Women shouldered critical responsibilities in India’s struggle for freedom. They held public meetings, organized picketing of shops selling foreign alcohol and articles, sold Khadi and actively participated in National Movements. They bravely faced the baton of the police and went behind the iron bars. Hundreds and thousands of Indian women dedicated their lives for obtaining freedom of their motherland and only very few could include in this essay due to space restriction.
Mahatma Gandhi squarely summed up the strength of womanhood in his tribute to the gender:
“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to women. If by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self sacrificing, has she not greater power of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man would not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is woman. I have nursed this thought now for years”.
The list of great women whose names have gone down in history for their dedication and undying devotion to the service of India is a long one. Here are just few of them whose patriotism will be in the hearts of the million of Indians forever.
1.Kittur Rani Chennamma (1778-1829)
Kitturu Rani Chennamma was the queen of the princely state of Kittur in Karnataka. In 1824, 33 years before the 1857 war of independence, she led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse. The resistance ended in her martyrdom and she is remembered today as one of the earliest Indian rulers to have fought for independence. Along with Abbakka Rani, Keladi Chennamma and Onake Obavva she is much venerated in Karnataka as an icon of bravery and women’s pride.
2.Rani of Jhansi(1828-1858)
The first name that comes to mind is that of the famous Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Dressed in man’s clothes, she led her soldiers to war against the British. Even her enemies admired her courage and daring. She fought valiantly and although beaten she refused to surrender and fell as a warrior should, fighting the enemy to the last. Her remarkable courage inspired many men and women in India to rise against the alien rule.
3.Rani Avanti Bai (1831-1858)
Rani Avantibai was born on 16/08/1831.When Vikramaditya Singh, the ruler of Ramgarh State died leaving behind his wife Avantibai and no heir to the throne, the British put the state under court administration. Avantibai vowed to win back her land from the British. She raised an army of four thousand men and led it herself against the British in 1857. A fierce battle ensured and Avantibai fought most valiantly but could not hold out for long against the superior strength of the British army. When her defeat become imminent she killed herself with her own sword and English army couldn’t defeat her in her life. Later Rani Avantibia’s sacrifice became a example to the Lodhian kingdom and became history of the fight for freedom on 20-03-1858. She was a great freedom fighter.
4.Begum Hazrath Mahal (1879)
Begum Hazrat Mahal was the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Hazrat Mahal was known as the Begum of Avadh (Oudh). She was stunning beautiful, and used her courage and leadership qualities to rebel against the British East India Company during the First Indian War of Independence.
After her husband had been sent away in exile to Calcutta, she with the cooperation of a zealous hand of supporters like Sarafaddaulah, Bal Krishna, Raja Jai Lal and Mammon Khan worked incessantly to revive the fortunes of Avadh. She seized control of Lucknow in association with the revolutionary forces and set up her son, Prince Birjis Qadir, as the ruler of Avadh, Hazrat Mahal worked in association with Nana Saheb but later escaped from Lucknow and joined the Maulavi of Faizabad in the attack on Sahajahanpur. She was driven from pillar to post, but she made her retreat with fortitude. She rejected with the contempt the promises of allowance and status held out to her by the British against whom her hatred was unrelenting. In the end after bearing misfortune and misery throughout the period of resistance, she found asylum in Nepal where she died in 1879.
Sarojini Naidu (Chattapadhya) was born on February 13, 1879 in Hyderabad. Her father, Dr. Aghornath Chattopadhyaya, was the founder of Nizam College of Hyderabad and a scientist. Her mother, Mrs. Varasundari, was a Bengali poetess. Sarojinidevi inherited qualities from both her father and mother.
