Friends of LAFTI Foundation

Supporting the work of Land for Tillers' Freedom (LAFTI)

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With a sad heart, we announce the passing of Shri. Jagannathan, co-founder of Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI).  Jagannathan, a lifelong Gandhian activist, passed away on February 12, 2013 at his home in Gandhigram.   Our condolences to his wife, Krishnammal, and their children. 

As we celebrate the life Jagannathan, we remember the words of a Tamil poet:

Arut Perum Jothi

Thani Perum Karunai

Arut Perum Jothi

Boundless benevolent shining light

God in-dwelling in that shining light

The light of compassion coming to rule the world.

                                                                    Tamil prayer by Sri Ramalinga Swami (aka Vallalar)

The following article appeared in India’s The Hindu newspaper:


MADURAI, February 13, 2013

Sarvodaya leader Jagannathan passes away


 “Being as innovative in personal as in social life, Jagannathan gave me the wedding-dress that he hand-spun himself on his charka for 48 days. The momentum of his spinning charka had never slackened, and led us in the path of dedicated social action, the movement that continues to this moment.”

These words were spoken by Krishnammal Jagannathan on receiving the alternative Nobel, The Right Livelihood Award 2008, from the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Sweden, about her husband. The man who waited till independence to spin her wedding saree passed away at Gandhigram in Dindigul district on Tuesday at the ripe age of 98.

Jagannathan, a Sarvodaya leader and the Bhoodan movement spearhead in Tamil Nadu, along with Krishnammal, was a lifelong activist for sustainable development who worked with the downtrodden, especially Dalits and the landless.

Born on October 6, 1914 at Sengappadai village in erstwhile Ramanathapuram district in a rich family, Jagannathan gave up his college studies in 1930 and plunged into the freedom struggle. After independence, he was involved in the restoration of farmers’ livelihood. He established the Construction Workers’ Home in Gandhigram to train workers to serve in villages. In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the Jagannathans at this home.

“All along his life, he was into struggles, starting from participation in freedom movement, through the 1964 Vilampatti struggle to get 37 acres of land restored to tillers; protest against the 1968 massacre of 44 farm workers at Keezhvenmani and the campaign against prawn farms,” recalls K. M. Natarajan, chairman, Tamil Nadu Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, who is associated with him since 1949. In 1950-52, he joined the Bhoodan Movement of Acharya Vinobha Bhave. Jagannathan was a trusted lieutenant of Jayaprakash Narayan and their bond became stronger in the 1970s. At the invitation of JP, the couple went to Bihar in 1975 to organise the landless poor in Bodh Gaya. The Keezhavenmani struggle marked a watershed in the lives of the Jagannathans, writes M. Mariappan in the magazine, Sarvodaya Talisman: “This incident shook the conscience of the entire nation and highlighted the plight of the voiceless farmers and the tyranny of the land owning class….Jagannathan and his wife decided to shift their activities from Madurai district and settle down in that area and established an ashram in Kilavur… Their sustained fight to restore tenancy rights to farmers of the lands owned by Hindu temples and its success story is a matter of history.” Into his 80s, Jagannathan fought in the Supreme Court to get a landmark judgement banning prawn farms along the coast. In 1981, the Jagannathans started the Land for Tillers Independence (LAFTI), with the aim of purchasing land from landlords for redistribution and registration of pattas in the name of women. By 2007, LAFTI had transferred 13,000 acres of land to an equal number of families. Jagannathan is a recipient of many awards, including the Jamnalal Bajaj Award. He was chosen for the Padmashri in 1989. Jagannathan is survived by his wife, son and daughter. The last rites will be performed at Gandhigram on Wednesday.

Click HERE to read the article in THE HINDU

Building Houses One Village at a Time

LAFTI has partnered with two organizations to build houses in the villages of Orathur and Karunganni in Tamilnadu, India.  In anticipation of this awesome event, the future homeowners began making bricks and transporting them to their villages in August of 2010.  This was a laborious task since it takes 15,000 bricks to build one house.  Construction began in February 2011, but heavy rains caused several irruptions.  All the houses in both villages have now been completed up to the roof levels.  If all goes according to schedule, 50 families will soon be able to move from decrepit mud huts into small brick homes.

    "Passports with Purpose"  
Built 25 Houses in Karunganni

In November 2010, Passports with Purpose  launched a fundraiser for the village of Karunganni. 

