I have lived in Trivandrum, or Thiruvananthapuram as it is officially called, for a long time now. Two decades and counting, to be exact. I have driven, and been driven, through the the Anne Mascarene Square almost a million times. In all these years never have I ever given a thought to the statue standing right in the centre of the circular park in the square. It all changed one day when on a whim I looked up the name Anne Mascarene. Google and Wiki were very forthcoming and spat out information about her that made me go ‘Wow!’
Anne Mascarene was an activist, a politician and a lawyer from Thiruvananthapuram born in 1902. The same year as my maternal grandfather, I noticed. Her father, Gabriel Mascarene, was an official in the erstwhile Travancore State. I found no mention of her mother anywhere. Nor anything about her growing up years.
The action starts with her double masters degree in Economics and History, and a law degree she earned subsequent to a brief teaching assignment in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Fast forward a few years and we see Anne Mascarene as one of the leaders of the movements for independence and integration of the Princely States within the Indian nation.
In 1938, she became one of the first women to join the newly formed political party, the Travancore State Congress. Appointed to its working committee, she also served in the publicity committee. In 1942 she joined the Quit India movement and was subsequently elected secretary of the party.
What really caught my attention was her outspokenness and the reaction to it by those in power. In the course of her activities she was assaulted by a police officer and her home broken into for the statements she made. During her time in the legislature, a speech she gave in Bombay annoyed no less a person than Gandhi, who wrote to her that she had ‘no control over her tongue’ and also that by her act she ‘put the whole fair sex to shame’! I cannot but roll my eyes at the ‘fair sex’ bit. He even tried having her removed from her ministerial position if reports are to be believed. After reading all this I am curious and dying to hear that speech of hers.
Mascarene became one of the 15 women who were elected to the 299-member Constituent Assembly of India, tasked with drafting the Constitution of India. What an incredible honour! She was also the first woman Member of Parliament (among the only ten from all over in those elections) from Kerala elected to the first Lok Sabha in the 1951 general elections from our very own Thiruvananthapuram constituency
Anne Mascarene passed away in 1963 and lies at the Pattoor cemetery. As a mark of respect, and remembrance, a bronze statue of Anne Mascarene was built at the square named after her and was unveiled by president Hamid Ansari in 2013. It is maintained by her family who lament that she has joined the ranks of those whose contributions have been overshadowed and forgotten due to negligence from the part of authorities. They have a point.
© Shail Mohan 2022