Once she was working on an algebra problem, and when she couldn’t find the solution she decided to take a break, and in the same book she wrote her first inspired poetry. She got so enthused by this that she wrote “The Lady of the Lake”, a poem 1300 lines long. When her father saw that she was more interested in poetry than mathematics or science, he decided to encourage her. With her father’s support, she wrote the play “Maher Muneer” in the Persian language. Dr. Chattopadhyaya distributed some copies among his friends and sent one copy to the Nawab of Hyderabad. Reading a beautiful play written by a young girl, the Nizam was very impressed. The college gave her a scholarship to study abroad. At the age of 16 she got admitted to King’s College of England. There she met famous laureates of the time.
During her stay in England, Sarojini met Dr. Govind Naidu from southern India. After finishing her studies at the age of 19, she got married to him during the time when inter-caste marriages were not allowed. Her father was a progressive thinking person, and he did not care what others said. Her marriage was a very happy one. Her major contribution was also in the field of poetry. Her poetry had beautiful words that could also be sung. Soon she got recognition as the “Bul Bule Hind” when her collection of poems was published in 1905 under the title “Golden Threshold”. After that, she published two other collections of poems–“The Bird of Time” and “The Broken Wings”. In 1918, ” Feast of Youth” was published. Later, “The Magic Tree”, “The Wizard Mask” and “A Treasury of poems” were published. Mahashree Arvind, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru were among the thousands of admirers of her work. Her poems had English words, but an Indian soul.
One day she met Shree Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He said to her to use her poetry and her beautiful words to rejuvenate the spirit of Independence in the hearts of villagers. He asked her to use her talent to free Mother India. Then in 1916, she met Mahatma Gandhi, and she totally directed her energy to the fight for freedom. She would roam around the country like a general of the army and pour enthusiasm among the hearts of Indians. The independence of India became the heart and soul of her work.
She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She brought them out of the kitchen. She traveled from state to state, city after city and asked for the rights of the women. She re-established self-esteem within the women of India.
In 1925, she chaired the summit of Congress in Kanpur. In 1928, she came to the USA with the message of the non-violence movement from Gandhiji. When in 1930, Gandhiji was arrested for a protest, she took the helms of his movement. In 1931, she participated in the Round Table Summit, along with Gandhiji and Pundit Malaviyaji. In 1942, she was arrested during the “Quit India” protest and stayed in jail for 21 months with Gandhiji. After independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. She was the first woman governor. She was a woman of a great country, with such a great heritage in which Sitamata, Draupadi, Savitri and Damayanti were born. Their purity, courage,determination and self-confidence were the foundation of her own character and personality.
On March 2, 1949, she took her last breath, and India lost her beloved child, her “Bulbul.” Nevertheless, her name will always be in the golden history of India as an inspiring poet and a brave freedom fighter.
6.Preeti Lata Waddadar (1911-32)
Preetilata was born on 5 May 1911 in the Dholaghat village of Chittagong. Her father’s name was Jagabandhu Wadddadar, the head clerk of Chittagong Municipality. Her mother Protibha Waddadar was a patron of the local revolutionaries and a supporter of Swadeshi movement. In 1927 Preetilata obtained her SSC in first division from Dr Khastogir Girls’ College. Then she moved to Dhaka for her HSC studies and enrolled in Eden College. As a student of Eden Girls’ College, Preetilata joined the Deepali Sangha, a Dhaka based women’s revolutionary organization. In 1929 Preetilata topped among the female students in HSC exam. Due to her outstanding result Preetilata was awarded Tk (Rs.) 20.00 monthly scholarship from the board of education. The financial support enabled Preetilata to pursue her higher studies in Kolkata, the then center of culture and education of united Bangla. In Kolkata, Preetilata succeeded in enrolling in the prestigious Bethune College. As a member of the Revolutionary party Preetilata immediately formed a student front of the revolutionary party with a couple of her classmates. Her group raised money to support the Chittagong based revolutionaries and organized a readers’ forum to promote patriotic spirit among the college students. On the direction of the party high command Preetilata bought explosive implements from underground factories in Kolkata and took the explosives to Chittagong. Her mates at Bethune College, Kalpana Datta, Sarojini Pal, Kumudini Rakkhit, Renuka Ray, and Kamala Mukherjee helped Preetilata in her mission. In 1930 Preetilata, instead of seating for BA (hons), sat for BA (pass) exam and passed BA with distinction. On her return to Chittagong Preetilata started her teaching career and joined as the principal of a newly established English medium school, Aparna Charan Girls High School. Preetilata was a member of Jugantar-a secret revolutionary organization.
