Krishnammal Jagannathan – The Person Who Fought the British and Poverty at the Same Time

August 15th, 2017, India is celebrating her 71st Indian Independence day. Administrators claim many milestones have been reached. Though many Non-Government Organizations have joined hands in liberating India from clutches of Starvation by achieving the target of providing minimum two meals a day, and many governments in states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have started Amma canteens and Indira Canteens to provide affordable food, a piece of own land for shelter and agricultural needs is still a mirage to a huge chunk of Indian brethren. It is agricultural, urban and forest land that is targeted by big fishes of nation rampantly in the name of development. Way back in 1951, Acharya Vinoda Bhave had started ‘The Bhoodan Movement’ aka Land Gift Movement, at Pochampally village in Telangana and it received an overwhelming response across the nation. But even after 66 years of massive Bhoodan Movement millions of citizens are deprived of a piece of land to meet their basic needs.

The Focal point of this Independence Day’s feature from Kalam Fan Club is a veteran Gandhian Mrs. Krishnammal Jagannathan,  in her 90s fighting relentlessly to provide landless rural masses with a piece of land to support their livelihood by taking Big-whales like MNCs and Landlords head-on. She is a veteran who along with her Gandhian husband Late, Mr. Sankaralingam Jagannathan started her journey of freedom struggle through Non-cooperation aka satyagraha movement of Mahatma Gandhi and took it forward in Independent India by joining hands with Acharya Vinoada Bhave and have carried Gandhian legacy in 21st century India through movements like Land For Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI).

PC: Right Livelihood Award

Early Life

Krishnammal Jagannathan was born in the year 1926 in Devendra Kula Vellar community. The harsh reality of social injustice was evident from her childhood days as she grew up witnessing her own mother Nagammal toiling and working helplessly even in her advanced stage of pregnancy. As a young girl Krishnammal realized the importance of education, and despite financial hardship at home, she completed her University Education. While in College she was inspired by Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement and jumped into it. It was with Sarvodaya movement she met Mr. Shankaralingam, who became her life partner in later days.

While Krishnammal was from a poor family background, Shankaralingam was from affluent family, who had denounced his aristocrat lifestyle inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and was part of Non-cooperation movement. He was imprisoned for a couple of years for getting identified with Independence struggle. Most interesting aspect of this couple is that they had decided to enter into wedlock only in Independent India and thus married in the year 1950. The Gandhian movement laid the perfect foundation for these two to take the fight of empowering rural India after Independence to help us realize true Independence.


The Couple’s struggle for empowering rural masses can be bifurcated into three segments. 1) Bhoodan Movement—Gifting land voluntarily to needy with Acharya Vinoba Bhave 2) Land-reform movement to eliminate atrocities of landlords on poor 3) Coastal Farm Land protection from Industries.

Learning Experience through Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement

Acharya Vinoba Bhave is renowned reformist of India, who through his massive land reform movement inspired millions of land owners to gift one sixth of their owned land to the needy ones who did not possess even a small piece of land. Shankaralingam being a social activist from pre-independence period actively tread the path laid by Vinoda Bhave through campaigns across Northern India. On his return back to Tamil Nadu, Krishnammal joined hands with Shankaralingam and duo took a massive campaign between 1953 and 1967 and accomplished distribution of about 4 million acres (16,000 km2) of land to millions of landless poor across several Indian states.

Turning Point-1: Massacre of Dalits    

A tragedy involving massacre of 42 Dalits including women and children in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu famous as Kilvenmani massacre, owing to a wage-dispute between landlords and workers disturbed this couple deeply. Both started working for the cause of laborers and took on landlords head on in Thanjavur District from 1968. This incidence also motivated the couple to initiate an organization called Land for Tillers’ Freedom-LAFTI. The motto of the organization was to solve all the disputes between land lords and laborers through negotiation and discussions. Also, the other objective of the organization was to help laborers procure loans for buying lands.

LAFTI which was started in the year 1981 grew up in stature by 2007 and after the demise of her husband Krishnammal, successfully transferred 13,000 acres of land to about 13,000 families. In addition, she has trained people with entrepreneurial efforts like tailoring, plumbing, carpentry, mat weaving, masonry, computer, and electronics education. Even Indian Govt. has taken a leaf from the book of LAFTI to increase the peaceful transfer of land among various parties involved.

Turning Point-2: Protection of Coastal Ecology from Industry clutches

While the first fight was to reform the relationship between local land lords and wagers. Krishnammal was made to take up a massive movement against prawn-farming in Tamil Nadu coasts through large industries based on metro cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi. The disastrous of allowing such prawn-farming in coastal lands of Tamil Nadu was a multitude in nature. Such farms contaminated the drinking water resources of coastal lands and also created barren salty lands in place of fertile agricultural land. This head-on fight with Industrialists resulted in LAFTI volunteers being beaten up by hired goons, and many of them were imprisoned on false allegations of looting and arson. Krishnammal was undeterred by such heinous acts of opponents. She took the fight to Supreme court with Public Interest Petition. And Supreme court even issued orders to ban all prawn farms within 500 meters of the coast. But with political nexus prawn-farming in coastal areas are still rampant and Ninety-one years old Krishnammal is fighting to protect the interests of such coastal communities despite all odds.      

Responsibilities Played

  • With her husband, she has initiated seven non-government organizations for poor
  • Played role of senate member of the Gandhigram Trust and Madurai University
  • Active member of National committee on education, Land Reform committee and the planning committee

Awards and Recognitions

  • Year 2008: Awarded with Right Livelihood Award along with four others which included her husband
  • Year 2008: Opus Prize by the University of Seattle
  • Year 1999: Summit Foundation Award from Switzerland Govt.
  • Year 1996: Bhagavan Mahaveer Award for propagating non-violence
  • Year 1989: Padma Shri by Indian Govt.
  • Year 1988: Jamnalal Bajaj Award

This Independence Day, Kalam Fan Club is proud to bring a feature on freedom fighter of Indian Independence who has carried the legacy of Gandhian Principles to Post-independent India and has not diluted the vigor of struggle even at the age of Ninety one. We are proud of Krishnammal AMMA.

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