Can you imagine a day without seeing milkman at your door step or his cycle giving a ring? How many of you prefer to start a daily routine without a cup of hot tea or coffee in your hand? Have you ever thought about that person who bought great milk revolution in our country? It’s Varghese Kurian, who is fondly known as ‘The great milkman of India’ who brought great revolutions to our country through his achievements and hard work. Through this article, I am briefly explanation about his struggle to change India from milk deficient country to world’s largest milk producer of the world.

Through his journey in a snapshot

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He was born in November 26, 1921 in Kozhicode in a Syrian Christian family as the son of Puthen Paraikkal Kurien who was a civil surgeon of British Kochi constituency. He took Physics degree from Madras Loyola College in the year 1940 and later from Madras University, he took Mechanical engineering degree also.  He got special training from TATA Iron and Steel Company, Jamshedpur and later went to Mishigen University, America to get a post graduation degree in Engineering. In 1948, he joined as Dairy engineer in a milk powder factory run by central government in Anand, Gujarat. But he resigned his job very soon to join a group of farmers in Kheda which very soon gave birth to ‘Amul’. In 1965, with the help of Kurien, Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then Prime Minister of India started National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) which formed the success stone of Amul which later spread all over the world. In 1973, he organized Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation and very soon, under his organization India became no.1 milk producing country in the world. After remaining three decades as the Managing Director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation he stepped down in the year 1996. During the last phase, after seeing fights for power in an organization he developed through his struggle and hard work, he resigned with broken heart. He had 17 honorary doctorates from universities in India and abroad and has won many awards including Padma Wibhushan, World Food Prize, Padma Shri, Ramon Magsaysay Award, International person of the year, Krishi ratna award and many more.

Real fighter in the ‘Milky’ way

Revolution can be done not only through weapons and swords, but also through purity of milk! Real warrior who was able to prove this was none other than Kurien. From a small remote village of Gujarat, he initiated a big revolution leading India to a ‘Paalazhy’ – the sea of milk where Lord Vishnu stays. Kurien has once told that except drinking milk, he has no connection with cows or cow farming during his childhood days. A young engineer whose mind was filled with thoughts related to metallurgy and physics told in his autobiography, “I too had a dream” in his autobiography. But his destiny was something else. Since he was studying in US with scholarship, he had to work under central government for a short period. Thus he was appointed in the dairy department of central government in the year 1948. Next year, he became the dairy engineer in a milk powder industry of central government. Seeing the exploitations faced by poor farmers his mind melted and he resigned his post very soon.

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It gave him new piece of information about problems faced by milk sector. Thus, he joined Kheda District Co-operative society, a firm started by Morarji Desai and Tribhuvandas Patel, suggestions carry forwarded from Sardar Vallabhai Patel. That society was going through its bad phases due to the exploitations of bureaucrats when he joined them. His real challenge was to fight with Polson Dairy. He joined hands with Tribhuvandas Patel to start a new milk processing unit which paved way to the birth of Amul. Amul was a boom to poor milkmen. By collecting milk from different co-operative societies Amul produced different food products. For its marketing, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation was formed. Thus, forming small branches continuously, this revolution gradually spread all over India. 

Through his 'billion-litre idea' or Operation flood, he kept his promises revolutionizing milk all over India. A unit that started with just 250 litres a day very soon reached a high position no one can even dare to dream that time. He didn’t want to contract himself to milk production only. He has made his distinct mark in many fields including fruits, vegetables, deforestation, edible oil etc. Keeping Anand as a model, he formed co-operative society for oil, making available its seeds at a low cost for farmers and very soon, started the brand, ‘Dhara’. He had to face resistance from already existing oil lobbies. Throughout his life, Kurien has kept himself away from all political parties. His honesty, sincerity and hard work helped him to climb every mountain he dreamt. Let me give a simple example of his honesty. Once, his daughter Nirmala was appointed in the board by other members without the knowledge of Kurien. When he came to know about this matter, he became so angry saying, anyone may criticize him saying he has given a job to his family member misusing his power and very soon, Nirmala resigned the post.

Influence of his uncle

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Kurien was nephew of famous John Mathai – the first Kerala representative in the central government. India’s first railway minister who became minister of finance later. John Mathai dreamt to see him as an engineer while Kurien dreamt a soldier life. Thus, he got resistance from his family itself and very soon, he joined TISCO as an apprentice. Very soon, when he came to know that he got that post through his uncle’s recommendation, he felt ashamed of himself. Also, the considerations he got from there as the nephew of John Mathai was more than he could accept. So, he resigned the post ignoring even his uncle’s words and very soon, departed to study for his PG course. When he returned back with handful of degrees, he stayed with his uncle at Delhi. John Mathai was financial minister of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. This time, his uncle asked him to do as his wish and didn’t offer him any help. If he had continued his job in TISCO, he might not have achieved more in his life than the top position of that company.