The death of comrade Ardhendu Dastidar in the Jalalabad hill war on 22 April 1930 spurred her commitment to revolutionary causes. On 13 June 1932 Preetilata secretly met Mastarda Surya Sen, the legendary Bangalee revolutionary, at the residence of Sabitri Debi of Dholaghat. In the meeting Preetilata demanded that girls should be given equal opportunity in armed revolutionary activities. She argued that many young people have already given their lives for the freedom of the motherland, now it was the time for the girls to embrace the same fate of honor.
The task for attacking the European Club in Chittagong was initially assigned to rebel Shaileshwar Chakraborty which he failed to carry out twice for various reasons. In September 1932 Surya Sen came to South Kattali village to discuss the strategies and tactics for attacking the European Club. On the instruction from the party high command Preetilata and Kalpana Datta, wearing man’s clothes in order to escape the British spies, headed for the secret meeting called by Surya Sen. Unfortunately Kalpana was arrested at Pahartali but Preetilata managed to skip the British spies. In the meeting Surya Sen told Preetilata that she was nominated to lead the attack on the European Club on 23 September 1932 and the other members of her team were: 1. Shanti Chakraborty (Kattali) 2. Kali Dey (Gosail Danga) 3. Sushil Dey (Dharala) 4. Prafulla Das ((Kattali) 5. Mahendra Chaudhury (Mohra).
At 2145 hrs on 23 September Surya Sen, with one of his body guards, came to Kattali to wish luck to his comrades for the success of the operation. At 2200 hrs Preetilata and her comrades, all wearing military uniforms, took farewell from the commander and marched off to carry out the operation. Soon they reached the European Club and took position in the bush near the club. They were carrying rifles robbed from the British armories, pistols and macerates in their waists and bombs in their haversacks. The British colonial officers were having a great time inside the club while Preetilata’s team was preparing the attack. The gate of the club was protected by armed guards. On receiving Morse coded signal from the chef of the club kitchen Preetilata stormed the club firing shots on the armed guards at the gate and shouting “Charge”. Her comrades joined her and kept shooting on the club. Preetilata lead the attack and threw a bomb through the main gate as soon as she reached the gate. The Britons were bewildered at the sudden armed attack and ran their heads off to save their asses. An Englishman tried to play James Bond and threw goblets to the rebels. Preetilata shot him and sent his soul to merry old England.
But soon the military reinforcement from the nearby cantonment came for rescue. Under-equipped to fight the military Preetilata signaled her comrades to retreat. They followed her command and retreated. A few minutes later Preetilata went back to make sure that all her comrades were OK. The group of partisans soon reached the rail line near the club covered by the team leader who followed them to ensure a safe retreat. They were heading for Pahartali bazaar because Kattali village is very close to the bazaar. As the rebels were heading to the bazaar a young Englishman, who hid in the gutter to escape the attack, shot at Preetilata. The bullet hit Preetilata on her chest and she dropped on the road bleeding profusely. But Preetilata was a born rebel and was determined not to surrender to the British colonists so the valiant rebel took out the cyanide pill and swallowed it.
7.Matangini Hazra (1869-1942)
Was an Indian revolutionary who participated in the Indian independence movement until she was shot dead by the British Indian police in front of the Tamluk Police Station (of erstwhile Midnapore District) on September 29, 1942. She was affectionately known as Gandhi buri, Bangla for old lady Gandhi.
