Dr Kumarappa: A Biographical Note

Dr J. C. Kumarappa: A Biographical Note

4 January 1892 Kumarappa was born on 4 January 1892 in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and baptized Joseph Chelladurai Cornelius. Cornelius was the English name taken up by his paternal grandfather, an Anglican clergyman, and which was also used by his father, who was an officer in the Public Works Department of the Government of Madras. His mother, Mrs. Esther Rajanayagam, who had a strong influence on him, hailed from the well known family of poet Vedanayagam Sastriar. She was a devout Christian woman who tried to practise the Christian tenet of “love thy neighbour” all her life and motivated her son to do the same.
1918-19 Joseph qualified himself as an incorporated accountant in London and started practising there in 1918-19 in a British firm.
1927 In 1927 Kumarappa visited the USA, where his eldest brother resided. There he first took a degree in Business Administration from Syracuse University and then joined Columbia University to study Public Finance. During this time he was invited to give talks on India by church and other organisations.
1929 In 1929 Joseph Chelladurai returned to Bombay and restarted his auditing work. He also began to look around for a publisher for his thesis on Public Finance that dealt with British exploitation of India through its taxation policy, which was broadly on the same lines as nationalist writers like Dadabhoi Naoroji, R.C. Dutt, K.T. Shah and many British critics of imperialist drain from India.
1930 Students and teachers of Gujarat Vidyapeeth conducted a survey of Matar Taluka in Kheda district of Gujarat. While he was engaged in this survey Gandhiji started on the Dandi March as the first stage of his Salt Satyagraha. As both he and his secretary, Mahadev Desai, got arrested, the Navajivan Trust, which carried out all publishing activities on behalf of Gandhi, invited Joseph to edit Young India in their absence. This became his regular responsibility whenever Gandhi and Desai were not available.
1931 Kumarappa was sentenced to jail for the first time for his seditious articles in Young India.
1934 He had arguments with Gandhi regarding what he felt was his overemphasis on Khadi to the neglect of the need of resuscitating the other village industries for rural reconstruction. Tagore too had criticized Gandhi on this count. For this strong conviction he was chosen by Gandhi to organise the All-India Village Industries Association when it was formed in 1934.


1933-34 Gandhiji started the Gram Udyog Sangh with the aim of reviving and revitalising other village-based industries apart from cloth production as an important component of the whole programme of village rejuvenation, which he wanted to be the cornerstone of the Indian economy and polity. In this aim, Kumarappa was one with him.

A monthly journal called Gram Udyog Patrika was started in English and Hindi to expound the economics of village industries and to publish reports of ongoing work and research. GUP has many reports by Kumarappa on village industries from the various parts of India that he visited, like Kashmir and Punjab.

1939-40 The A.I.V.I.A. held several meetings in this connection and Kumarappa was called to survey conditions in some of the provinces and draw up reports with concrete suggestions for the development of village industries there. Important and voluminous reports were written under his supervision on the village industries of the Central Provinces and of the N.W.F.P. in 1939 and 1940.
1946 The interim government was formed prior to transfer of power, Dr. Kumarappa was offered a ministership by Sardar Patel, but he refused. Earlier too he had refused membership of the Congress Working Committee because he felt that his work in the A.I.V.I.A. was more important and that he could serve the masses better through this work. He would prefer to try and influence the government in the desired direction from outside rather than become part of it.
1947 Kumarappa agreed with Gandhi about the need for merging all the autonomous organisations he had created for constructive work under one Board of Management. These were in the various spheres of spinning and weaving, other village industries, agriculture, education, Harijan and Adivasi service, health, women’s uplift and cow protection. These organisations had come up at different points of time and there was a lack of much needed co-ordination in their functioning.

Kumarappa had served on the Economic Programme Committee appointed in November 1947 by the A.I.C.C. and chaired by Nehru to indicate the broad guidelines for the economy. Its report was submitted in January 1948 and presented a diluted version of Gandhi’s and Kumarappa’s views on a largely decentralized and village industries based economy. This report was later in the year adopted by the government as its Industrial Policy Statement.




1948 In February 1948, the Congress appointed an Agrarian Reforms Committee, which was headed by Kumarappa. Its report submitted in July 1949 recommended land reforms, no private ownership of land and many other radical measures for restructuring land relations and land use. The recommendations of this Committee were pigeon-holed by the government, and Kumarappa went about setting up Pannai Ashram in Seldoh village near Wardha with the idea of undertaking a model implementation of the recommendations made in the Report. In this he was joined by Mira Behn and some other Sarvodaya workers.
1952 In 1952, he founded along with Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao), an atheist rural social worker from Andhra Pradesh, an organisation, Arthik Samata Mandal (Society for Economic Equality), which was in favour of redistribution of land by means of non-violent pressure on the landlords by the landless, and of Swadeshi as an economic policy. In addition, it propagated Gramraj, the concept of partyless democracy, the idea that local village councils could and should work without political parties and organised ‘Food for All’ campaigns.
1955 By 1955 Kumarappa’s health was in so poor a condition that he had to give up his work at Pannai Ashram. He now set up his residence in Gandhi Niketan Ashram in T. Kallupatti near Madurai and started a training institute in village crafts there. He also continued to write on various national issues, particularly on the Community Development Programme of the government being undertaken with American aid and expertise, and on the Bhoodan movement initiated by Shri Vinoba Bhave. He took a dim view of both as not helping to really solve the agrarian issues of the country.
1960 He was invited for a public meeting on the evening of 30th January, the day of Gandhi’s martyrdom. But he replied that in the 12 years since Gandhi’s departure there had not been even an inch of progress in the country along Gandhian lines, so “How do we deserve praying for him on that day?” This thought, that we have not proved ourselves worthy disciples of the 20th century apostle of peace, seems to have weighed him down so much on that day that he passed away on the night of 30th January.


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