Legendary Marxist firebrand K R Gowri, one of the founding leaders of the Communist movement in Kerala and the lone woman member in the state's first cabinet, died at a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.
She was 101 and had been suffering from various age-related ailments for some time. She breathed her last at 7 am while undergoing treatment in the ICU.
One of the most powerful and tallest women leaders of Kerala politics, Gowri Amma, as she was fondly called, belonged to the erstwhile Communists who had toiled hard to build up the Left movement in the southern state battling police brutality under the colonial regime and stiff opposition from the then administrators.
Her vibrant political activism, fierce fights against the feudal system, strong stand taken for the women cause and exceptional administrative acumen have garnered her the nickname 'iron lady' and helped her carve an exclusive space in the male-dominated politics of Kerala.
She was the lone surviving member of the first Kerala legislative assembly headed by legendary Communist leader E M S Namboodiripad in 1957 and the only woman in the first state cabinet.
As revenue minister in the Namboodiripad's ministry, Gowri Amma played a key role in bringing the revolutionary Agrarian Relations Bill, which set the ceiling on the amount of land a family could own, paving the way for the landless farmers to claim excess land.
She was married to the late Communist leader late T V Thomas, who was also her cabinet colleague.
After the split in the Communist party in 1964, Gowri joined the CPI-Marxist, while her husband remained with the CPI.
Born on July 14, 1919 in the sleepy Pattanakkad village of coastal Alappuzha to K A Ramanan and Parvathy Amma, Gowri was attracted to politics at ayoung age.
She was jailed in 1948, the year she joined the Communist party and defied adversities and fought many odds to build the party.
Gowri, who never minced words to put her thoughts across, was elected to the Travancore-Cochin legislative assembly in 1952 and 1954.
After her successful foray to the state legislature in 1957 from Cherthalain Alappuzha, there was no looking back.
She represented Cherthala in 1960 after which she moved to Aroor and represented the constituency in the assembly eight terms from 1967-2006.
The woman leader served as a member of various Communist governments -- 1957, 1967, 1980 and 1987 -- and was also a member of the A K Antony and Oommen Chandy governments from 2001-2006.
She was the longest serving MLA in Kerala after the late K M Mani.
During the 1987 assembly election, though she was projected as the chief ministerial candidate, she was sidelined by the Marxist party which preferred E K Nayanar for the top post.
A fighter and a rebel throughout her life, Gowri did not mind floating a new political outfit -- the Janadhipathya Samrakshana Samithi -- from scratch after being expelled from the CPI-M in 1994.
She had also the distinction of being the first woman law student from the Ezhava community.
She celebrated her 100th birthday in June 2019 and various politicians, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, flocked to her residence in Alappuzha to greet her.
Cutting across party lines, condolence poured in from various corners of the country expressing deep grief over the woman leader's demise and hailing her contributions.
In his condolence message, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan said Gowri Amma, with her extraordinary courage and inspiring leadership, was a perfect symbol of women empowerment.
'K R Gowri's struggles to ensure social justiceand her contributions to land reforms and industrial growth in Kerala will always be gratefully remembered. May her soul attain Mukti,' he said.
Pinarayi Vijayan termed Gowri as a brave woman who had made her own life a heroic story of the liberation struggle of the land.
A courageous fighter and an able administrator, she had played an unparalleled role in building up the Communist movement in Kerala, he said in his message.
'Kerala has always seen her as the symbol of valour... She was a person who had fought and established that a woman has her own face and identity. It was the Communist movement that had given her strength that time,' Vijayan said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi remembered her as a 'tall presence in Kerala's politics'.
'My heartfelt condolences to the family of K R Gowri Ammaji. A tall presence in Kerala's politics, she remains a source of inspiration to many. Paying homage to her brilliant life journey,' he tweeted.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said Gowri Amma was one of the true revolutionaries of Indian politics and she should have been the state's first woman chief minister.
'What a rebel and what a personality she was! The time I spent with her some years back was most memorable. A Comrade who dared to take on her Comrades. She should have been Kerala's first woman CM,' he tweeted.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union minister V Muraleedharan said Gowri was able to make her own space in politics at a time when women were not active in the public sphere.
'She was not ready to bow her head down even when she was victimised for male dominance and caste hatred within the Communist party,' he said in his condolence message.
Former defence minister A K Antory, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, BJP state chief K Surendran were among several leaders who expressed condolences.
Her mortal remains were kept for a brief public homage at Ayyankali Hall, adhering to COVID protocol. A host of personalities from various walks of life including the governor and the chief minister arrived at the hall and paid rich tributes to the iconic leader.