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WOMEN AND INDIA’S INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

 

We record our homage and deep admiration for the Womanhood of India who in the hour of peril for the motherland forsook the shelter of their homes and with unfailing courage and endurance stood shoulder to shoulder with their menfolk, in the frontline of India’s national army to share with them the sacrifices and triumphs of the struggle”.

 

From a Resolution passed on January 26, 1931.

 

Role of Indian women:

 

            The entire history of the freedom movement is replete with the saga of bravery, sacrifice and political sagacity of great men and women of the country. This struggle which gained momentum in the early 20th century, threw up stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Motilal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, C. Rajagopalachari, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Chander Bose. Their number and stature often gives us an erroneous impression that it was only a man’s movement. But it is not so. Many prominent women played a leading role in the freedom movement.

 

            The important place assigned to women in India dates back to the time of the Vedas and Smritis. Manu declared that where women were adored, Gods frequented that place, During the Vedic age the position of women in society was very high and they were regarded as equal partners with men in all respects. Who had not heard of Maitri, Gargi, Sati Annusuya and Sita?

 

            In keeping with this tradition, burden of tears and toils of the long years of struggle for India’s freedom was borne by the wives, mothers, and daughters, silently and cheerfully. The programme of self-imposed poverty and periodical jail going was possible only because of the willing co-operation of the worker’s family. In the various resistance movements in the villages, the illiterate women played this passive but contributory part as comrades of their menfolk.

 When the history of India's fight for Independence comes to be written, the sacrifice made by the women of India will occupy the foremost place - Mahatma Gandhi

 

Woman's participation in India's freedom struggle began as early as 1817 when Bhima Bai Holkar fought bravely against the British colonel Malcolm and defeated him in guerilla warfare. In 1824 Rani Channama of Kittur resisted ate armed might of the East Indian Company.

 

The role played by women in the Great Revolt of 1857 invited the admiration even leaders of the Revolt Rani of Ramgarh, Rani Jindan Kaur, Rani Tace Bai, Baiza Bai, Chauhan Rani, Tapasvini Maharani daringly led their troops into the battlefield.

Till that last century India was plagued with many social evils like sati, polygamy, ban on widow remarriage, child marriage and the denial of property rights to women. Various reform movements initiated by Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidhyasagar, and others were working hard to bring about social change.

 

The remarkable progress made by some Indian women in the short span of half a century is a great deal due to the social movements of the time.

 

Gandhi himself upon joining the freedom struggle was to assert that Swaraj(freedom) would be meaningless without change in the social structure. Women must fight for their rights. It would be wrong to imagine that you rights will be given to you or that they will drop down from somewhere, if you simply sit at home.

The police had adopted all sorts of methods in dealing with women. They were dragged along the road, beaten with lathis and even whipped. Their sarees were torn and they were abused in the foulest language.

Jawaharlal Nehru had remarked, when most of the men-folk were in prison then a remarkable thing happened. Our women came forward and took charge of the struggle. Women had always been there of course but now there was an avalanche of them, which took not only the British Government but their own menfolk by surprise.

Woman's participation in India's freedom struggle began as early as 1817 when Bhima Bai Holkar fought bravely against the British colonel Malcolm and defeated him in guerilla warfare. In 1824 Rani Channama of Kittur resisted ate armed might of the East Indian Company.
The initiative, courage and leadership women displayed in the political movements for Independence from colonial rule have given them far reaching importance in the Indian society.  During the uprising of 1857, women of the ruling class came together along with the men to fructify their ambition for an independent India. Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar and the famous Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi had become cult figures in the Indian political arena.  They were equated with the all pervading Mother Goddess which India professes to worship.  After the humiliating defeat of 1857, the British Government replaced the East India Company and British rule became a historical fact.  The seed of National Movement for India's independence started with the early 19th Century social reform and education programmes initiated by important social reformers such as Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar,  Maharishi Karve and others, as well as the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj.   

