Karunakaran Swamy

Karunakaran-SwamyA quarter century is a reasonably long span of time to look back and appraise the life of a departed soul. Karunakaran Swamy of Karuna Nivas, Erickavu, who passed away twenty five years ago , was a widely respected figure of his time. Let us first get some context, so we can fully appreciate his yeoman services and their impact on the socioeconomic fabric of this area. He was born in an ordinary middle class family of Erickavu, where the majority of people were poor. There were no roads, schools, hospitals or communication facilities in the village or anywhere near it.

Young Karunakaran, thus, had to fight heavy odds to come up in life. His willingness to work hard coupled with the endearing qualities of honesty, humility and integrity helped him surmount the many challenges he faced. His concern for his fellow villagers, many of whom led a hand-to-mouth existence, prompted him to set up a coir factory in the village, which gave employment to five hundred people, a majority of them women. This venture catalysed the growth of the local economy and also served as an early example of women-empowerment – long before women-empowerment became a focus area of government policy. That the coir industry’s fortunes ebbed and the factory had to be closed around the final years of Karunakaran Muthalali’s life was a sad end to this glorious initiative. Regardless, the impact it created by way of economic development and sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship are significant.

A strong votary of the co-operative movement, he played a key role in the growth of co-operatives in the area. It was under his leadership that the Ericavu Mutual Help Co-operative Society had won the award for the best performing society in its category from the Government of Kerala. Besides, he took the lead in setting up Kerala’s first coir co-operative society, exclusively for women in Ericavu. He also spearheaded the setting up of a new coir co-operative at Koottankaitha, Kumarapuram. Though now defunct, all these organisation played a vital role in supporting the local economy for many years. He also served for a long time as the board member and patron of the Karthikappally Taluk Marketing Society and contributed significantly to its success.

He was instrumental in bringing the Ayurvedic hospital and public health centre to Ericavu which continue to serve the health care needs of the locals.

On the education front, he mobilized support to get an anganwadi (nursery) sanctioned for the area and enabled its quick opening by offering his own building free of rent for its functioning. The Mahatma Gandhi Library at Valanthottukadavu, of which he was the chief founder, is yet another proof of his commitment to the spread of knowledge.

The telephone at Karuna Nivas was the only means of communication between the village and faraway places. He generously allowed this phone to be used by villagers both to receive and make calls irrespective of the time of the day, if a call came, he would make sure that the message reached the intended recipient without delay and a return call made, if necessary. To post a letter the villagers had to trudge several kilometres through watery paddy fields to the post office at Karthikappally. His efforts resulted in the postal department setting up a letter box in the village.

He also took the initiative to get a new road constructed to the village through low-lying paddy fields. Many a villager still remembers with gratitude Karunakaran Muthalali’s untiring efforts and financial support that made the Valelkadavu Road a reality.

He was the president of the Erickavu branch of SNDP. His tenure saw the construction of the branch’s new office building. A staunch Congressman, he was the president of the Kumarapuram Congress Committee for several years. He and his wife Madhavi Amma, who was a constant source of support and strength for him, both led a simple life and wore Khadi clothes. As a mark of respect to his endearing personality and appreciation of his selfless service, he was called Karunakaran Swamy by his peers.