Matangini Hazra, who was 73 years at the time, led a procession of six thousand supporters, mostly women volunteers, with the purpose of taking over the Tamluk police station. When the procession reached the outskirts of the town, they were ordered to disband under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code by the Crown police. As she stepped forward, Matangini Hazra was shot once. Apparently, she had stepped forward and was appealing to the police not to shoot at the crowd.
The Biplabi newspaper of the parallel Tamluk National Government commented:
“” Matangini led one procession from the north of the criminal court building; even after the firing commenced, she continued to advance with the tri-colour flag, leaving all the volunteers behind. The police shot her three times. She continued marching despite wounds to the forehead and both hands. “”
As she was repeatedly shot, she kept chanting Vande Mataram, translating as “hail to the Motherland”. She died with the flag of the Indian National Congress held high and still flying.
8.Kasturba Gandhi (April 11, 1869 – 22 February 1944)
Kasturba Gandhi, daughter of Gokuladas Makharji of Porbandar,affectionately called Ba, was the wife of Mohandas Gandhi.
Kasturba Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s wife joined her husband while he was in South Africa and worked with him for many years there. She was a leader of Women’s Satyagraha for which she was imprisoned. She helped her husband in the cause of Indigo workers in Champaran, Bihar and the No Tax Campaign in Kaira, Gujarat. She was arrested twice for picketing liquor and foreign cloth shops, and in 1939 for participating in the Rajkot Satyagraha.
Kasturba married Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) through arrangement. They were both 13 years old. At that time, she was illiterate, and so Gandhi taught her to read and write — a potentially radical move, given the position of women in India at that time.
When Gandhi left to study in London in 1888, she remained in India to raise their newborn son Harilal. She had three more sons – Manilal (1892), Ramdas (1897), and Devdas (1900).
In 1906, Mohandas Gandhi decided to practice brahmacharya, and the couple became celibate. Although she stood by her husband, she did not always easily accept his ideas. Gandhi had to work hard to persuade her to see (and agree to) his points of view. Kasturba was deeply religious. Like her husband, she renounced all caste distinctions and lived in ashrams.
Kasturba often joined her husband in political protests. She traveled to South Africa in 1897 to be with her husband. From 1904 to 1914, she was active in the Phoenix Settlement near Durban. During the 1913 protest against working conditions for Indians in South Africa, Kasturba was arrested and sentenced to three months in a hard labor prison. Later, in India, she sometimes took her husband’s place when he was under arrest. In 1915, when Gandhi returned to India to support indigo planters, Kasturba accompanied him. She taught hygiene, discipline, reading and writing to women and children.
Kasturba suffered from chronic bronchitis. Stress from the Quit India Movement’s arrests and ashram life caused her to fall ill. After contracting pneumonia, she died from a severe heart attack on February 22, 1944. She died in Mahatma Gandhi’s arms while both were still in prison. He was never the same after her death.
9.Kalpana Datta (1913-1995)
Kalpana Joshi (Datta) a revolutionary, was born at Sripur of Chittagong district on 27 July 1913 in a middle-class family. Having matriculated in 1929 from Chittagong, Kalpana Datta went to Calcutta and joined the Bethune college. Greatly influenced by the examples set by the revolutionaries Kshatriya Basu and Kanailal Datta, she soon joined the Chhatri Sangha. Purnendu Dastidar drew her into the revolutionary circle of Mastarda Surya sen.
The Chittagong Armory Raid took place on 18 April 1930 and Kalpana hurried back to Chittagong and came in contact with Surya Sen in May 1931. In the meantime, many of the leaders of the Raid like Ananta Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and Loknath Bal had been arrested and were awaiting trial.
Kalpana was entrusted with the safe carrying of heavy explosive materials from Calcutta. She also secretly prepared ‘gun-cotton’ and planned to plant a dynamite fuse under the court building and inside the jail to free the revolutionary leaders, who were being tried in a special Tribunal.
