Firebrand Communist K.R. Gouri, who passed away at a private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday morning due to age-related ailments, has to her credit several firsts in her career trajectory that reflect both the ascent and descent of a women’s empowerment renaissance in Kerala.
The 102-year-old held to her name the honour of being the longest serving woman legislator in Kerala Assembly, the one who has served in the largest number of Assemblies, the oldest woman member in the Assembly, the oldest woman Minister and the one with the highest number of victories in elections. She was also one of the ablest administrators Kerala has seen.
She was shifted from her house in Cherthala, Alappuzha to her niece’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram last month, and was admitted to a private hospital on April 22 following fever and giddiness. She was in and out of ICU in the past week, and breathed her last at 7 a.m. on May 11.
Gouri Amma came into the public eye in 1946 as a student activist. She participated in student struggles as part of the Quit India Movement and was the first woman from the Ezhava community to graduate in law.
Except in the first universal suffrage elections in Travancore in 1948 and in the 1977 and 2006 Assembly elections, Gouri Amma emerged victorious in all other Assembly polls. Of the 16 elections contested by her between 1948 and 2006, Gouri Amma won 13 times. Twice, she represented Cherthala and Aroor eight times in the Assembly. She was a Minister in Communist-led Ministries in 1957, 1967, 1980, and 1987.
In 1951, Gouri Amma was elected to Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly and Madras Assembly Constituencies in Malabar Area from Thuravoor and to Travancore-Cochin Assembly in 1954 from Cherthala.
She served as Minister for Revenue, Excise and Devaswom from April 1957 to 1959 in the world’s first democratically elected Communist government led by Chief Minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad. Gouri Amma was propelled into limelight after she piloted a historic land reforms bill that led to political, socio-cultural and economic changes and ending centuries-old feudalism.
Later, she handled Revenue, Civil Supplies, Sales Tax, Excise and Social Welfare portfolios from March 1967 to October 1969 in the second EMS Ministry.
T.V. Thomas and Gouri Amma were of the State’s tallest Communist icons and its most-storied political pairing. Thomas and Gouri Amma who were Ministers in the two Cabinets headed by EMS also had the rare privilege of husband and wife being legislators. The other couple was K. Damodara Menon and Leela Damodara Menon, legislators of the Second Assembly.
When the Communist Party split in 1964, the couple found themselves in opposing camps. When both wife and husband became Ministers representing the two parties in the coalition Cabinet in 1967, they stayed in adjacent official residences in Thiruvananthapuram.
In the E. K. Nayanar Ministry, Gouri Amma was the Agriculture and Social Welfare from January 1980 to October 1981. From March 1987 to June 1991, she was Minister for Industries, Social welfare, Vigilance and Administration of Justice in second Nayanar Ministry.
Gouri Amma, who was expelled from the CPI(M) in 1994 for anti-party activities, founded the Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy (JSS). The JSS soon became a partner in the United Democratic Front (UDF). Gouri Amma handled the portfolios of Agriculture University, Animal Husbandry and Coir in the Oommen Chandy Cabinet during 2004 to 2006. Later, she parted ways with the Congress-led UDF.
When Gouri Amma turned 101, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan duly felicitated her by noting that “political history of Kerala” and growth of Communism in the State could not be written without accounting for her. In a rare honour, the Kerala Assembly decided not to hold its session on the day to enable legislators to participate in the function to honour the veteran leader.
CM Vijayan pays tribute
Paying tribute to Gouri Amma, Mr. Vijayan said that she had played an unparalleled role in building the Communist party
Gouri Amma's life was a heroic saga of liberation, he said, adding that she was a pioneering woman leader who battled and surmounted long odds. Mr. Vijayan said that Gouri Amma was an undaunted fighter all her life. "She had faced police brutality under the colonial regime headed by C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer. She was among the last of the Communists who were also freedom fighters. As Minister, Gouri Amma was known for her administrative acumen and law-making expertise. Her life was the subject of poems and communist lore. Gouri Amma would remain an iconic figure for Keralites," he added.