Gandhiji’s words were prophetic when he said, “when the history of India’s fight for independence comes to be written, the sacrifice made by the women of India will occupy the foremost place”. The contribution of the women: educated and uneducated, who sacrificed their time volunteering, campaigning, protesting, fasting, and donating to the causes of freedom was the backbone of India’s freedom struggle.
A V Kuttimalu Amma was one such freedom fighter and prominent social worker who hailed from the Malabar region of present-day Kerala. Born in 1905, in the Anakkara Vadakath family: a family that gave the nation many women activists and social workers like Captain Lakshmi, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Subashini Ali, etc., Kuttimalu Amma grew up hearing stories about the works of great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu and other great leaders. It was post her marriage in 1926, that she began her work as a public activist when Gandhiji visited the state in connection with his mission on the upliftment of the Harijans.
Kuttimalu Amma was an active member of the Mahila Sangh in Calicut. In 1930, when prominent leaders like Vallabhbhai Patel and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya were arrested, it was decided to observe 15 August 1930 as All India Political Sufferers’ Day. The Mahila Sangh, under the leadership of Kuttimalu, went around the town to propagate this. This was the first time when the women in Malabar joined the national freedom struggle directly. Kuttimalu was also an active swadeshi worker and encouraged other women to wear only khadi and motivated them to boycott foreign cloth. In 1931, she led groups of women to picket shops selling foreign cloth in Calicut.
Kuttimalu was driven by sheer determination, and this is evident from the fact that despite being incarcerated multiple times in her political career, she continued to take part in the freedom movement with the same vigour. In 1932, during the Civil Disobedience Movement, Kuttimalu, breaking the ban order, led a procession of women holding her 2-month-old baby in her arms. She was arrested and put to 2 years of rigorous imprisonment. When she reached the jail, she was prevented from taking her baby in with her. The firebrand that she was, she quoted the relevant rules and laws and thereby managed to take her baby to jail with her. This daring act of hers greatly motivated other women to come forth and take part in the freedom movement.
In 1940, when the individual satyagraha of Gandhi was sending ripples all across the nation, Kuttimalu took on a leading role in organising people for the same. One day, while addressing a public meeting at Chevayur, she was arrested and jailed for a year. In 1942, she was again sentenced to two years imprisonment for her role in the Quit India Movement. Post her release in 1944, she volunteered to participate in the Delhi Chalo strike, which compelled the British authorities to jail the satyagrahis again.
Apart from her active participation in the freedom struggle, she was one of the founding members of the All Kerala Women’s League and an active member of the Women’s Indian Association and the All India Women’s Conference. She was a member of the All India Congress Committee, the Congress Working Committee, and the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee and later became its President. At a time when women rarely stood for elections of the legislative assemblies, she contested, won, and served as a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly twice in 1937 and 1946. She was also the Municipal Councillor of Calicut.
Apart from politics, Kuttimalu was also a social worker. She worked for the orphans, destitute, and also opened a Juvenile Home for the rehabilitation of young delinquents. She never retired from public life and continued to serve the country post-independence, till she passed away in 1985. As she herself said, “a politician can never retire from active politics till life ends.” In recognition of her path-breaking work, she was honoured with the Mallur Govindapillai-Veluthambi Dalava Award for her services at the National and State level and was fondly called “Amma” by many.