The story of women's role in the national struggle for Independence cannot be restricted to one type of activity such as the non-violent Satyagraha Movement, but included violent/armed revolution and movement for social change as well.  Women's early contribution to the national movement started in the late 19th Century with women's participation in the Indian National Congress.   In 1890, Swaran Kumari Ghoshal, a women novelist and Kadambari Ganguly (nee Das), the first woman graduate of the  British Empire, attended the INC meeting as delegates.   The National Movement for Independence took an important turn with the partition of Bengal in 1905.  Women joined men in protesting this division by boycotting foreign goods and buying only swadeshi goods, i.e. goods produced in the province of Bengal.   Mrs. Nonibala Devi joined the new Jugantar Party which was dedicated to violent movement in the early 20th Century.  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who returned to India from South Africa in 1915, took up the demand for self rule and later for poorna swaraj through non-violent methods.  His clarion call to join the Satyagraha Movement saw  women getting involved in all his programmes. Some of the important women who played a very active role in the Swadeshi Movement were Dr. Sarojini Naidu, Smt. Urmila Devi, the widowed sister of the Congress leader C.R. Das, Smt. Basanti Devi, wife of C.R. Das, Biamma, the mother of Shokat Ali and Mohmad Ali, leader of All India Khilafat Committee, Durgabai Deshmukh, Smt. S. Ambujammal and Krishnabai Ram of Madras. Women of educated and enlightened families, as well as those from the rural areas joined Gandhiji in his non-cooperation movement. Sarla Devi, Muthulaxmi Reddy, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Susheela Nair, Sucheta Kripalani and Aruna Asaf Ali are some the women who participated in the non-violent movement.  Kasturba Gandhi, the illustrious wife of Mahatma Gandhi, and the women of the Nehru family, Kamla Nehru, wife of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mrs. Vijayalaxmi Pandit, his sister and Swarup Rani, his mother also joined the National Movement. Lado Rani Zutshi and her daughters Manmohini, Shyama and Janak led the movement in Lahore.  Women who joined the national movement were not only from the higher strata of Indian society, but from all walks of life, all castes, religions and communities.

 

While there were significant number of women patriots who stood by Gandhiji and the Congress in the non-violent Movement, women of Bengal and from other parts of India also played a vital role in the armed revolution.  Women played a major role in the Lahore Students Union of Bhagat Singh and the Kakori case. The Mahila Rashtriya Sangha was set up in 1928 by Latika Ghosh, an Oxford educated teacher.  Veena Das who shot at the Governor of Bengal, and Kamla Das Gupta and Kalyani Das  were all active within the revolutionary groups. In April 1930, the Indian Republican Army, a revolutionary group led by Surya Sen, attacked the city armoury of Chittagong.  Kalyani Das, Priti Lata Waddedar,  and other women were part of this revolutionary attack. Women fearlessly participated in violent and non-violent movements.

The Indian National Army (INA), which was set up by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, was one of the most sincere and fearless movements undertaken by Indian men and women under the able and impressive leadership of this great patriot.  His soul stirring call "Give me blood and I promise you freedom" brought together thousands of men and women from India and South East Asia, who were ready to sacrifice their lives at the alter of armed uprising against the British.  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose recruited about 1000 women for the Rani of Jhani Regiment from different South East Asian countries.  This regiment was led by Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan, who was a medical doctor by profession.  There were ranis as young as Janaki Davar who joined the INA at the age of seventeen.  The women in the regiment were given the same training as that given to men. Even their uniform was similar to the men soldiers.  The real impact of the INA may not have been in military terms, but it had a psychological impact on the women of India.  

 

While on one side women fought for independence, on the other they also set up women's organisations to impress upon the foreign government to improve the social, legal and economic position of women of India.  National workers and eminent patriots such as Annie Besant, Mrs. Margaret Cousins, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Rustomji Faridoonji, Begum Hamid Ali, Renuka Ray, etc. worked for the upliftment of women. 

