The revolutionary KR Gouri Amma, who stood firmly beside the oppressed, the workers and the farmers against feudalism, evil landlordism and ruling class oppression, passed away after an eventful life of over a hundred years on Tuesday. At a time when women were restricted from stepping out of the house, let alone being part of a political movement, Gouri Amma defied all customs and traditions to step into the society, wielding the red communist flag with the oppressed classes. She truly added a distinct chapter to Kerala history, fought standing steadfast against police brutality and braving prison. Even those with differences of opinion with her politics or the organisation she was part of cannot deny her life dedicated to her social commitment and will for change. In the first Kerala assembly elections held in 1957, Gouri Amma was elected from Aroor constituency in Alappuzha as a Communist party candidate and went on to make a mark in history as a minister in the first democratically-elected Communist cabinet. It is indeed inspiring that while being limited to the state, she introduced the historic land reform bill which set a model for the entire nation. It must be highlighted that she did not evict a single tenant from her family's vast farmlands, and they were given the legally sanctioned land while the Agrarian Reforms Bill was enacted. History later retold the tales of several notable leaders who sought to evict the tenants on their land by hook or by crook as soon as they heard of the reform being brought forth by the Communist party to end the long years of feudalism.
Anyone vocal about women empowerment and advancement point to Gouri Amma as a model. One can only see her occupying positions that she won through sheer strength and determination, and none of them was secured through concessions or women's reservation. And that is the lesson she imparts and is still relevant in Indian context, where the women's reservation in parliament and state assemblies has not got anywhere yet. However, it is pertinent to see if patriarchy has been a roadblock for her. It is often pointed out that the left front that came into power in the first half of the 90s ought to have made Gouri Amma the Chief Minister, and that after coming into power with the slogans of her going to lead the ministry, the CPM-led front ditched her and made EK Nayanar the CM. Leading party ideologue EMS Namboothirippad, justified the move saying that the party does not hand out roles to those aspiring for it, that KR Gouri was given what she deserved, and that she was wrong in being an aspirant. The right and wrong in this will probably continue to be a matter of controversy. Whatever it be, a body of opinion still exists that if Gouri Amma were given the opportunity to lead a left front government, it would have created history.
Sidelined from the party, she formed a new political outfit called the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samiti (JSS), which joined the UDF where she became a minister- which the same section believes to be a foul that shouldn't have happened. Those who say it was not just because she was a woman, but because she was from a backward caste that she was sidelined, also would point to how she had opposed EMS arguing for economic reservations back when the VP Singh government in the Centre was enacting the Mandal Commission Report. Now, just like the Modi government in the Centre, Pinarayi's government in the state has also enacted EWS reservation. Is it the underlying lesson that regardless of who comes into power, the left or the right, the undercurrents of upper caste mind-set will remain? Those who create history like Gouri Amma emerge in the horizon only in rare times. When the left politics, which was her platform, is facing threat of extinction as in Bengal, what remains to be seen is whether its victory in Kerala - won at the cost of many a compromise - will attain the resilience to survive.