Born in Poojappura central prison to communist parents, J Saradamma and Avanakuzhi Sadasivan, Jail went on to become a lawyer.

Jailkumar smiles looking slightly up
Features Human interest Sunday, June 20, 2021 - 19:18

After being taunted at school for years, a 15-year-old Jailkumar went to his father with an application form. He wanted to change his name and needed his guardian’s signature for the gazette. His father, a noted communist politician in Kerala at the time – Avanakuzhi Sadasivan – said no, not right away. He asked Jailkumar to wait till he was 18 and then it was up to him if he wanted to change his name. Three years later, Jail did not want to change his name. As a college student with an interesting name like his, Jail began to enjoy the recognition he got everywhere.

“Not a day goes by without someone or the other asking me the story behind my name. I had long ago prepared a capsule version of the story that can be told in less than a minute,” says Jailkumar, who recently retired from his post of deputy director of prosecution in Kerala.

This June 1, he turned 56. It was on June 1, 1965, that he was born in, of all places, the central jail in Poojappura, Thiruvananthapuram. His parents Avanakuzhi Sadasivan and J Saradamma were sent to jail with other CPI(M) leaders soon after the split of the Communist Party of India in 1964.

“Those who joined the CPI(M) faction were seen as Chinese spies and arrested and put in jails. In Kerala, veteran CPI(M) leaders like EMS Namboodiripad, AK Gopalan and KR Gouri were imprisoned. Along with all of them were my parents. My mother was then four months pregnant with me,” Jail says.

Read: KR Gouri Amma passes away: A look at the life of a fierce, ferocious woman

Saradamma’s cellmates included KR Gouri and Suseela Gopalan, CPI(M) leader and wife of AK Gopalan.  AKG was in Kannur’s Viyyur jail at the time. “Suseela Gopalan was shifted to Viyyur jail to join AKG after he went to the court requesting for it. He had argued that since they were in preventive detention they should be allowed to be in the same jail. So it was just Gouri Amma and my mother in the cell. My elder sister Jayaja, who was only a year old, was also with them. My mother had to look after her as well. So it was Gouri Amma who raised me during my first few months,” says Jail.

Saradamma, KR Gouri and Suseela Gopalan in a newspaper / Courtesy - Jailkumar

It was also Gouri Amma who suggested that he be named ‘Jailan’. His parents decided on Jailkumar to match the name of his elder brother Jaya Kumar.

There are four siblings in all. While Jayaja and Jail spent time in prison–16 months in all–their older siblings Jaya Kumar and Jayashree, aged eight and five at the time, were out and being looked after by members of the CPI(M).

“It was during the time when my father was contesting the Assembly election of 1965 from Nemom. My older brother and sister put a picture of my father in prison on a car and went around campaigning for him. They told people their sad story of being separated from their parents and siblings who were all in jail,” says Jailkumar.

The children would break into tears and people were moved by their plight. They’d even be gifted little gold ornaments. Avanakuzhi Sadasivan won that election without spending a single day campaigning. “He contested five times and won thrice,” Jail says with more than a tinge of pride.

Avanakuzhi Sadasivan / Courtesy - Jailkumar

The day he approached his father to change his name, Sadasivan had asked him ‘to what?’. The teenager replied, ‘Ashok Kumar’.

“Children do not know any better than to laugh at a mate with a strange name. Whenever they heard my name they would ask if my parents were ‘kallan’ and ‘kalli’ (thieves) and was that why they were in jail? They didn’t know the concept of political prisoners and neither did I. In the end, I just wanted the name changed before it got printed in my Class 10 exam book,” Jail says.

But by the time the three years of waiting was up, Jail had begun to love his name. When he joined college, teachers would explain to other students the history his name contained. He began enjoying the recognition. Famous people would identify him as soon as he said his name. By then he too had joined as a member of the students union of the CPI(M) – the Students Federation of India.

“The next time it became a question was during my wedding. My wife-to-be, working at the AG’s office, wanted to know the secret behind my name. When I told her, she was game,” Jail says.

The only problem with the name was the expectations it carried. “As soon as they hear my name and know my history they look at me with a certain expectation. I always fear I won’t meet it. Often people expect a rebellious or terrifying person but then I turn out to be a paavam (nice and harmless) guy and they actually tell me to be tougher,” Jail says, laughing.

Jail, who has been active as a CPI(M) member even while practicing law, had to step aside when he was appointed as an assistant public prosecutor in 2002. He remembers a newspaper report during the time saying that Jailkumar could now send people to jail. Now that he has retired, he has once again become active in CPI(M), he says.

Also read: Ostracised for falling in love, a Kerala couple has been living in a forest for 20 yrs

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