The plot was uncovered and certain restrictions were imposed on Kalpana’s movements. She, however, managed to visit regularly the village of Surya Sen, sometimes even at dead of night. She also used to have regular training in revolver shooting, along with her comrade pritilata waddedar.
In September 1931 Surya Sen decided to entrust Kalpana and Preetilata with a plan to attack the European Club at Chittagong. A week before the action Kalpana was arrested while moving out for a survey work in a boy’s attire. While in jail, she was told about the Pahartali action and the heroic suicide of Preetilata. Being released on bail, she went underground at the bidding of Surya Sen and in the early hours of 17 February 1933 the police encircled their hideout. Surya Sen was captured while Kalpana, along with Manindra Datta, escaped.
On 19 May 1933 Kalpana, with some comrades, was arrested. In the second supplementary trial of Chittagong Armory Raid case, Surya Sen and Tarakeswar Dastidar were sentenced to death, and Kalpana was sentenced to transportation for life. Being released in 1939 she graduated from the Calcutta University in 1940. Soon she joined the CPI and resumed her battle against the British rule. She turned Kalpana Joshi in 1943 when she married PC Joshi, the leader of the CPI. She went back to Chittagong and organised the Kisans’ and women’s fronts of the party. In 1946 she contested, though unsuccessfully, in the elections to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. After 1947 she migrated to India and resigned from active politics.
Kalpana Datta breathed her last at New Delhi on 8 February 1995.
10.Lakshmi Sahgal (Swaminathan) (1914)
Lakshmi Sahgal (or Sahgal) née Swaminathan, also known as Captain Lakshmi (born October 24, 1914 in Madras, Madras Presidency, British India) is an activist of the Indian independence movement, an ex-officer of the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women’s affairs in the Azad Hind Government.
Lakshmi Sahgal later became involved in politics in independent India, serving as a member of parliament in the Upper House and later running for President as a left wing candidate. Lt Col Swaminathan is commonly referred to as Captain Lakshmi in India, referring to her rank at the time of being taken prisoner in Burma, as widely reported in Indian newspapers at the end of the war and which captured the public imagination, as opposed to her not widely known promotion in the last days of Azad Hind.
Sahgal was born as Lakshmi Swaminathan, daughter of Dr S. Swaminathan, a leading lawyer practicing Criminal Law at Madras High Court. Lakshmi Sahgal mother was A.V. Ammukutty, better known as Ammu Swaminathan, a social worker and freedom fighter and hailed from the famous Vadakkath family of Anakkara in Palghat, Kerala. A.V. Kutty Malu Amma was another well known freedom fighter from the same family.
Lakshmi decided to study medicine because she wanted to be of service to the poor, especially to poor women. As a result, she received an MBBS degree from Madras Medical College in 1938. A year later, she received her diploma in gynecology and obstetrics.
In 1940,she left for Singapore where she established a clinic for the poor, mostly migrant labour, from India. She became one of the most popular and prosperous gynecologists in the city. She was not only a competent doctor but also played an active role in the India Independence League which contributed greatly to the freedom movement in India.
In 1942, during the historic surrender of Singapore by the British to the Japanese, she worked hard in serving the prisoners of war who were hurt during the skirmishes. In the process, she came in contact with many Indian Prisoners of War (POW’s) who were thinking of forming an Indian liberation army.
Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore on July 2, 1943. In the next few days, at all his public meetings, Netaji spoke of his determination to raise a women’s regiment, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, which would also “fight for Indian Independence and make it complete”.
Lakshmi wasted no time in joining the new regiment, called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. She was given the rank of a Colonel. The unit had the strength of a Brigade. In a regular army, this women’s army unit was the first of its kind in Asia. The army fought on the side of the Axis powers against the British.
Lakshmi was active both militarily and on the medical front. She played a heroic role not only in the fighting. Later, she became the Minister in charge of Women’s Organization in Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind (Provisional Government of Free India), led by Subhas Chandra Bose.
