Biography of KK Shailaja – The Coronavirus Slayer

Mar/29/2022 / by Swarnendu Biswas
KK Shailaja
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

She led the Covid War in Kerala

KK Shailaja is the former Minister of Health and Family Welfare in the government of Kerala. Kerala is a state of India which has the highest literacy rate among the states of India.

If one writes a biography of KK Shailaja, it should be highlighted by her/him that during KK Shailaja’s tenure as Kerala government’s Minister of Health and Family Welfare, that was from 25th May 2016 to 19th May 2021, Kerala experienced impressive development of its public health system, especially at the grassroots level, which facilitated the state located in southern part of India to tackle Covid-19 pandemic effectively.

Teacher Turned Legislator

There is news on KK Shailaja that she is presently a Member of the Kerala Legislative Assembly. She an MLA in the 15th Kerala Legislative Assembly. She represents Mattanur constituency in Kerala from which she was elected with a massive margin of 60,000-odd votes, which is the largest margin of victory ever in the history of Kerala legislative assembly elections. There is also news on KK Shailaja, which came in the early part of January 2022, that she was tested positive for Covid-19.

If one were to ask what is the profession of KK Shailaja then it can easily be answered that she is a legislator. However, she can also be described as a retired teacher.

She belongs to Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is commonly referred as CPI(M) in India. Shailaja is a Central Committee member of Communist Party of India (Marxist).

While talking about KK Shailaja it also needs to be mentioned that she hails from the Kannur district, which lies on the west coast of Kerala. Shailaja did her Bsc in Chemistry from Pazhassi Raja N. S. S. College, Mattanur and Bachelor of Education from Visvesvarayya College. Before entering politics full-time, she used to work as a physics teacher at Shivapuram High School in Kannur. She worked as a teacher for seven years before retiring from teaching and entering full-time politics in 2004.

However, the illustrious political career of KK Shailaja began much before 2004. Besides winning from the Mattanur constituency in 2021 with a historic margin, she was twice elected as an MLA of Kuthuparamba constituency in 1996 and 2016. She was also elected as an MLA of Peravoor constituency in 2006. Both of these are among the 140 state legislative assembly constituencies of Kerala.

Resounding Mandates

This is her fourth term as an MLA, the other three tenures of her as an MLA being 1996-2001, 2006-2011, and 19th May 2016- 2nd May 2021. She contested Kerala assembly elections for five times till now.

In 1996, she won from Kuthuparamba constituency with a margin of 18993 votes from her closest rival; in 2006 she won from Peravoor constituency with a margin of 9099 votes from her closest rival; in 2011 she lost to her closest rival Sunny Joseph of Indian National Congress from Peravoor constituency with a narrow margin of 3440 votes; in 2016 Shailaja won from  Kuthuparamba constituency again with a margin of 12291 votes from her closest rival; and in 2021 she won by an astonishing margin of 60963 votes from her closest rival, from Mattanur constituency in Kerala.

Effectively Tackling the Pandemic

Her astute leadership during the first wave of the pandemic crisis garnered widespread praise. In fact, few leaders in state governments across India embraced the statement issued by WHO on 18th January 2020, on the spread of a novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China with its due seriousness and alertness. Shailaja was one among those few.

On 20th January 2020 she phoned one of her medically trained assistants and on knowing that the virus was definitely going to invade India, she began the preparations to tackle the menace with earnest. Even before Kerala had its first Covid-19 case, Shailja was seen having a meeting with her rapid response team to tackle the Covid wave of the near future, which was followed by setting up a control room, and mobilizing surveillance teams to tackle the impending crisis.  Medical officers in Kerala’s 14 districts were instructed to set up control rooms at their level.

By the time Kerala got its first Covid-19 case on 27th January, the state had the World Health Organization’s protocol of test, trace, isolate and support in place. This advance preparedness saved priceless lives and huge cost to the state exchequer. Results were very much evident; by May 2020 Kerala was having slightly over 520 cases of Covid-19 with only four Covid induced deaths. One can easily arrive at the conclusion that the advance of the Covid pandemic in its first wave was greatly checked in Kerala by a woman of vision and determination.

