Veerammal Naidoo, wife of Govindasamy Krishnasamy Thambi Naidoo*, suffered greatly because of the repeated imprisonments of her husband, a leading political activist in the Transvaal (now Gauteng). Thambi Naidoo was the sole breadwinner of the family. His wife and seven children had to find ways to survive during his numerous periods of imprisonment.
Mrs. Naidoo was forced to manage her husband’s substantial business as a cartage contractor and owner of a fodder store. As herfamily’s income dwindled, Mrs. Naidoo had no option but to sell off their horses and carts one by one. Eventually, the family had nothing left.
Her brother, Narainsamy Pillay took the family in, but he too went to prison for political activities and they were homeless again. As many Tamil families faced such problems, Gandhi, with the help of Hermann Kallenbach, established the Tolstoy Farm where former political prisoners and families of prisoners could stay. Eventually, Thambi Naidoo took his family to live on the farm.
Veerammal worked as a cook at Tolstoy Farm and Thambi Naidoo was in charge of marketing and sanitation. Their four children carried water from springs almost a mile away.
When women were invited to join the third phase of the Satyagraha in 1913, Veerammal volunteered, fully aware of the difficulties of prison life. She was pregnant at that time and she took her infant daughter Seshammal with her. Veerammal served three months with hard labour under dreadful conditions in the Pietermaritzburg prison. She gave birth to a son, Mithalin, the day after she was released from prison.
In an article published in the Harijan (a newspaper in India) on 11 August 1946, Gandhi reproduced an extract from a letter he had received about Veerammal:
You have heard of Mrs. Naidoo’s passing. She met with an accident about three months before her death. During all that time the family could not get my number due to some error on the part of the exchange. Mrs. Naidoo wanted to see me but they could not contact me till the day after her death. I loved her. She was a sweet soul, a real friend and had a genius for home-making. There was always a beautiful atmosphere in the Naidoo home and one could drop in at any time, no matter how busy she was and always feel a welcome guest. And what a heroine she was! Think of the anxiety she must have gone through all the time the children were in India. I do hope that there will be a joint memorial to her and Thambi.
* Thambi Naidoo was always referred to in the Indian Opinion as C.K. Thambi Naidoo. However, an obituary in the Rand Daily Mail (1 November 1933) gave the full name (Govindasamy Krishnasamy Thambi Naidoo ) which, the author, Mr ES Reddy believes, is the correct name.
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