Ammu Swaminathan

Ammu Swaminathan or Ammukutty Swaminathan (22 April 1894 – 4 July 1978) was an Indian social worker and political activist during the Indian independence movement and a member of the Constituent Assembly of India.

Ammu Swaminathan
Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) for Dindigul
In office
Prime MinisterPandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Preceded byNone
Personal details
Palakkad, India
Palakkad, India
Political partyIndian National Congress
Spouse(s)Subbarama Swaminathan

Early lifeEdit

Ammukutty Swaminadhan was born into the Vadakkath family of Anakkara in Palghat district, Kerala. Her father, Govinda Menon, was a minor local official. Both of Ammu's parents belonged to the Nair caste, and she was the youngest of their thirteen children, which included nine daughters. Ammu never went to school and received only a rudimentary education at home, which consisted of minimal reading and writing in Malayalam, cooking and keeping house, to prepare her for married life. She lost her father at a very young age, and her mother struggled to raise her children and arrange marriages for her many daughters. Resultantly, when Ammu was 13, her mother arranged an alliance for her which conformed to the Sambandam system which was well accepted in Kerala society at that time. Her spouse was Subbarama Swaminathan, a Brahmin who was more than twenty years older than Ammu.

Married lifeEdit

Subbarama Swaminathan, born into a middle-class Kerala Iyer family, had struggled hard in his early life to gain an education and rise above his situation. He had studied with scholarships at the universities of Edinburgh and London. His extended stay abroad and financial situation had prevented him from marrying until he was in his mid-30s. The arrival of the very young and sheltered Ammu fulfilled deep emotional needs for Subbarama and he devoted a large part of his life to nurturing her development in every way. Indeed, he formally married Ammu at a registry office in London at a later point. This was necessary because Sambandam relationships, while traditionally acknowledged, did not constitute marriage and the children of such a union belonged only to the family of their mother and not their father. Even the registered marriage in London did not change people's attitudes, or the way the family was received in society: both of Ammu's daughters were to recount in their memoirs that while their father's family acknowledged them (as was traditional) by including them at family events such as weddings, they would be served their food separately from other family members, and subtle distinctions would be evident in the way they were treated.

The legally valid wedding in the London registry office did have one definite result: the abandonment of the matrilineal Marumakkathayam system and the severance of affiliation with the Vadakkath family and the matrilineal Nair community to which Ammu and her parents had belonged. Henceforth, she and her children would be known by the name of their husband/father. Thus, the family came to be known by the name Swaminathan.


Ammu's life was transformed and blossomed under the tutelage of her husband. Subbarama Swaminathan both indulged and nurtured his much younger wife and encouraged her talents. He appointed tutors to teach her English and other subjects at home, and thus rectify to the extent possible the fact that she was uneducated. She soon became fluent in English, and the confidence which her husband's support gave her meant that she also developed a forceful and willful personality. It was under her husband's influence that Ammu became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and took part in India's struggle for independence. After independence, she served as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. It is definitely true that her main qualifications for this honour were her English language skills and the fact that she was a woman with a forceful, outspoken personality, at a time when few Indian women had even remote engagement with politics, but she did read out a few formal speeches and even intervened in some debates.

In 1952, Ammu Swaminadhan was elected a member of the Rajya Sabha from Madras State. She was associated with several cultural and social organizations, and served as President of the Bharat Scouts and Guides from November 1960 to March 1965. She was also selected as 'Mother of The Year' in 1975 on the inauguration of International Women's Year.

Children and familyEdit

Swaminadhan and Ammu had four children:

  • Govind Swaminadhan, the elder son, a barrister at the Madras High Court. His wife was the daughter of Pundit Santhanam, founder of Lakshmi Insurance Company of Lahore
  • Subbarama, the younger son, an advocate at the Bombay High Court. His wife, Nuru Swaminathan, was a daughter of M. C. Chagla, sometime Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court.[1]
  • Captain Lakshmi Swaminadhan (1914-2012). She married twice. Her first husband, who she met as a college student, was P.K.N. Rao, a pilot with Tata Airways. They eloped from Madras to Mumbai in order to get married against the wishes of their parents, but the marriage fell apart in a matter of months. Divorce was more or less impossible in India in those days, so Lakshmi left her husband and went back to Madras. She then joined the Azad Hind Fauj and went to Singapore. Here she met and later married Captain Prem Sehgal, a British Army Officer (POW in Singapore with the Japanese forces) from IMA, Dehradun who later worked in the INA Azad Hind Fauj. The legal status of the second marriage is unclear, since she was never divorced from Rao, but Lakshmi and Sehgal did not allow that detail to bother them. They became the parents of 2 daughters, Anisa Puri and Subhashini Ali, a feminist and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
  • Mrinalini Sarabhai, a Bharatanatyam dancer and wife of Vikram Sarabhai, a renowned scientist. They are the parents of Mallika Sarabhai, a dancer and former Gujarati film actress.


External linksEdit