'Gandhian' couple get alternate Nobel

Published: Thursday, October 2, 2008, 11:30 [IST]

Chennai, Oct 2: Krishnammal Jagannathan, popularly known as 'Amma', has chosen the 'Gandhian' method of supporting the weaker sections of the society. The massacre of 44 christian women and children four decades ago by dominant landlords flustered Krishnammal and made her to take up the step of 'Gandhigiri' way of solving issues. Krishnammal by her husband, Sankaralingam's support stood up for the weaker sections of the society to realise her vision of social justice and sustainable human development.

Land for The Tillers Freedom (LAFTI), organisation by the octogenarian Padma Shree awardees (Krishnammal and Sankaralingam), help the landless Dalit Christians to become self-sufficient. Recognising the couple's efforts, this year's Right To Livelihood Award, an alternate Nobel Peace Prize, was conferred on Wednesday, Oct 1. The award will be bestowed in December.

"The award is a prize for our sacrifice. We had gone to jail for the cause of landless poor, who are being exploited by landlords, who treat farm workers like bonded labour. We will be satisfied only when the labourers got their rightful place in society," she said.

She said the award money would be utilised for a housing scheme for the landless poor in Nagapattinam district.

"The award money is like the coins deposited in a Hundi temple. We cannot touch it. The money will be utilised for the welfare of poor. Most of them do not have houses," she said.

The couple are among four prominent people to share this year's prestigious Right to Livelihood Award, also known as the "alternative Nobel".

Profile of the couple

Krishnammal Jagannathan was born to a landless Dalit family in 1926. Amma, shared stage with Mahatma Gandhi in her childhood and was involved in activism and social work since a very young age. 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 and Krishnammal married in 1950, having decided only to marry in independent India.

However, the problems confronting her were not entirely new — she had seen her mother Nagammal, a Dalit woman from Ayyankottai village, toiling hard to raise the children. In fact, the story goes, that Nagammal was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, but had to trek to the mountains to gather feed for the cattle — the only livelihood for the family — due to extreme poverty. There, she gave birth to a baby and had to labour back carrying the infant in a bundle of grass.

To begin with, she faced stiff resistance to secure just one acre land for a Dalit family. “When we first tried to secure land that was in the hands of upper class landlords and temples, to help the poor, we faced severe opposition. Large tracts of lands that were against the ceiling act were benami dealings. As soon as we found such land, the owner would go to the court and use his powers to prevent us from taking it over,"...


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