Anna and Anupama: The Kerala Conundrum

TLast week, the world witnessed in astounding disbelief a massive struggle in Kerala by a 22-year-old mother for her right to have her child. Although Anupama Chandran is finally victorious in her relentless mission, the incident reveals the dark underbelly of “Progressive Kerala”. Women have had to fight hard for their basic human rights even in the 21st century in a state like Kerala which is supposed to be the most progressive in India. Even worse, all those evil forces that colluded to deprive Anupama of her child, were not only part of the state government that is supposed to protect the basic rights of its citizens but were also part of CPI(M), the loudest voice of the legacy of Kerala renaissance. and progressive traditions.

Anna Modayil Mani

The past few days have had more things to be ashamed of Keralam. The struggle of a Dalit student against persistent caste and gender discrimination at MG University and also the suicide of a law student due to alleged harassment by her husband raised more questions about Kerala’s arrogant claims to enlightenment.

The week saw another less noticeable event as well. The Postal Administration of India has released postal envelopes honoring three outstanding scholars born in Keralam including a woman – Anna Model Mani. The other two are PR Pisharody and R Ananthakrishnan – all of India’s leading meteorologists. Among them, Mane’s achievement is uniquely amazing as she has excelled in a field completely male-dominated, not only during her time but even today.

Anupama and Anna although separated by generations, are a widespread antonym for Keralam. The remarkable achievements of the Kerala women on the one hand and the extreme forms of discrimination they face on the other, which is widely discussed today as the “Kerala Woman Mystery”. There is another shock to contemplate. Compared to the astonishing accomplishments of Keralam women such as Anna Mani and other women born during the early decades of the 20th century, the gains of subsequent generations for them starkly pale. So, at least in terms of women’s accomplishments, is Keralam going backwards? Is Kerala no longer a place where women excel? Or have women from other parts of the country caught up with the women of Keralam who certainly had a lead over all others in the past?

Not only the rest of India, but even Keralam knows very little about Anna Mani (1918-2001), one of the most prominent names who made India self-reliant in meteorological and atmospheric studies. She was a student of Sir C. Rain gauges, barograph, radio probe, ozone probe, anemometer, thermometer, etc. “My only regret is that we didn’t have an anammometer!” Once sent by Oliver Ashford, the first editor of a WMO Bulletin who called Anna the “Queen of Meteorology.” She was a pioneer in the study of ozone and solar radiation and was responsible for setting up rendezvous stations, telescopes, etc. in various parts of India including ISRO in Thiruvananthapuram at the request of Vikram Sarabhai who was her close friend. “She was devoted to science, precision, and perfection,” Ashford wrote, who had known Anna since the 1940s. Her colleague and meteorologist CR Sridharan, who gave a memorial lecture on Anna last week under the auspices of Intromet 2021, said she led India to be one of the first countries to develop the ozone probe, an instrument for measuring ozone.


Anna and Almas had a special relationship. An avid reader from her childhood who finished all the books in the local library, she chose Encyclopedia Britannica as her eighth birthday gift in place of diamond ear rings. Years later when she joined the research, Raman directed her to work on his favorite subject – the brilliance of diamonds. Anna was born in Peromedu to a prosperous civil engineer, and received her education in Thiruvananthapuram and Alofa. After graduating in Physics from Presidency College, Madras, she joined IISc’s Raman Institute when she published five independent articles in international journals. However, on the pretext that she did not have a master’s degree (she was a graduate with honors) Anna was denied a doctorate. Her thesis is still on the shelves of the institute. She later sailed to London on a scholarship to train as meteorologist at the British Met Office. Anna later said that she turned into a meteorologist by chance because the UK scholarship was only available for this stream.

On her return, she joined the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in Pune to begin her historic roles as “India’s Weather Woman” to build the country’s capacity in this field. Anna retired in 1976 as Deputy Director General. After that, she joined as a visiting professor at IISc and laid the foundation for India’s studies on alternative energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Her three books are considered the Bible in this field. It has also set up its own factory in Bangalore to manufacture meteorological instruments.

Anna has held senior positions in the World Meteorological Organization, the Indian Academy of Natural Sciences and the International Solar Energy Society, and is also a recipient of the KR Ramanathan Medal. Besides her professional achievements, Mane has been known for her staunch nationalism (she’s been wearing khadi since her young days) as well as her socialist ideals. In her interview, Dr Hassan Taba of WMO said that India has been at the forefront of studies of meteorological data thanks to her. Abha Sur, in a fascinating study of women scientists in India, said Anna represents the confluence of modernization aspects of science and national and gender ideologies. “It is a success story that no woman (or men) can aspire to.”

awesome miss

Anna Chandy, Anna Malhotra, Anne Mascaren

Interestingly, Anna was one of the many Malayalam women who pioneered India’s diverse fields in stark contrast to the present when their absence in positions of power is most evident. She belonged to the quartet of four enormous hanans of Keralam. They were the first women to occupy some of the most prestigious positions in India through sheer dedication, talent and hard work. Anna Malhotra (1927-2018), the first female IAS officer, Anna Chandy (1905-1996), the first female justice of the Supreme Court, and Anne Mascaren (1902-1963), the first parliamentarian and member of the Constituent Assembly. Although the quartet’s participation in the common name was coincidental, they belonged to Keralam – Thiruvithamkur to be exact – and to its Christian community, it was not. Thiruvithamkur women benefited from deliberate state policies that imparted education and health to them since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Being Christian gave them the added advantage of embracing Western modernity with open arms thanks to the initiatives of Christian missionaries as well as local churches.

Besides the wonderful people, the Christian community of Thiruvithamkur provided the country’s first general surgeon (Dr. Marie Bonin Lokoz, 1886-1976), chief engineer (PK Thressia, 1924-1981), and of course one of Travancore’s greatest freedom fighters- Akama Cherian (1909-1982) . With the exception of Mascarene who belonged to the Latin Catholics, all the economically and socially powerful Syrian Christians were, that is, the Syrian Christians.

Amo Swaminathan, EK Janaki Amal, Captain Lakshmi,
Dakshian and Liodhan, Fatimah Bevi

There are five other names from that period who may also be inducted into the 20th Century Kerala Women’s Hall of Fame. Ammu Swaminathan (1894-1978) and Dakshayani Velayudhan (1912-78), both members of the Indian Constituent Assembly, E.K. Janaki Ammal (1897-1884), India’s first notable female botany, Captain Lakshmi (1914-2012), INA Revolutionary and minister in the Hindu Azad government. The last link to this glorious pantheon still among us is M. Fatima Bevi (94), the first female justice of the Supreme Court of India and the first Muslim woman to be appointed to any higher judicial authority in the country.

Is it just a coincidence that all these women belong to Keralam? Is it also a coincidence that Keralam is not witnessing such a phenomenon now? Instead, what we see today are the painful wars being waged by Anupama, Movi Parveen or Deepa Mohanan even for their most basic rights as human beings.


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