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Home / Announcements / Demises / Dr. Hemalata Lavanam

Outstanding social reformer, eminent atheist and literary figure


Social reformer, writer, well known atheist, and a crusader against untouchability and caste system, Dr. Hemalata Lavanam has died after losing her battle against cancer. Dr. Hemalata Lavanam died at Atheist Centre, Vijayawada , India at 4 p.m., on Wednesday, 19 March, 2008.

Dr. Hemalata Lavanam was born on February 26, 1932 in Vinukonda, Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, India. She was the daughter of eminent Telugu poet Padma Vibhshan, Gurram Joshua and Mirayamma. Ever since her childhood, she faced the rigours of untouchability and caste. She challenged the rigid structures of caste system and fought for social equality with determination and utmost commitment for the cause.

Breaking the barriers of caste and untouchability, her casteless marriage with Lavanam was celebrated at Sewagram Ashram, Wardha , India in 1962. She was the daughter-in-law of Gora and Saraswathi Gora, atheist social reformers.

Dr. Hemalatha Lavanam spent her entire life working for the upliftment of the marginalized communities who are socially, economically and culturally outcast. She strove incessantly for reformation of criminal tribes and Jogini rehabilitation. She fought against superstitions and witchcraft and sorcery. Her simplicity and humbleness won the hearts of scores of community members who called her Amma (Mother). She has no private property and the good will of the public was her strength.

She was the Secretary of SAMSKAR of Atheist Centre, which is an NGO working for humanism, social justice, human rights and socio-economic development in the state of Andhra Pradesh , India. She is also the Founder of Joshua Foundation, which was started to recognize and honour outstanding poets in various languages. Past Presidents of India , Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, Dr. K.R. Narayan, Governors and Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, participated in the Joshua Award Functions held in Hyderabad .

Along with her husband Lavanam, she traveled extensively in India and abroad advocating for the realization of human rights, humanism in action, criminal reformation and upliftment of Jogins (which is a remnant of Devadasi system). Dr. Hemalata, along with Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan witnessed the surrender of dacoits in the Chambal Valley . Dr. Hemalata was a harbinger of nonviolent social change in the erstwhile criminal settlements of Andhra Pradesh. For 16 years, she was involved in the Vasavya Vidyalaya, an experimental school founded by Gora, to promote secular and humanist values through education at Atheist Centre.

She started Chelli Nilayam, an abode for Jogins in Nizamabad district, which brought a sea change in the lives of thousands of erstwhile Jogins. She advocated for recognizing women as equal partners in progress. She highlighted all through her life, the need to move towards a post religious society. Championing the cause for atheism, humanism and social change, she reached out to the masses and worked with them

Dr. Hemalata was also in the forefront of disaster relief and rehabilitation in 1977 cyclone and tidal wave in Divi Taluk, 1979 cyclone, 1996 cyclone in East Godavari District, to name a few. Her tenacity of purpose and uncompromising commitment attracted the attention of government and international agencies which strengthened her work.

Along with Lavanam, she led a Unity March on foot for 1400 kilometers in 70 days, raising concern and voice against the violence in coastal Andhra in 1989. Many such non violent social change initiatives were undertaken by her.

Dr. Hemalata Lavanamís life commitment for the poor and the downtrodden received a number of awards. Potti Sriramulu Telugu University honored her with a Honorary Doctorate in 2007. The same University also bestowed her with an Award for Promotion of Humanism. In 1986, Andhra Pradesh Government honored her with "Atma Gaurava Puraskaram" (Award for Promoting Self Respect) and "Ugadi Puraskaram". She also received "Atheist Achievement Award" from USA and "Red and White Bravery Award" in 2003. She was the recipient of Literary Award from Telugu University, Andhra Pradesh and many more such laurels.

She is a well known writer and poet and published a number of books. Her autobiography depicted her saga of struggle for atheism, humanism and social change. Her novel, "Jivana Prabhatam" (New Dawn of Life) received Telugu University Award. She was bestowed with "Desasnehi Award" (Lover of the Country Award) for her work in the field of development and social change. She also held positions as honorary member of the Senates of Andhra and Nagarjuna universities.

Dr. Hemalata Lavanam will be cremated in the electric crematorium in Vijayawada on 20 March at 4 p.m. A funeral procession will be conducted to honour her work and contribution for social change. The procession will pass through Mahatma Gandhi Road, Krishna Lanka and Pandit Nehru bus station in Vijayawada. She will be cremated without any rites, in a secular manner, as she is a committed atheist.

Dr. Hemalata Lavanam was a pillar of strength for Atheist Centre. She is survived by her husband, Lavanam and a large family of co-workers. As a tribute to her work and contribution, the media (TV, Radio and print) extensively covered her demise. Atheist Centre condoled her death.