Passports with Purpose was founded in 2008 by a group of Seattle-based travel bloggers as a way to build community among travel bloggers and to give back to the places they visit.   In its first year, Passports with Purpose raised $7,400 for Heifer International.   In 2009, they raised almost $30,000 to build a school in Cambodia, including a well that provides safe, clean water.   In 2010, Passports with Purpose raised over $64,000, far exceeding their goal of $50,000, to help LAFTI build houses for 25 families in Karunganni.


 It Takes a Community
to Build a Village

Many more villages are desperately in need of decent housing.  Perhaps you belong to a group, organization, or a community that would like to adopt a village.  LAFTI could assign you a village and identify 5, 10, 15, perhaps 25 families, who will build their own houses with your help.  We will monitor the progress and provide reports and pictures.
Additionally, large companies often have matching donation programs for contributions made to tax-exempt public charities.  If you work for one of these companies, this would be a way to double any contribution made through the Friends of LAFTI Foundation.

Contact us if you would like to discuss the possibility of building a village. 

Awards for Krishnammal and Jagannathan

After spending a lifetime serving others, Krishnammal Jagannathan and her husband, S. Jagannathan, founders of  Land for Tillers' Freedom (LAFTI), were honored with two major humanitarian awards.  On November 18, 2008, Krishnammal received an Opus Prize Award in a ceremony at Seattle University in Seattle, Washington.  Then she traveled to Sweden in December, where she received the Right Livelihood Award  at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament.  Since Jagannathan is no longer able to travel, Krishnammal represented both of them at the ceremony.

According to Krishnammal, LAFTI's housing program will be the beneficiary of the prize money that accompanies these awards.  Thanks to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, the Opus Prize Foundation, Seattle University, and LAFTI's many friends around the world, Krishnammal's dream of building 5,000 houses may some day become a reality.  10,000 women will be able to move their families from dilapidated, rat infested, mud huts into small brick houses.

Congratulations to Krishnammal, Jagannathan and the entire LAFTI family!

Together Everything Is Possible!

"Yelam Seyalkoodum!" (Tamil) 





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Jain Center of Northern California
Comes to the Aid of Orathur


The Jain Center of Northern California (JCNCis providing funding to build 25 houses in Orathur, a village that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.  Water entered the village through tidal rivers sweeping away houses and crops.  Families stayed in schools until their mud huts could be minimally repaired.  Although eking out a meager living was a struggle before the tsunami, it became even more difficult in its aftermath.  They slowly began to rebuild their lives, but their living conditions were dismal.  With the help of LAFTI, most families in Orathur now own an acre of land, but maintaining their mud huts continues to be a burden.  Thanks to the generosity of JCNC, a much brighter future is on the horizon.  



This family in Orathur is waiting to build a new house 



  California Family Provides a New House for a Family in India

Kim and Bruce McIntyre (La Mesa, California) heard about the Friends of LAFTI dime-a-brick program, and wanted to help.  They started saving their coins in anticipation of someday building a house for a family in need.  They jumped into high gear when they learned that Krishnammal would be coming to San Diego in November 2008, and they presented her with a check for an entire house. 


Fast forward to 2010 and meet Aravalli and Thakaraj and their children who are now living in the home funded by the McIntyre's generous donation.   In the article below, Aravalli and Thakaraj discuss how their new home has changed their lives. 



A New House Means Pride and Safety

We are often asked what a new house means to the people living in these villages.    Does it really improve their lives?  Meera Shanti, who interned with LAFTI in July, sat down with Aravalli and Thakaraj in their new home in the village of Sikkavalam.   When she asked them what they valued most about their new home, they responded "Pride and Safety."  "We feel much more financially safe because we are not spending 4,000 rupees ($88 USD) every year to replace the straw that held together our hut."

Their 13-year-old daughter, Bhuvaneswari, added that having a quiet and comfortable place to study has helped her stay ahead in school.  In the past, she found it difficult to complete her homework on rainy nights in the family's damp and leaky hut.   Her mother continued:

"We are so very happy that, with the help of Krishnammal and LAFTI, we were able to help ourselves. Although we continue to work the same jobs as before even if they are unorganized and inconsistent, we are no longer struggling to stay above water. We feel safe and proud that we have built our own home, a home that our children leave from in the morning and return to at night to complete their homework. We now live in peace and safety from the rain and sun that used to make our lives such a struggle."  

Go to Meera's blog to read more about Aravalli and Thakaraj and their family.



Aravalli and Thakaraj and their children standing next to their mud hut (top) and next to their new home (bottom)

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