When finance minister Dr Thomas Isaac launched the Dakshayani Velayudhan Award, in the 4th budget of the LDF government, it was the triumph of the great reform movements which has a prominent role in socio political history of Kerala. This was the perfect way to honour a legendary soul, who broke the shackles of the caste system, and went on to become the lone Dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly.
Born into the Pulaya community, one of the most backward castes in Kerala, Dakshayani was not ready to bow down to caste based rules. She is in fact the first graduate among the Scheduled Caste people in India. As the first woman from her community to cover her torso in public, it was through her life that Dakshayani created a revolution.
Dakshayani Velayudhan was born in 1912, at Mulavukad in Ernakulam district. As a young girl, she had realized the importance of education and took the firm decision to head forward in life by seeking knowledge. The sister of KP Vallon, the president of the Kochi Pulayar Mahasabha and MLC, and KK Madhavan, a member of the eighth Kerala assembly, Dakshayani had enough role models in her family to nurture her progressive ideals. She greatly admired the ideologies of Sree Narayana Guru and Mahatma Gandhi as well. In 1935, Dakshayani graduated from the Maharajas College in Ernakulam and completed a teacher training course from the University of Madras, following which she was appointed as a teacher in a government school. For the next ten years, she worked as a teacher in the various government high schools at Thripunithura and Thrissur.
She married R Velayudhan, a parliament member from the Kollam-Mavelikkara dual consistency and the firebrand leader of the agriculture labour union, at the Wardha Ashram in Sevagram, in the presence of Gandhi and his wife Kasturba. The couple had 5 children including Meera Velayudhan, noted historian and social thinker. Meera is related to former president KR Narayanan.
Dakshayani was nominated to the Cochin legislative Council in 1945. Following this, her husband Veelayudhan was selected to the constituent assembly. She became the first and only Dalit woman to be a member of the constituent assembly. In the assembly, Dakshayani had appealed the most for the educational and social rights of the oppressed castes. It was during this time that she got attracted to the ideals of Dr BR Ambedkar.
She was an active participant in the discussions related to the forming of the constitution and spoke about the need to end caste based discriminations. It was Dakshayani who proposed the revolutionary idea that public acceptance should be sought for the constitution through a referendum.
Though she contested the Loksabha elections, in 1971, from the Adoor consistency, she could only secure a 4th position. The legendary leader even rose to position of the president of the Mahila Jagrathi Parishad. At the age of 66, in 1978, Dakshayani Velayudhan, the great leader of the reformation and women’s rights, bid adieu to this world.
Kerala should proudly uphold the name of Dakshayani Velayudhan, the courageous woman who followed Gandhiji’s lofty ideal and set a revolutionary example through her own life. The Dakshayani Velayudhan Award, instituted by the Kerala government, to honour women of extraordinary strength and calibre, would be a fitting tribute to the memories of this great leader.