With targeted testing in tandem with contact tracing and isolation measures, Shailaja helped the previous LDF government of Kerala to flatten the Covid curve far better than other states of India, during the first wave of the pandemic.

What is more, the commendable achievement was made in a state with large urban population and a significant percentage of diaspora population. Shailaja Teacher, as she is affectionately known, led from the front in preventing and controlling the first wave of Covid menace during her stint as the Minister of Health and Family Welfare in Kerala.

Honours Flowed In

In June 2020, the United Nations honored her for her efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Shailaja was among the few leaders of the world who were invited to speak on the occasion of the United Nations Public Service Day. United Nations invited Shailaja  to participate in a panel discussion on United Nations Public Service Day 2020, for her efforts to fight Covid-19 in Kerala. She was described as “coronavirus slayer” and “rock star health minister” by the globally renowned publication, The Guardian. She was featured among a list of Asian women Corona fighters by BBC News, in May 2020.  She was selected by the UK-based Prospect magazine as the world’s ‘top thinker’ of 2020.

Shailaja was also awarded with Central Open University (CEU) Open Society Prize for 2021. She got this award in recognition of “her determined leadership and community-based public health work, saving lives during the pandemic.”

Victory Against Nipah

During the outbreak of Nipah virus in 2018 also Shailaja’s acumen, wisdom and sincerity of approach helped Kerala to tide over the crisis and keep the official number of fatalities less than 20. Here it deserves a mention that Nipah is a bat-borne virus which has a very high case fatality rate, ranging between 50 to 75 percent.

During the Nipah virus crisis in Kerala, Shailaja visited the worst hit village to calm the local residents and prevent panic among people.

A medical thriller in Malayalam language named Virus was made in 2019. The film was set against the backdrop of the  Nipah virus outbreak in 2018 in Kerala. There the popular Indian actress and director, Revathi played the role modeled on KK Shailaja.

Learning to be Brave

Shailaja probably inculcated her strong sense of social commitment and her unadulterated courage from her grandmother who used to take part in local movements against untouchability, which is heinous social crime based on casteism. It was rampant in India even a few decades back with its ugly stench still present in pockets of post-modern Indian society. Sometimes young Shailaja used to accompany her grandmother during many such heated protests.

Her grandmother also used to visit homes of small pox patients when the disease was present in India, and used to offer help to them. According to Shailaja, her grandmother taught her to be courageous.

Disappointing Exclusion

Surprisingly, despite such achievements in Kerala’s health sector and such global acclaim, she was left out from the second cabinet led by the Pinarayi Vijayan, the present Chief Minister of Kerala, which was formed in end of May 2021. Her exclusion from the present ministry and cabinet of the present LDF government in Kerala triggered a media uproar in Kerala. One of the strong electoral points of the presently ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) alliance in Kerala had been its commendable achievements in the health sector of Kerala in its previous tenure.

Her exclusion from the current LDF government’s ministry has garnered sharp reactions from social media too. Her exclusion was in line with the decision of CPI(M) of not giving second term to any minister from the previous LDF government in Kerala.

However, Kerala has now not been able to maintain its success story in checking Covid-19 cases. In the third wave, the state is seeing huge case load everyday these days, though thankfully, fatality rates are low. In this juncture, the second term of KK Shailaja as the Minister of Health and Family Welfare in the government of Kerala might have made the difference.

FAQs

To whom is KK Shailaja married to?

She is married to K. Bhaskaran and they have two sons, whose names are Lasith and Sobhith.

Where is KK Shailaja born?

She was born in the Kannur district of Kerala on 20th November 1956. The age of KK Shailaja is 65 years.

What is KK Shailaja’s net worth?

According to www.thenewsminute.com, Shailaja declared total assets worth Rs. 49.7 lakh as well as a loan of Rs 54,601 for 2019-20.

When did she start her career?

She began her teaching career in 1997; she began her political career even before that.