Adieu K.R. Gouri, 'Iron Lady' of Kerala and inspiration to women leaders

Gouri Amma had a mind of her own and always lived life on her own terms which did not go down well with the patriarchal society in Kerala 

Parvati Sasankan May 12, 2021
Adieu K.R. Gouri

K.R.Gouri, also addressed fondly as Gouri Amma, bid farewell on Tuesday at the age of 102 due to age-related ailments. Ferocious, Rebel, Robust are the words that come to everybody’s mind whenever her name is called. K.R. Gouri Amma was indeed the most admired and feared woman in Kerala politics.

Born to an aristocratic landlord family in 1919, at Kalathiparambil House, Kerala, she was the seventh daughter of Kalapathiparambil Raman and Parvathy Amma. Nurtured and supported by her father, K.R. Gouri  graduated from Government Maharaja’s college and St Teresa’s College in Ernakulam and obtained a law degree from Government Law College.

K.R. Gouri practiced as a lawyer which her father was supportive of, and could have shone in the profession, but chose not to.

Introduction to politics

Her life took a turn when K.R. Gouri’s brother K.R. Sukumaran introduced her to the Marxist ideology. Sukumaran was already a member of the Communist Party of India, and in charge of several trade unions.

She first joined political activism lead by A.K. Gopalan in 1938, and then became a cardholder of the Communist Party of India in 1948, the year of the famous Calcutta Thesis. The party was banned, the party leaders went underground and those who were arrested went through horrendous police torture. Many of her comrades were killed. K.R. Gouri was beaten up with sticks but came out of prison with her head held high.

Kerala's first woman minister

In 1957, when CPI stalwart E.M.S Namboodiripad formed the government in Kerala as the first non-Congress chief minister of independent India, K.R. Gouri was sworn in as revenue minister, the first woman minister of Kerala.

She got married to T.V. Thomas, minister of labor and transport and it was the first instance of two ministers marrying one other.

But in 1964, CPI split into two and that strained their marital life. Gouri Amma pitched her lot with the newly formed Communist Party of India-Marxist, but T.V.Thomas chose to stay with CPI. They separated but never divorced.

In her last interview to Manorama News, K.R. Gouri mentioned she was ambitious and not meant for marital life because it meant making a few adjustments expected of women tying the nuptial knot. However, her relations with T.V.Thomas remained cordial till he died of cancer in 1977.

Pioneer of land reforms

K.R.Gouri was an astute leader.  Her biggest achievement was passing and implementing the historical land reforms bill that abolished landlordism and gave land to the tillers. It took her all of ten years to get it enforced.

In 1980-81, she became minister for agriculture, social welfare, industries and vigilance and administration of justice in the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of chief minister E K Nayanar, a CPI-M stalwart.

In the run-up to the Kerala Assembly election in1987, she was projected as the chief ministerial candidate but was side-lined once the LDF emerged victorious. Nayanar again became the chief minister, and Gouri Amma was made a minister.

In 1994, K.R.Gouri was expelled from the CPI-M.

A mind of her own

Not one to bow down, Gouri Amma launched her own party Janapadithya Samrakshina Samiti (JSS) and was with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) for a few years, when she also served as a minister from 2001-2006, before again lending her full support to the CPI-M.

Her autobiography Atmakatha won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi  Award in 2011.

She remained a political leader till the end of her life.

Gouri Amma was an ambitious woman; the path she chose was different.

She had a mind of her own and always lived life on her own terms which did not go down well with the patriarchal society. She was an inspiration to many women leaders.

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. Views are personal. She can be contacted at  


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