I sincerely believe that the social, economic and spiritual crisis we are facing today in the world can be overcome through universal sisterhood and science and spirituality...

Acceptance speech – Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan / LAFTI

Krishnammal spontaneously decided to speak freely during the Award Ceremony.The following is the speech Krishnammal had prepared.

At the outset, I would like to thank the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, particularly Mr. Ole von Uexkull for visiting us in the Nagapattinam area of Tamil Nadu in South India, understanding our work and conferring this rare honor on Shri. Jagannathan, my life partner, and myself. I also wish to thank Mr. David Albert, our long-time family friend and well-wisher of Land for Tillers’ Freedom, for nominating me for this most prestigious award. On this occasion, I reminisce with gratitude all the men and women in the LAFTI villages and the tireless staff of LAFTI who stand together in our mission to build a new, just and compassionate, Sarvodaya (welfare of all) community.

When I think of Right Livelihood, the following three aspects come to my mind: Right Vision, Right Thinking, and Right Action. This also reminds me of Lord Buddha who emphasized Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Action, and also Swami Ramalinga, my spiritual mentor and guide, whose philosophy of love and compassion to all beings and the unity of all religious paths, has continued to inspire me since early in life.

Right Vision

Right Vision is fundamental to right living and I have been blessed with the company of many, ordinary persons such as my mother, a peasant woman – who really wasn’t ordinary – to extraordinary luminaries such as Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. From them and from the spiritual classics in Tamil, I began to develop a vision of compassion toward all beings, equanimity and benevolence.

After completing my primary school in the nearby village of Pattiveeranpatti, I traveled with my brother Muniyandi to the nearby city of Madurai in the year 1936 to live in a hostel to pursue my secondary education. It was there, through the hostel warden that I came across the teachings of Swami Ramalinga Vallazhar, the late 19th Century Tamil poet and a saint, whose appeal for simple living, high thinking, the inherent-divinity of all religions and unity of all paths, and compassion for all beings in the world touched my inner-being. The divine light lit by him continues to guide and expand my vision till this day.

The ancient spiritual classic of Tamilnadu, Thiruvasagam, explained the interconnectivity and evolution of man, much before Mendel and modern science, as below:

(Krishnammal sings this prayer-song in Tamil) 

Pullahi, (became a grass)
Poodahi, Puzhuvai, Maramahi (to become, worm and other vegetations)
Paravai, Panbahi, (became birds and reptiles)Palviruhamaahi, (took the form of umpteen other animals and beings)
Vallasurarahi, (to become a powerful-man)
Manitharai, Thevarai, Peyai, Kanangalai (to evolve as a human-the spiritual being, and higher manifestations)
Itthavara sangamuthul piranthileithen Yemperuman! (I am born into this confluence of creation, by the grace of you Oh Lord!)

While the above prayer highlights the oneness of humanity with the rest of the beings on this planet Earth, Swami Ramalinga expresses the height of compassion in the following words:
“Vadiya Payirai kandapothellam vadinene” (I suffer whenever I see the wilting plant).

My mother Nagammal had equally influenced me in developing compassion for my fellow beings, particularly the down-trodden and oppressed, herself being a ‘Dalit (untouchable) woman’, the ostracized social class in India. While we were hosting a meal for visiting dignitaries and honorable guests at our home, she would sneak through the back-door with food to give to someone hungry and needy in the neighborhood or in the street. This is the spirit of compassion that rushed me to Kilavenmani, the village where the hut in which 44 Dalit women and children sought shelter was torched on Christmas night 1968 by a landlord and his henchmen, in retaliation against the demand for higher wages. We have never rested since then, and have faced so many trials, struggles, and challenges over the past 40 years.

Right Thinking

I have been blessed to be in the company of Mahathma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Shri Jeyaprakash Narayan and Shri. Shankar Rao Dev, to name some of the people who molded my thinking in the right path, inspiring me to lead a life dedicated toward the uplift of the landless poor, particularly women. They were the role models, living a life of renunciation and voluntary poverty, consuming less and less from the Mother Earth, much before the climate change and the perils of consumption were ever discussed or known to humanity.

I was inspired by Vinoba Bhave, Gandhi’s ‘spiritual guru’, who walked the length and breadth of India to find a nonviolent solution to end the suffering of the landless poor. I marched with Vinoba in his ‘Bhoodhan (land-gift) movement’, the ‘silent revolution’ promoting social transformation. He appealed to the landlords to donate the land to the village community, bringing about a paradigm-shift in thinking, making the landlords and the landless-poor come together to share the resources in the community, voluntarily. Vinoba called himself a ‘spiritual terrorist’, setting fire to the hearts of people. I was set on fire when I came to know about the incident of carnage in Kilavenmani village and resolved to end the suffering of the landless poor, in a nonviolent way.

