The first half of the 20th century witnessed the social reform movements and struggle by various sections of the society for their rights and the freedom movement, all of which left deep marks on the Kerala society. The life of Com.Devaki Warrier, who was an off spring of the wave of struggles which changed Kerala and was shaped by the revolutionary movement, cannot be seen on isolation from the history of the struggles for women’s advancement in the state.
The social status of women in Kerala was one of the main obstacles in the modernisation of the society. The women who were locked behind the four walls of the family were destined to live under the male dominated order. The women in the upper caste Hindu households had to suffer more the horrors of the outdated rituals. The women in the Namboothri (Brahmin) community in which remarriage of widow was not permitted had to bear untold miseries till the end of their lives. Child marriage and polygamy prevalent in the community had turned the women’s life into a hell.
The Namboothiri women had to bear the brunt of the oppression due to the orthodox customs and the tragic consequences of the loose sexual life of the male in those feudal days. They had to suffer many oppressive customs and rituals life Ghosha (veil), illiteracy, dowry, child marriage, polygamy etc. The campaigns against them which started to form in the community led to free thinking among the women and men in the community. Inspired by the leaders like EMS Namboothiripad, V.T.Bhattathiripad and others, many Namboothiri women participated in the struggles for social reforms and the national freedom movement.
Devaki was born in 1923 to Arya Pallam, one of foremost women’s leaders and Krishnan Namboothiri a progressive activist. Devaki inherited the idealism and the adherence to the society from her parents by birth. She was fed along with the milk the values and the rights of a human being. Holding the fingertips of her mother she participated in the committees and social gatherings even in the childhood. AryaPallam who was inspired by the ideals of national movement sent her daughter at the age of 12 to the Wardha ashram of Mahatma Gandhi for getting education.
The life at Wardha played a significant role in moulding her personality and insight to the society. Devaki learnt the art of simple living during this period. The love for nation and need for self reliance shaped her attitude towards development. The lessons of martial arts and physical training in the ashram taught her the preliminaries of containment and as well as empowerment. Very soon she succeeded in conquering the hearts of Gandhiji, Vinoba Babe, and Kaka Kalethkar. Wardha being a centre of people of refined thoughts, skills and knowledge, Devaki had the privilege to learn many. She learned Hindi, English, Gujarati,and Marathi from the ashram. In 1938, though Gandhiji was against the British Education, she procured special permission with a few in the ashram to enrol in 10th and passed the examination.
In 1939 she came back to Kerala. Situation then in Kerala was changing. The communist ideology and the displeasure of many congress men inside the Party triggered the axle of the society to accept left. As there existed ban for the communist movements, Pallam illam the home of Devaki was the lair of the communist leaders. Influenced by the left thoughts, she joined the party in 1943. She joined the Government College of Integrated Medicine in Madras and took degree in Ayurveda. During her student days, Devaki was the only women member of the Madras Students Organisation. Devaki got the membership of the communist Party in 1943. She met a fellow student activist Com.P.K.R.Variar who was a medical Student in Madras and their friendship later blossomed into marriage in 1946. It was a magical conjugation of two individuals who was made for each other. She had to travel with her husband who was a practising doctor to various places including London. Later in the 1960’s their family settled in Thiruvananthapuram. Thereupon, Devaki became active in the social and political movements.
She was active in the Kerala Women’s Federation along with the stalwarts like Com.K.R. Gouriamma and Com.Susheela Gopalan. In 1970 she was elected as a councillor in the Trivandrum Municipal Corporation. Elder residents of the Medical College ward which she represented still remember with respect about her dedication and simple life style. She initiated a nutrition food distribution programme for children in her ward under the aegis of the Corporation. The brilliance and the social conscience of Devaki proved well in framing many community development programmes implemented by the Corporation during that period. The tireless effort she took to understand the issues and problems of the downtrodden sections of the society is still recalled graciously by the society and her co-workers. Her enthusiasm and determination inspired her comrades to become the part of the campaigns organised by the party.
After the split in the communist Party, Com.Devaki Warrier was active in the CPI (M) and became a member of the Thiruvananthapuram District Committee. She took an active role in the historic struggle for occupying surplus land in Kerala lead by Com.A.K.G. in 1970. She was leader of the volunteer group which occupied the surplus land in the Pattom palace of the former Kings of Travancore.
During this period, Com. Devaki rose to the state leadership of the women’s movement. She was the first Thiruvananthapuram district president of Kerala Mahila Federation formed in 1968 and was later elected as its state President. Women participation then in the politics and in the social activities was less. The active leadership of Devaki scheduled various programmes and campaigns to increase the women participation in the committees. She was of the strong opinion that without the active role of women, socialization will be a distant oasis. She also took an active role in the formation of the All India Democratic Womens Association.Devaki Warrier, P.Devootty, T.Devi, Sarojini Balanandan, J.Saradamma, V.K.Anandam and Kalyani Teacher were then elected to the Central Committee.
Com.Devaki contested the Kerala Assembly elections from Pattambi constituency in 1977, but could not win. She was proficient in many languages like Hindi, English, Marathi and Kannada. When she was living in Manipal, Karnataka along with her husband who was a doctor in the Manipal Medical College, Com.Devaki became active in the Women’s federation work in the state and was elected the state President of the organisation in 1979. She actively involved in the activities of the left front in State. Her unique ability to interact with the people of all sections of the society irrespective of the class and creed made her special in the social scenario. The warmness of her character and fidelity she devoted to the illiterate and the downtrodden of the society enhanced the esteem of women activists and activities of left front. She was an accepted leader even in Karnataka. Dr. P.K.R Variar also joined her in these activities in Karnataka.
Com. Devaki’s contributions extended to studies in social science also besides her role as a political activist. She took active part in the work of social scientist monthly journal published from Thiruvananthapuram.
As part of the ‘pen down’ strike organised against the dismissal of an employee at Accountant General’s Office, Thiruvananthapuram some of the women officers were expelled from the hostels at Thiruvananthapuram. At that time there were only a few women hostels in the City. It became an immediate need of the leadership to find a place for these officers to reside.Devaki Warrier managed to find a place to accommodate them with the help of the comrades. The issues related initiated the discussion for an organisation for the women officers in the city. She gave leadership to organise the women employees in the city under the banner of Working Women’s Association. The Association runs a working women’s hostel and a Short stay home for women excluded from their homes for various reasons. The short stay home for women functions as the temporary residence for the women who suffer violence and abuses. They stay there until then the problem gets manageable. These institutions and their functioning are good instances for her attitude towards the marginalised and the destitute. Her enthusiasm and creative solutions were transmitted to others to streamline its activities for the common cause of well being of women and society. It was under her leadership that the Working Women’s Association started a Care home for the stay of poor cancer patients who come for treatment in the Regional Cancer Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and their relatives coming from faraway places.
As a social activist Devaki Warrier is one among the stars which will pave insight to the cominggeneration. Her remarkable courage to confront life is incomparable. Her life is the simple message to the society which teaches every human being the morals of simple living and equanimity. She stands unique among others to have possessed a warm character. She soothes even the oppressors with her calm attitude and poignant smile.
She was a successful mother and wife. Her busy social activities never hindered in fulfilling any of her responsibilities as a partner and a mother. Com.Devaki Warrier died on 25 December 2001 after treatment for cancer for over two years. She fulfilled her duties to the society during her life with almost dedication and commitment. Her memory will be a constant source of inspiration for the new generation