evening.
His grandson, George Gheverghese Joseph, in his book George Joseph: The Life and Times of a Kerala Christian Nationalist, 2003, says that print media was the important means to express his views and it was through The Hindu most of his views came to the public sphere. Political and social issues formed the major part of his contributions. Joseph's relationship with Periyar E. V. Ramasamy was a complex one but still he admired him because of his uncompromising stand against the Swarajists and his gutsy approach to stand and fight alone when needed.
He admired B.R. Ambedkar and corresponded with him on Vaikkom struggle and mass conversion. Joseph had a special relationship with Kamaraj. As a youngster, Kamaraj was busy with Joseph in organising demonstrations against Simon Commission and successfully organised thousands of volunteers near Tirumalai Naicker Mahal. When Kamaraj was implicated in the ‘Virudhunagar Conspiracy Case' in 1933, Joseph and Varadarajulu Naidu argued on his behalf and proved the charges to be baseless.
During his later days, Joseph became highly critical of Congress and Gandhi's views and in an article titled “Gandhiji's New Formula in The Hindu , he criticised Gandhi's views on khadi , Salt Act and Prohibition.
Joseph, after prolonged illness, died at the age of 50 at American Mission Hospital in Madurai on March 5, 1938. His requiem mass was held at St. Mary's Church and he was laid to rest at the East Gate Cemetery.
Gandhi, on hearing the news of Joseph's death, wrote to Susannah, “I have before me your most pathetic and humane letter. I have seen your longer and fuller letter to Mahadev Desai. You must not grieve. That will show lack of faith in God. He gives and takes away. And surely it is with Joseph. You will come to me whenever you can and want to. You shall remain a dear daughter and more so, if possible, now that Joseph is no more in our midst in the flesh. Love to you and children — Bapu.”
The Congress government in 1966 erected a statue of him at Yanaikkal junction. It was unveiled by the then Home Minister P. Kakkan.
Thanks to The Hindu