Whether it is the land that provides sustainable livelihood for the American Indians, native Australians, or the landless peasants of India, or employment and food security for the poor and the needy, the change has to come from within the hearts and minds of people, prior to effecting sustainable change in the society. While the problems are global and at times seem insurmountable, they can be addressed locally, through nonviolent social action. Vinoba Bhave took Gandhi’s call for Gram Swaraj (independent, small, sustainable self-governing communities) one step further by giving a new slogan ‘Jai Jegath’ (Long Live the World), – a world devoid of exploitation and suffering. This had given Jagannathan, my life partner and myself a lifelong vocation, to spearhead the movement for Gram Swaraj in India, particularly the Tamilnadu in southern India.

Right Action

Right and just action have been the corner stones of our lives and I learnt the art and essence of Right and Just Social Action from Jagannathan who organized and held numerous Sathyagrahas (a term coined by Gandhi for non-violent social action/civil disobedience to address conflicts in society) in his life. On this occasion, I recollect with gratitude my godmother and mentor Dr. Soundram Ramachandran who not only inspired me to follow the path of Right action, but also brought me and Shri. Jagannathan together when we were involved in a constructive program at Gandhigram. Being as innovative in personal as in social life, Jagannathan gave me the wedding-dress (Saree) that he hand-spun himself in his chakra (spinning wheel) for 48 days. The momentum of his spinning chakra had never slackened, and led us in the path of dedicated social action, the movement that continues to this moment.

There are miles to go! But, it is immensely satisfying that through LAFTI – the organization established by us, we have found ways to effect the peaceful transfer of land from landlords to 13,000 landless families in the Cauvery delta region of Tamilnadu. In Bodhgaya, Bihar, the place where Buddha attained Nirvana, a Mahant, the leader of a religious monastery, was sexually exploiting the women, keeping the villages under bonded-slavery. Shri. Jagannathan and myself, after three long years of people-participatory-social action, were able to relieve the sufferings of women from exploitation and bonded labor by distributing 24,000 acres of land among an equal number of families.

The attempt at social action with a spiritual bent of mind had taken us to remote corners of Tamil Nadu. During one of our ‘Gramswarajya padayathras’ (pilgrimage on foot to villages to promote Gandhiji’s vision of self-ruling, self-sustaining villages), the people brought to our notice the destruction of coastal ecosphere, due to the mushrooming shrimp-farms. Jagannathan appealed to the Supreme Court of India, and the team of scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI) outlined clear guidelines and recommendations to protect the coastal ecology that had provided sustenance and livelihood to millions of people for thousands of years on the Eastern coast of peninsular India. The team of dedicated LAFTI workers is still working hard on this issue to implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court of India. Our struggle continues!

We hope the dream and social vision of Sarvodaya (Welfare of All), is possible through concerted, nonviolent, social action. In this context, the recognition the Right Livelihood Award provides is indeed a tribute to Gandhi and Vinoba, and the values of nonviolence, interreligious dialogue and amity, simple lifestyles, high-thinking-low-energy-living that they stood for, and to all those inspired by them around the globe.  In an increasingly complex and globalized world, with problems of climate change, conflicts in the name of religion and ethnicity, the values and methods of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama stand vindicated.

We have a lot to learn from the Swedish community, on the deeply held cultural and social notion of “lagom”, akin to ‘Buddha’s middle-path’. Your government and its policies of environmental protection and conservation, without compromising social justice and development are exemplary and a role model to the rest of the world. I sincerely believe that “everything is possible” when policies for sustainable development reflect people-participation, ethical-science, and right-action.
I thank the Right Livelihood Award Foundation on behalf of the people of India, oppressed and suppressed people all over the world, the LAFTI family and supporters of LAFTI in India, Europe, Japan, and the United States of America, for bestowing the highest honor on us.

I seek the blessings of Ramalinga Swami, – whose Graceful-Divine-Light (Arut Perum Jyothi), and the Greater-Compassion (Thaniperum Karunai) has guided and blessed me all my life, for the well-being of each and every one of you here today, your families, and friends.

(Amma ends with the prayer in Tamil):

Yellam Kaikoodum (Everything will come to fruition),
En Anai Ambalethe, (My call to universal being)
Yellam Vallan Thanaiye Yethu. (In acceptance of the Omni-potent)
Arut-perum Jothi, Thani-perum Karunai (Compassionate-divine light, Omni-present divine light)
Thani-perum Karunai, Arut-perum Jothi, (Omni-present divine light, Compassionate-divine light)

Indru varumo, Nalaikke Varumo, Endru Varumo,
(Will IT* come today, tomorrow or when)
Ariyen En Kove,
(Do not know, my Lord)

Thondru-mala, Vemmayayei Attru
(Devoid of the Illusions, that springforth from one-self)
Vezhikul, Vezhi kidandu
(To dwell beyond the space and time)
Summa kidakkum Sugam  Arut-perum Jothi, Thani-perum Karunai(Compassionate-divine light, Omni-present divine light)

Thani-perum Karunai, Arut-perum Jothi,  (Omni-present divine light, Compassionate-divine light)

(*the eternal bliss of non-being, non-doing)

Krishnammal Jagannathan
Vinoba Ashram
Kuthur – 611 105
Nagapattinam District
Tamil Nadu