“I am the leader; shoot me first before you kill others”. Accamma Cherian is quoted to have said these words when in the year 1938 she stood before Colonel Watson with such fearlessness, passion, and grit that he was compelled to withdraw his order and a big massacre was thus avoided. Rewind to 1909 when Accamma Cherian was born in a small hamlet in Kanjirapally, Travancore (present-day Kerala). Though a teacher by profession, her actual dream was to see her nation free. So, she quit her well-respected job to join India’s freedom movement.
In the state where she hailed from, the freedom struggle was primarily led by the Travancore State Congress. The people of Travancore led by the Travancore State Congress decided to hold a public demonstration. The Dewan of Travancore using his discretionary powers suppressed the agitation in August 1938. This gave birth to a Civil Disobedience Movement, the first of its kind in Kerala. Leaders of the party were imprisoned, and the movement fell to pieces. It is said that just before the arrest of the President of the party, he nominated Accamma Cherian as his successor as he found her to be a bold, daring, and charismatic woman. She organized a massive rally to put pressure on the rulers to release the jailed leaders and to install a responsible government in Travancore. Accamma who was hardly 29 years at the time, writes in her autobiography, Jeevitham: Oru Samaram (Life: A Protest), “I was aware of the seriousness of the assignment and knew what the consequences could be, yet I volunteered to do the job.” It is said that more than 20,000 people joined the protest that was led by the brave Accamma. People across the country hailed her for her unflinching courage and Gandhiji gave her the title of ‘The Jhansi ki Rani of Travancore’.
In October 1938, Accamma was entrusted by the party to organise the Desasevika Sangh (Female Volunteer Corps). She travelled tirelessly across the country and appealed to the women to join as members of the Desasevika Sangh. Her untiring efforts led to a surge in the number of women volunteers in the local bodies. On 24 December 1939, she attended the annual conference of the Travancore State Congress, for which she was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. In prison, she was harassed, verbally abused, and tortured. After her release from jail, she became a full-time party worker and then went on to become its President. In her presidential address, she welcomed the Quit India Resolution passed at the Bombay session of the Indian National Congress in 1942. Accamma faced a series of arrests for violating ban orders and staging protests. This did not deter her from her mission.
Post-Independence, she was elected to the Travancore Legislative Assembly in 1947, and once she quit active politics in 1967, she served as a member of the Freedom Fighters’ Pension Advisory Board. In her autobiography, she summed up her life when she wrote…..
“Shakespeare has said that the world is a stage and that all the men and women merely players; but to me, this life is a long protest – protest against conservatism, meaningless rituals, societal injustice, gender discrimination, against anything that is dishonest, unjust…when I see anything like this, I turn blind, I even forget who I am fighting…