Lakshmi Sahgal held this portfolio over and above her command of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. Lakshmi was captured and brought to British India on March 4, 1946 where she received a heroine’s welcome. The British realised that keeping her a prisoner would prove counter-productive and she was later released.
11.Beena Das (Bhowmick) (1911-1986)
Well-known in the history of Indian freedom fighting for daring attack on English Governor and University Chancellor Stanley Jackson, who was a symbol of a long and oppressive English colonial rule in India. The incident took place during the 1932 convocation of Calcutta University. Although she was unsuccessful, her act inspired many a young mind of those days. Beena Bhowmick’s father was Benee Madhab Das, the well-known educator of the Ravenshaw Collegiate School of Cuttack, Orissa. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, another famous freedom fighter also studied in that school. Bhowmick was acquainted with Bose.
Bhowmick initially studied in the Bethune College in Kolkata, but later migrated to Diocesan College in order to ensure that her revolutionary activities remain unhindered. She passed the BA with honors in English, her daring attempt occurred during her own convocation ceremony. For this she was given 9 years of imprisonment with labor.
After her release in 1939, she joined the “Jugantar” revolutionary club. She was again imprisoned in 1942 for three years while she was the Secretary of Calcutta Congress Committee. In 1947 she married Jatish Bhowmick, a freedom fighter and a fellow member of Jugantar.
A true revolutionary spirit, her activities did not end with the Indian Independence in 1947. She aided Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman during his declaration of revolution in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) against a brutal and oppressive West Pakistan administration. This incident eventually precipitated into the full-scale Bangladesh war. Again in 1975 Mrs. Bhowmick spoke out against the Declaration of Emergency and suppression of personal rights by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She personally witnessed and strongly protested against the police brutality on the refugees in Marichjh(n)api. A good writer, she penned two books, the autobiography “Shrinkhal Jhankar” and “Pitredhan”.
In a characteristic show of idealistic strength, she didn’t accept the “Freedom Fighters’ Pension” offered by the Government of India. After the death of her husband, she decided to live by herself in the Rishikesh (Himalaya), where she died within a month in a lonely condition.
12.Kanaklatha Baruah (1924-1942)
Indian National Congress in Mumbai on August 9,1942, resolved to ‘Do or die’ for Independence of the country and began agitation with ‘Quit India’ slogan against the British regime. Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, all fearlessly and wholeheartedly joined the movement. Among them was Kanaklatha Baruah.
She got an opportunity to fulfill her dream of serving the country. As soon as the ‘Quit India’ movement began the British rulers started arresting Congress leaders. Under the leadership of revolutionary Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, in the district of Darrang a resolution was adopted unanimously to hoist National flag at the court and police station, as they were the marks of British Empire. Being aware of women’s participation in the nation’s freedom struggle, Kanaklatha enrolled herself in the suicide squad. The day for peaceful and non-violent action was decided as September 20.
According to the programme, freedom fighters with National flag had to capture local police station. Four thousands people from Kalabari side and an equal number from Barangabari moved towards Gohpur police station. In the front line was Kanaklatha Baruah holding a National flag in her hands. She requested the officer in charge of the police station to allow her to hoist the flag at the western gate peacefully. The officer in charge ignored her request and threatened to shoot her, if she dared to proceed further. Firebrand Kanaklatha marched ahead and had to face the bullets of the strong police force. She laid down her life for the freedom of the country. Another instance of similar martyrdom was from the district of Nagaon. Berhampur in the district was also on fire of Quit India movement.
13.Nellie Sengupta (Gray)(1886-1973)
Nellie Sengupta was among the English Women who came to India to dedicate her life for its people. Though an outsider she proved herself as a true Indian patriot.
