Krishnammal Jagannathan at 94: “Try to solve every problem in a non-violent way!”

News 16.06.2020

Krishnammal Jagannathan has carried the Gandhian legacy into the 21st century, never ceasing to serve the needs of the marginalised.


Krishnammal Jagannathan has a long journey behind her helping landless and marginalised people break out of poverty. Celebrating her 94th birthday on Tuesday, June 16, she says she is far from finished with her fight.

Jagannathan was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award together with her husband, Sankaralingam Jagannathan, for their lifelong commitment to protesting against social injustices and advancing the rights of the most vulnerable populations in India. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, the Jagannathans have advocated for the redistribution of land to rural landless people. They saw this as an essential element for building a more equitable society and ensuring sustainable development.

Krishnammal Jagannathan with Jakob von Uexkull, Founder of the Right Livelihood Award, in 2008.

In her 94 years, Jagannathan has seen many changes in the world, she said in a recent interview with the Right Livelihood Foundation.

“Economically, every country has become very powerful, and science has advanced rapidly,” she said. “[There have been] many political changes. Medically, so much advance as well, especially women have become very powerful now.”

However, the work is far from finished, she said, noting that future generations must learn to act in solidarity with each other globally.

“Try to solve every problem in a non-violent way: no violence!” she said. “We must feel we are coming together, joining together spiritually and economically on a community basis.”

Jagannathan’s work has long focused on empowering marginalised populations, including Dalits, who are members of the lowest social group in India’s caste system – which, though constitutionally abolished in 1950, is still very much a part of Indian society. In fact, she is a Dalit herself, who was able to attend university despite coming from a poor family.

In 1981, she and her husband founded the non-governmental organisation Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI). The organisation’s aim has been to help poor people – especially women – buy land, redistributing over 15,000 acres in the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu over the years. Additionally, Jagannathan’s efforts have also resulted in the redistribution of about 32,000 acres to landless Dalits in the state of Bihar.

LAFTI’s focus has since also expanded to constructing houses, providing education and job training, distributing domestic animals and giving emergency assistance when needed.

LAFTI has been involved in housing construction since the 1980s, often as part of relief efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Jagannathan has continued her work at LAFTI even after her husband passed away in 2013 at the age of 100. To this day, she is in touch with her team each morning and evening to consult on various issues.

Currently, the organisation is working on building a total of 500 houses for people whose homes were destroyed by Cyclone Gaja in 2018. So far, 54 houses have been completed.

“Our future programme is to remove all the mud huts and build concrete houses for each and everyone,” Jagannathan said.

Her passion for creating a better world has not waned one bit over the years.

“Jai Jagat!” she said with her fist in the air, which translates to “Long live the world!”

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