The Pioneers: K.P. Janaki

Print edition : June 06, 2008

K.P. Janaki. She won the hearts of thousands through her unwavering dedication to the poor.-

SINGER, actor, freedom fighter and communist all rolled into one. That was K.P. Janaki of Madurai. Affectionately called Amma by thousands of industrial and agrarian workers, tenancy farmers, small cultivators and others, she waged many a heroic battle against exploitation, social oppression, police atrocities and injustice in all forms throughout her 60 years in public life.

Born in 1917 in a poor family, Janaki could not continue her school education beyond Standard VIII. At the age of 12, she joined a theatre group as a singer and actor. Nationalists were then using stage plays to mobilise support.

Janaki took interest in the freedom movement. She used to sing patriotic songs of poet Subramania Bharati in Congress meetings. She married Gurusami, a theatre artist and Congress worker, who took her further into the movement. The couple soon joined the Congress Socialist Party, which started gaining strength in the mid-1930s, and later the Communist Party. Janaki was perhaps the first woman to join the communist movement in Tamil Nadu

Recalling those early days, N. Sankaraiah, chairman, Control Commission of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said: We, the Socialists functioning within the Congress, soon captured the Madurai District Congress Committee defeating veteran Congress leaders A. Vaidyanatha Iyer and N.M.R. Subbaraman.

He commended the role of Janaki and Forward Bloc leader Muthuramalinga Thevar in 1938 in mobilising people for a massive reception for Subhas Chandra Bose when he visited Madurai as Congress president and later in organising anti-imperialist rallies in Madurai and Chennai. She was also the first woman communist to be imprisoned along with a few others from Andhra. She was arrested when she addressed an anti-war meeting in Madras.

Sankariah lauded the untiring efforts of Janaki in building trade unions and organising the kisan movements and agricultural labourers unions in Madurai district. She could bring a large number of women into the working class movement. It was not an easy job in those days, Sankaraiah said. Although Janaki played a commendable role in industrial workers struggles, much of her work was in villages, on the agrarian front. She was in the forefront of protecting the interests of tenants and agricultural workers. She intervened in innumerable cases relating to the eviction of tenants by landowners and was keen on restoring tenants rights. She led numerous struggles by peasants and labourers. She was keen on securing equal wages for men and women.

Janaki intervened even in social disputes involving women. She used to mediate in such cases and protect womens interests. In solving peoples problems, she had her own methods. First she would understand the concrete nature of the issue and then work on a strategy to resolve it. She was very particular that the victim got due relief. She was always available to hear grievances and solve them in meetings with those concerned Ministers, officials and others and convince them of the justness of the cases, Sankariah observed.

Janaki held several elected posts. She was Municipal Councillor, District Board member and a member of the State Assembly (1967-71). As an alert MLA, she raised issues relating to the tenancy law, land reforms and farm wages, besides gender issues as she was also heading the Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Democratic Womens Association. She was respected by successive Chief Ministers, from K. Kamaraj to M. Karunanidhi.

Above all, Janaki, simple and unassuming, won the hearts of thousands of poor people, whose causes she always championed. That was evident in the huge funeral procession for Amma on March 2, 1993.

S. Viswanathan
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