If you have never heard of Krishnammal Jagannathan, you may never forget her now. ‘Courageous’ doesn’t begin to describe her. Born into the Dalit caste during the Indian Freedom Struggle, she felt particularly called to live out Gandhi’s teachings in her life. During her time in college, she even had the opportunity to live with Gandhiji for two days, and after his assassination she worked closely with Vinoba Bhave in a constructive program effort to convince landlords to give land to the landless workers who were living as their virtual slaves, and she was particularly moved by the plight of Dalit women whom she saw as living a double slavery: to their husbands as well as to their landlords. Inspired, she will be the first to admit, by almost a driving force of grace, Krishnammal and her husband went on to found, on the same principles of Bhave’s land gift movement, the organization Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI) in 1981. She was recognized for her lifetime accomplishments in 2008 with the Right Livelihood Award, for having helped to redistribute land in her life to close to 13,000 Dalit women.
The Metta Center was honored to welcome “Amma” (“mother”) Krishnammal to our office that same year. While with us, she shared many of her powerful stories of nonviolence in action, and I mean nonviolence of the brave. One small story found her being chased down by angry landlords who were intent on pouring gas on her to burn her alive for her commitment to the Dalit women’s rights. She knew then and there that if she ran away, they would be done with her, light a match and she’d be dead. So she had another thought: sit down. And she did: instead of running away, she sat down and began to meditate. And the men stopped. They left her alone. Describing the dynamic at stake, she stated with the power that comes from great simplicity of conviction: “I was not afraid to die, but they were afraid to kill me.”
She was on fire, alright, but from within.
Learn more about the organization LAFTI and support the work that they are doing in any way you can.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org