KOCHI: Women authors and thinkers practically make up for half of everything achieved by the literary world. Even then, barring some exceptions like Lalithambika Antharjanam and Kamala Das, most of these women are invisible in history. Writer J Devika, as a young feminist in the 1980s, was quite bothered by this. She felt “our history seemed to resemble the western fairy tales”.
She decided to rectify this historical short sight on her own. Her website ‘swatantryavaadini’ is a standing testament to the forgotten feminists of the early 20th century Kerala. Devika has been trying to publish her translation of a series of works by K Saraswathy Amma, but something always got in the way. “So, during the lockdown, I decided to start a website. And then it struck me, that there isn’t much information on most of her contemporaries and the early feminists in our society. None of us knows their works or contributions. This became the theme of the site, a record on the 20th-century women’s rights activists,” Devika explains.
The website introduces the lives and works of feminists like K Saraswathy Amma, V K Chinnammalu Amma, Mrs I C Chacko, Haleema Beevi, B Bhageerathy Amma, Edathatta Rugmini Amma, Padmavathy Amma, Kochattil Kalyanikkutty Amma and many other unknown, yet important figures of the yesteryears.
The name ‘swatantryavaadini’, coined by Devika, draws inspiration from the works of writer Saraswathy Amma, which are ahead of her time. But her contributions never rose to prominence like her contemporaries Lalithambika Antharjanam and Balamani Amma. “She was an unmarried woman. While Antharjanam and Balamani Amma had families to remember them, Saraswathi Amma’s life was forgotten,” Devika says.
The forgotten women
It was very difficult for Devika to find works of most of these forgotten writers, though their kin and men of their families are popular. “During my research, I came across the name Mrs Kuruvila. But barely any information was available on her. Later, I found that she is the wife of a well-known theologian and Christian leader. From his autobiography, I found a remarkable woman, educated in London, and who worked for women’s rights in the Catholic community,” she says.Much like this, everyone knows V K Krishna Menon, but not V K Chinnamalu Amma. “I came across many such anomalies. My website is a memorial for these forgotten brave women,” says Devika.
A HISTORIC RECORD
So far, there are around 150 entries on Devika’s website across genres like history, critique, biography/memory, speeches, poetry, legislative assembly debates etc. “The lockdown gave me time to learn how to create the website and how to organise everything. I did the entire work myself,” says Devika, a senior staff member at the Centre for Development Studies.