She was born on 12 January 1886 as the daughter of Frederick William Gray and Edith Henrietta Gray. While studying in England, she met Jatindra Mohan Sengupta an Indian patriot. They fell in love and were married. After her marriage, she adopted her husband’s country as her own and associated sincerely with her husband’s work to letterate India from the bondage of British imperialism. Nellie abandoned the land of her birth and fought against the colonial rulers of her motherland for the sake of of her husband. She was a dedicated life partner who whole-heartedly sided with her brave husband on all occasions during their hours of happiness and sorrow. There was doubt among her in-laws whether she would be able to adjust herself in a joint Indian family. But soon Nellie dispelled this doubt by adjusting quickly to the Indian joint family life. They proved to be an ideal couple not only in family life but also in the political field. Her father in law was so impressed with her behavior that he wrote a letter to Nellie’s mother, that she was nothing but prize addition to his joint family and a worthy partner of his son.
She was the inspiring power behind all his activities in the political field. Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu also inspired her.
During the non-cooperation movement she was arrested while selling khadi in Chittagong (now in Bangladesh). Thus she had to endure prison life for the cause of her husband. She helped her husband when he was involved in the strike of the Bengal Assam Railway men as well as steamer service workers in support of the tea plantation laborers who were stranded in Chandpur and were brutally tortured by the British police.
When the health of Jyotindra Mohan deteriorated, Nellie continued his political work. During the days of the Civil Disobedience Movement Nellie accompanied her husband on political tours to Delhi and Amritsar. Jatindra Mohan was arrested for delivering a political lecture. She purposely delivered a speech at a banned meeting in Delhi. She was arrested and put in prison for four months.
Nellie was elected Congress President in 1933. It was a recognition for her valuable contribution to the cause of India’s independence. Later Nellie was elected alderman of Calcutta (Kolkata) Corporation.
After the partition of India, she stayed in her husband’s paternal house. She devoted herself to social welfare work. She was elected unopposed to the East Pakistan(now Bangladesh) Legislative Assembly from Chittagong. She was brought to India for special medical treatment during the last days of her life. In spite of the best treatment made available, she breathed her last on October 23,1973.
14.Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya (3 April 1903- 29 October 1988)
Kamaladevi was born in a Saraswat family on 3 April 1903. But above everything, she is remembered for her phenomenal role in reviving the traditional handicrafts of India during the post independence era. Read on to know more about the life history of Kamaladevi Chattapadhya, whose father was the district collector of Mangalore, whereas her mother hailed from one of the wealthiest families of Karnataka.
Kamaladevi fought against social evils that restricted the development of women. She was an active member of the youth wing of INC (Indian National Congress). During partition, Kamaladevi set up co-operative societies and self-employment schemes to help refugees. She worked to revive traditional industries like weaving and handicrafts. As chief of the Board of Handicrafts, she started the pension system for craftsmen.
She was a trade-unionist, a revolutionary, a reformer, a great patron of arts, an accomplished writer, an orator, and a freedom fighter.
Belonging from an illustrious family, she got ample opportunity to meet the great freedom fighters and intellectuals of her time like Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Annie Besant, who being friends of her parents visited her home frequently. Such acquaintances bore great influence on Kamaladevi Chattapadhya, who became an early supporter of the nations’ swadeshi mission. She married at 14 and widowed two years later while still in school. Yet she went on to take up acting which was considered inapt for women in those days.
The life history of Kamaladevi Chattapadhya went on and she next wedded the poet-playwright brother Harindranath Chattapadhya of the great poetess, Sarojini Naidu in 1920. After this, she also acted in two silent movies. Later she shifted to London with her husband, where she enrolled into the Bedford College to study sociology. But the couple returned to India to participate in the nation-wide non-cooperation movement launched by Gandhiji in 1923. Thereafter, Kamaladevi joined the Seva Dal established to work for social upliftment of the downtrodden.
In her missionary zeal she championed the causes of women empowerment, education, handicraft, theater along with her contribution to the field of arts, crafts and writings. In her pursuit and commitment she turned down many offers such as being nominated to the posts of the Vice President of India, Governor of Orissa or Tamilnadu, Ambassador in Cairo or Moscow. She preferred instead to devote herself to social causes. It was her courage displayed with a keen sense of humour that was extremely rewarding.
