Fiesty Annie Mascarene took on Travancore’s Dewan, despite Gandhi’s criticism

Her Master’s degrees in History, Economics and Law gave Annie Mascarene (June 6, 1902 to July 19, 1963) the wherewithal to take on the powerful Dewan of Travancore, who wanted to keep the state outside of Independent India, to the extent that she brushed off Mahatma Gandhis criticism of her methods.

“Politics for her was always, more than anything else, an exercise in ethics,” author Anu Kumar writes of Mascarene in “Her Name Was Freedom – 35 Fearless Women Who Fought For India’s Independence”.

She was one of the15 women elected the 299-member Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of India. She was the first woman minister to serve in the Travancore-Cochin state post-Independence. She was the first woman MP from South India to be elected in the first Lok Sabha elections in 1951-52, one of only 10 women to be elected in those polls.

Mascarene’s bedrock lay in her beliefs “that a strong central power was necessary for a successful democracy. Too much dependency on this, however, could alter the very nature of democratic institutions. She argued for provincial autonomy and for state legislatures to maintain their autonomy in a federal structure … She believed that convenient but unfair measures and quick-fix solutions would never work in the long run – rudimentary principles of democracy had to be set down ‘for days to come, for generations, for the nation’,” Anu Kumar writes.

Mascarene was born in Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) into a Latin Catholic family. Her father was a government official of the Travancore state. She attended the city’s Maharajas’s College, earning a double MA in History and Economics and went on to earn a degree in Law on her return from a teaching stint in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Along with Akkamma Cherian, popularly known as Travancore’s Rani Jhansi, and Pattom Thanu Pillai, who went on to serve as the Chief Minister of Kerala (1960-62), and was known as the Bhishmacharya of Kerala politics, Mascarene was soon sucked into the freedom movement and became a vocal proponent of the integration of the Princely States into the Indian Union.

Mascarene became one of the first women to join the Travancore State Congress (a faction which later merged into the Indian National Congress) led by Thanu Pillai whose goal was to establish a responsible government in Travancore. She was appointed to the party’s working committee and the publicity committee.

One of the working committee’s first acts was to shoot off a memorandum to Travancore’s Maharaja, Sree Chithira Thirunal, to demand the termination of the Dewan (Prime Minister), Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, and establish an enquiry into his administration, appointments and financial affairs.

In a state-wide tour undertaken with Thanu Pillai, Mascarene was outspoken in her criticism of the level of participation allowed in the legislature, of the Dewan, and of the government.

Her statements led to assault by a police officer as well as her home being broken into and her property being stolen. She published an account of the incident, further angering the police, as has been recorded by M. Karunakaran in “The Role of Annie Mascarene, The Freedom Fighter In The Travancore Princely State” and Priya Ravichandran in “Annie Mascarene: Freedom Fighter, Nation Builder, Guardian of Democracy and Kerala’s First MP”.

Ramaswami Iyer complained to the Maharaja against her, alleging that Mascarene was making speeches defaming the government and encouraging non-payment of taxes. The police also reported that she was dangerous and fomenting discontent. Her activism led to repeated arrests and imprisonments for various periods from 1939-1947.

In 1938-39, Mascarene served on the Economic Development Board of the Travancore government, during which time she was a powerful speaker in the state legislature.

Mascarene joined the Quit India movement in 1942 and two years later was elected the Secretary of the Travancore State Congress.

However, her often acerbic tongue attracted the ire of Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote to her on February 21, 1946 following a speech in Bombay: “Even otherwise, I know that you have no control over your tongue and when you stand up to speak, you blab anything that comes to your mind. This speech also is quite a specimen, if the newspaper report is correct.

“I have sent the report to Bhai Thanu Pillai. You can read it. Such indiscreet talk can do good neither to you nor to the poor people of Travancore. Besides, by your act you put the whole fair sex to shame.” Gandhi also hoped that Pillai would relieve Mascarene of her ministerial role but to no avail.

Ramaswami Iyer finally resigned in September 1947 and Travancore joined the Indian Union in March 1948.

Mascarene served a lone Lok Sabha stint, being defeated from the Trivandrum constituency in the 1957 elections by S. Easwaran, who stood as an Independent, as Mascarene had done in the previous election.

The constituency has since returned the likes of V.K. Krishna Menon, who served as Defence Minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet prior to his inglorious exit in the wake of the disastrous 1962 Sino-Indian War, and P.K. Vasudevan Nair (CPI), who also served as Kerala’s Chief Minister. The constituency has been represented since 2014 by Shashi Tharoor of the Congress.

Mascarene died on July 19, 1963 and is buried at the Pattoor cemetery in Thiruvananthapuram. Her bronze statue at the city’s Annie Mascarene Square was unveiled by Vice President Hamid Ansari in September 2013.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

20220813-165205

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here