“They can do it. But they need my energy to do all the running around”, says 87-year-old Krishnammal Jagannathan. The Gandhian, who was in the city for a meeting on the plight of bonded labourers, is all set to launch her latest project - providing houses to 5000 families, headed by women, in Nagapattinam.
The new project is a follow up to Krishnammal and her husband Jagannathan’s campaign to provide land to landless and bonded labourers. The campaign, which has provided land to over 13,000 families in the state, was inspired by a similar campaign of Gandhian activist Vinobha Bhave. Under the project, where each house is estimated to cost about `3 lakh, Krishnammal hopes to cut down on the labour costs by enlisting the women house owners themselves to build their houses.
“I hope to complete a minimum of 5000 houses. It will need a lot of energy”, says Krishnammal. Born to a landless Dalit family in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu, Krishnammal has struggled through her days, be it to study at a university or to start a lifelong campaign to provide land to the landless poor. Her campaign has earned her several awards. But even at this age Krishnammal is not looking to rest.
In fact, in the last few months after the death of her husband Jagannathan, Krishnammal had been bed-ridden. The couple had been together during every campaign since the pre-independence era, when both of them met during Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. “I was lying down on the bed every day and I was in a state of dizziness. I felt that I would not be able to get up. But on June 1 this month I resolved not to stay in bed anymore,” she says.
Ask her how she manages, and pat comes the answer, “This is how my life is. I will have my medicines and then have food from here and there,” she says. Then she goes on to explain, “When Vinobha Bhave would go out on campaigns, he would have nothing but a glass of milk. He continued his work for years together in this manner. Having worked with him is my greatest privilege.”, she says.
With her latest campaign, Krishnammal hopes to do away with all the miserable houses that have been built for the homeless. “For all the land that was given during our campaign, the ownership is in the name of women. But the houses, which are built on it, are all rundown huts. We will replace all the huts with houses. The campaign is to do away with all these huts,” she says.