As a befitting tribute to a cultural icon of India one can conclude with the words of former President of India, R. Venkataraman, quoted , “Flower buds seemed to blossom at her touch-whether they be flower buds of human beings or institutions. People became more human and more sensitive to the deeper impulses of society when they came into contact with her….”
15.Indira Gandhi (November19,1917-October 31,1984)
Indira Priyadarshini (the second name means ”Dearly Beloved”) was born Nov. 19, 1917, the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru and his wife, Kamala, in Allahabad in northern India. Her grandfather, Motilal Nehru, who owned the house in which they lived, was a brilliant lawyer who discarded a lucrative practice to ally himself with Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Congress Party in the independence movement.
By all accounts, the child’s early years were painfully lonely. The house served as a headquarters for the freedom struggle; her parents were frequently taken off to jail; the police were constantly there.
”My public life started at the age of 3,” she said. ”I have no recollection of games, children’s parties or playing with other children. My favorite occupation as a very small child was to deliver thunderous speeches to the servants, standing on a high table. All my games were political ones – I was, like Joan of Arc, perpetually being burned at the stake.
”I was very headstrong. The whole house was always in a state of tension that nobody had a normal life. There were police raids, arrests and so on, the physical and mental strain. And all the time it was in public.”
What made her childhood even more difficult was the contemptuous treatment given her mother, Kamala, by the far more Westernized and sophisticated women of the Nehru family. Mrs. Gandhi in later life indicated that her own fluency in Hindi, far better than her father’s, and her ”Indianness,” or ability to think and feel as a Hindu Indian, were largely a legacy of her mother. When asked once about the impact of Kamala Nehru on her personality, Mrs. Gandhi replied, ”I saw her being hurt and I was determined not to be hurt.”
The most remarkable of women in modern India’s was Indira Gandhi who from her early years was active in the national liberation struggle. During the 1930 movement, she formed the ‘Vanar Sena’. A children’s brigade to help freedom fighters.
She became a member of the Indian National Congress in 1938. Soon after her return to India in March 1941, she plunged into political activity.
Her public activity entered a new phase with India’s Independence in 1947. She took over the responsibility of running the Prime Minister’s House. The Congress, which had been her political home ever since her childhood, soon drew her into leading political roles, first as member of the Congress Working Committee in 1955 and later as member of the Central Parliamentary Board in 1958. In 1959, she was elected President of the Indian National Congress. She oriented Congress thinking and action towards basic issues confronting Indian society and enthused the younger generation the task of nation-building.
In the eventful years of her leadership as Prime Minister, Indian society underwent profound changes. She was unremitting in her endeavor for the unity and solidarity of the nation. A staunch defender of the secular ideals of the Constitution, she worked tirelessly for the social and economic advancement of the minorities. She had a vision of a modern self-reliant and dynamic economy.
She fought boldly and vigorously against communalism, obscurantism, and religious fundamentalism of all types. She repeatedly warned the nation that communalism and obscurantism were the tools employed by the forces of destabilization. She laid down her life in defense of the ideals on which the unity and integrity of the Republic are founded. The martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi for upholding the unity of India will reverberate across the centuries.
Rarely in history has one single individual come to be identified totally with the fortunes of a country. She became the indomitable symbol of India’s self-respect and self-confidence. Death came to her when she was at her peak, when her stature and influence were acclaimed the world over.
Women have a special place of pride and honour in the Indian Society. Their role in nation building is also well recognized. Like men they too have excelled in every walk of life. If we turn the pages of History we come across great women rulers, queen warriors, women leaders, women Freedom Fighters, women saints, scholars, writers, social workers and what have you? The country remembers them and honours them and brings out commemorative postage stamps in their fond memory even after they are gone.