Born in the pre-independence era, Indira Ramakrishna Pillai is an embodiment of passion and hard work. Now aged 86 years, she is a role model for the younger generation with her never-say-die spirit.
Born into a middle class family that valued education, (Her maternal grandmother was the Headmistress of a school under the government of the Maharaja of Travancore in the early 1900’s, her father and paternal grandfather were well known writers.) she along with her elder sister successfully completed M.Sc. in Physics in the early 1950’s. She got married soon after and spent a busy life as wife and mother, contending with frequent transfers of her husband who was in the Indian Administrative Service.
Her life as a social worker started during the 1962 Sino-Indian war. As wife of the then District Collector of Alleppey, the late C.P.Ramakrishna Pillai, and being a responsible citizen of the country, she felt a moral obligation to help the soldiers protecting the country’s frontiers by raising funds to help those in need. This particular event made her realize her true calling and she decided to dedicate her whole life for the cause of people’s welfare. It is a promise that she has kept till date by being instrumental in changing lives.
The next watershed moment in her life came in 1971 during the time of war with Pakistan. India was faced with a huge refugee crisis and in a truly visionary approach she integrated all the women’s’ organizations in the state for relief work. She became the first secretary of the Kerala Women’s Council. To give the issues a wider coverage, it was decided that the respective Governor (if a lady) or Governor’s wife would be the President of the Council.
In the years that followed, she got catapulted to the public arena and her services were needed in several spheres. She has served as the Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board. Currently she is an active member of the All India Women’s Conference and sees it as her mission to strive everyday for the betterment of the lives of downtrodden women. She has had the good fortune to work with stalwarts like Lakshmi N. Menon, Lakshmi Raghuramaiah, Sarojini Varadappan and Ponnamma Thanu Pillai.
Indira Pillai is much sought after as a powerful speaker and resource person at workshops, seminars and also in the media. She was part of several research studies such as, study on street children sponsored by UNICEF, one on women in custodial homes and another on the life and labour of women in the handloom sector, both sponsored by National Commission for Women and a study on state-run welfare homes in Kerala sponsored by Government of Kerala. She was involved as General Convener and General Co-ordinator at the state level in the activities related to International Year of Women and later the International Decade for Women.
She has been honored by several awards like ‘Lifetime achievement award’ by AIWC, ‘Outstanding women social worker award ‘ by senior citizen forum, Helpage India, Rotary International, National Federation for the Blind, Brahmakumaries to name a few. Her current activities as President TVM branch of AIWC focus on empowerment of women, skill development, environment, alternate energy, climate change etc. Her organization runs a day care centre for old women from poor households, organizing health camps, celebrating festivals and arranging pilgrimages. Her single mindedness to ensure the welfare of the society stands out and is an inspiring story for many.
At the age of 86 years, she is a model of hard work and dedication for younger women. She is busy the whole day long, planning activities, guiding her team in organizing training programmes and social welfare activities, being a patient listener and motivator to numerous young girls and women who seek her advice, at the same time beautifully filling in the roles of mother, grandmother and great grandmother to perfection. A warm hostess, she loves cooking traditional dishes and no visitor to her house is ever sent away without a sumptuous meal. The most notable feature of her remarkable life is that she has all along been a voluntary worker, a creed that is hard to come by among the younger generation today!
Indira Pillai’s life is one that can be emulated by generations to come. She is that ray of hope in a world which has forgotten what it is to be selfless. Her endurance in overcoming any obstacle to extend a helping hand to others is a lesson that has to be imbibed in the minds of young and old alike.