The Freedom Fighter


FOR KRISHNAMMAL Jagannathan, the day begins at 4am and ends at 9pm, when she curls up on a mat, or a bed in whichever village she might be that day. She then sleeps as easily as a child. She has maintained a simple lifestyle throughout her five decades of activism.

Age: 82
Profession: Activist, won the 2008 Right Livelihood Award (better known as the Alternative Nobel) along with her husband
Well-known secret: She runs a massive land reform programme but owns no land herself
Photo: Roy Sinai

Krishnammal was born in a poor Dalit family. As young people, she and Jagannathan, the man who would become her husband, were deeply influenced by Gandhi and then Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoodhan movement. They swore to be married only in an independent India.

Since 1981, the couple, based in Nagapattinam, have helped in the purchase and distribution of around 13,000 acres for the landless poor through a programme called Land for the Tillers’ Freedom. “When I see someone suffering, I put myself in the shoes of that person. My parents didn’t own land. They were agricultural labourers. I know the hardships of the poor,” she says. Ask her the secret of her fitness and she is amused. Her diet is as spartan as the rest of her life. “I eat only vegetarian food. It’s usually rice and whatever is available,” she says. “As one ages, the body grows weaker, but the spirit grows stronger. The spirit is nurtured by the virtues you practice in life,” says Krishnammal. Perhaps that’s the secret of her bubbling energy.


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