Sea of milk flown from Kozhicode

It was a great desire of Kurien to see his childhood home once again. He told his desire to his friend P.A.Abdul Azeez, who was former Managing director of Milma in the Malabar zone. He had to search a little to find his home and very soon Kurien reached the city. It was 2006. Now, though that house is not there, his place still holds his ‘milk’ perfume. Kurien was born in West Hill, Kozhicode. Puthen Paraikkal Kurien got transferred to Kozhicode and he along with his wife was living in Government quarters when she gave birth to their third child, Kurien in 1921. He was given his uncle, Rao Sahib P.K.Vargeese’s name. His autobiography is filled with piano notes of his mother mixed with his first residence. Later, when he was studying in St.Joseph High school he along with his family resided in John Mathai’s home. He came to Kerala for the last time in 2010.

He spent childhood days in Thrissur

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He was an atheist. The first time he went to a church with happiness was for his marriage. He married Molly and at All Saints CSI Church, Thrissur on June 15, 1953 and same day itself, he took her back to Gujarat. Though he didn’t believe God, he believed poor peasants. He got it back too! When Kurien left us, we lost a chain from John Mathai family. He is Thrissur’s son and son-in-law. Both his mother and wife belong to Thrissur. He spent his childhood days here. His uncle John Mathai resided in this town along with his wife, also his elder brother Cherian Mathai who was the head of the family. He stayed unmarried looking after the whole family. When Kurien’s father passed away, whole family came to Thrissur to stay. But very soon, he left Kerala for further studies. Cherian Mathai was the educational director of Kochi at that time – the family along with Vargeese spent his childhood days. Now also, many close relatives are there in Thrissur. The first time he went to Anand was along with his wife, Susan Molly, the same day of their marriage. The rest is History!!! He has described about his relations in his autobiography, though he gave more importance to his success journey.

Real ‘Bharat Ratna’

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When a dairy firm was formed in the year 1948 with new technologies imprinted, Vargeese Kurien worked as its manager. They had a milk production unit named ‘Polson’ from which they made Polson butter, which was used by India during the early ages after its independence. Now Polson butter doesn’t exist. When milkmen began to give milk to Amul, slowly Polson disappeared from Indian market. At that time, collecting milk also had many open challenges. Very soon he got grand to buy equipments from Holland to store and freeze milk. When it turned to be a profitable business, milk production centres of Anand began to share the profits, thus helping the milkmen to stand against the difficulties they faced that time.

Very soon, the then Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri visited Anand and seeing the well flourished dairy firm, decided to stay at a peasant’s home one night. Very soon, National Dairy Development Board was formed in Anand to replicate ‘Anand models’ all over India. Through his program of Operation Flood, he raised milk deficit India to self dependent India and as a part of it, all over the country Mother Dairies were established. When he visited countries like Holland, Denmark and France, the milk products he got as gifts were converted to milk to survive the milk deficit period of India. He spread his ideas to other villages of Gujarat. Sabarkantha, Mehsana and Banaskantha were some of them. Educated youngsters were selected to Farmer’s Training centres, given training to co-operative movement, economics, marketing etc and send to different states. The first gift he asked them was ‘honesty’. He used to directly communicate with those people giving them inspiration. ‘One farmer- One share’ – this slogan was given by him to organize new firms in different states. Now 1.2 crore milkmen are sharing its benefits. Giving power to the hands of milkmen was itself a revolution and hence it began to be known as ‘Milk Revolution’. During the period of 1975-1985, lakh litres of milk were transported in local tankers, yet they were holding success. Many international markets tried to give an end to ‘Operation Flood’. His principle to retain milkmen along with its production, marketing and selling was the main success behind his efforts. If kids of today are drinking good milk, whole credit goes to Kurien.

To exclude professional MBA graduates from his group, he established Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) in the year 1980. Instead of selling pink soaps for multinational companies, he asked his followers to work for co-operative societies and villages. What Gandhi dreamt of India, he made them real through rural development giving poor people what they actually deserve! Today, the co-operative societies of Amul, started with 247 litres of milk have reached 16000 villages of Gujarat itself, coming under 15 units with annual income of10000 crore rupees. 30 lakh people are associated with it, of which majority are poor women. “It’s the greatest fight against poverty”, World Bank says.

Even 1 lakh words is not sufficient enough to say what Vargeese Kurien has contributed to our country. Yet, it's my humble attempt to say at least a few words about his early childhood, his success path, the way, he influenced millions of people and won their hearts. Let me salute him once again and I am proud to say, I belong to the same soil he was born!!!


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