On June 9, 2019, 93-year-old Kamala Ramasamy passed away in Srirangam near Trichy as quietly as she had been living her life for the last few decades. It is hard to find any references to her on the internet – the only notable page mentions her as wife of Ramsamy, freedom fighter TSS Rajan’s grandson. Rajan was also a doctor and had served as a minister in Madras Presidency from 1937 to 1939.
But the mention of her name brings an unmistakable sparkle in the eyes of Communist leaders like R Nallakannu and C Mahendran. To them, she lived no ordinary life.
P Seenivasan’s two-volume Tamil work on Tamil communist warriors takes note of Kamala Ramasamy as a freedom fighter who was drawn into Communist movement. In 1942, captivated by the ideals of CPI leader K Baladhandayutham, Kamala Ramasamy was deeply interested in students’ movements. She soon joined the Quit India movement in Trichy and participated in the general strike called by students that same year. The book notes that there were only four women who had taken part in the general strike, including Kamala. In 1946, Kamala was jailed for a year for her support of the South Indian Railway struggle, and stayed in prison for almost a year. In January 1947, she was sent to jail again under the Defence Act of India. The book notes she was the only woman in jail anywhere across India. This, along with the fact that she was also pregnant, sparked an uproar across the country, forcing the government to release her in April. Around the same time, her husband Ramasamy – who was also actively involved in Communist movement – was in jail in Vellore.
Kamala Ramasamy played an active role in the Communist movement working with students and women. “She continued to be active in party affairs till the 1960s but after the birth of three children, she chose to prioritise family over public life. Like any woman of her time, she chose to be with her children in the prime years of her life,” her son Vijayan recalls. “But till her death, she kept in touch with leaders from both CPI and CPI(M). She was particularly close to another communist leader Parvathi Krishnan.” Till her end, Kamala also stayed aware of the news and issues of the country.
As a leader, she caught the attention of Sardar Vallabhai Patel who took a keen interest in her release. Veteran leader PC Joshi asked if she would contest elections. But aside from a few leaders from the Left movement, not many knew of her or her reputation. “She had even contested the mayoral election before Independence, in Trichy and lost narrowly,” Vijayan says. Kamala and her husband Ramasamy were offered freedom fighters’ pension but refused to accept it. “She was not even keen to tell us about her experiences as a freedom fighter and about her political life after that. If someone asked her, she would very matter-of-factly say that it was a duty that she was discharging – nothing more, nothing less.”
The National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW)’s state Deputy Secretary G Manjula, however, stresses the importance of documenting such lives, not for individual glory, but for the larger purpose of the movement’s history. “Many, many women were actively part of Communist party before and after Independence. It is sad that not many of their lives have been documented. There is an urgent need to do it, to revisit our own history because their histories are also the history of a movement, of a period,” says Manjula.