 

The list of women who participated in the freedom struggle is impressive, and these women not only fought for the freedom of the country, but were instrumental in fighting for the cause of women

One of the important facets of India's freedom movement was the growing participation of women. Women played an especially crucial role in the economic boycott campaigns and often participated in the non-cooperation movement with as much or even greater enthusiasm than their husbands or male relatives. In rallies organized by the Congress, women attended in large numbers often with little children in tow. Particularly notable was the participation of women in the armed struggle of Bengal. In the group led by Surya Sen, they provided shelter, acted as messengers and custodians of arms, and fought, guns in hand. Pritilata Waddedar died while conducting a raid, while Kalpana Dutt (now Joshi) was arrested and tried along with Surya Sen and given a life sentence. In December 1931, two school girls of Comilla, Santi Ghosh and Suniti Chowdhury, shot dead the District Magistrate. In February 1932, Bina Das fired point blank at the Governor while receiving her degree at the Convocation. When the entire Congress leadership was put in jail in 1942, women leaders like Aruna Asaf Ali and Sucheta Kripalani emerged with Achyut Patwardhan and Ram Manohar Lohia and others to lead the underground resistance. Usha Mehta ran the Congress radio. Congress socialists, Forward Bloc members, and other armed resistance factions were active in this period, working through underground cells in Mumbai, Pune, Satara, Baroda, and other parts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, UP, Bihar and Delhi.

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. Some like are the following:

 

Rani Laxmibai

 

            The first name that comes to mind is that of the famous Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Dressed in men’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.

 The greatest however was Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi whose heroism and superb leadership laid an outstanding example for all future generations of women freedom fighters. Married to Gangadhar Rao head of the state of Jhansi. She was not allowed to adopt a successor after his death by the British, and Jhansi was annexed.

 

With the outbreak of the Revolt she became determined to fight back. She used to go into the battlefield dressed as a man. Holding the reins of there horse in her mouth she used the sword with both hands. Under her leadership the Rani's troops showed undaunted courage and returned shot for shot. Considered by the British as the best and bravest military leader of rebels this sparkling epitome of courage died a hero's death in the battlefield.


 Begum Hazrat Mahal

 

            Another woman whom we remember in this connection was Begum Hazrat Mahal, the Begaum of Oudh. She took active part in the defence of Lucknow against the British. Although, she was queen and used to a life of luxury, she appeared on the battle-field herself to encourage her troops. Begam Hazrat Mahal held out against the British with all her strength as long as she could. Ultimately she had to give up and take refuge in Nepal.

 

            During the later half of the 20th century the struggle for freedom gained momentum and more women took leading part in it.

 

 BEGUM HAZRAT MAHAL

Begum Hazrat Mahal was also known as Begum of Avadh. During the First War of Independence in 1957-58 the British deported her husband Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow to Calcutta. The Begum joined hands with the mutineers and seized control of Lucknow. She rejected with contempt the promises of allowance and status held out to her by the British and resisted the British forces with all her might. she, however, could not hold out for long and escaped to Nepal where she died in 1879

 

 

Kasturba Gandhi

 

            The life companion of the Father of the Nation contributed her mite to the freedom movement in a subtle manner. As the closest associate of Gandhiji during his epic struggle in South Africa and in India, she suffered in no small measure.

 

            One simply marvels and wonders how this quiet self-effacing woman underwent countless trails as Gandhiji’s wife, and how gallantly she agreed to the Mahatma’s endless experiments and self-imposed life of poverty and suffering.

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 GANDHI (1869-1944).

She was the daughter of Gokuladas Makharji of Porbunder. She was married to Gandhi at the age of 13. Simple and self- effacing she stood devotedly by her great husband in all his trials and tribulations. She was in the thick of the Freedom Movement and went to jail several times. The shock of country wide arrests during Quit India Movement deteriorated her health and she suffered a severe heart attack. She breathed her last on 22-2-1944. 

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Swarup Rani and Kamala

 

            The mother of Jawaharlal Nehru, Swarup Rani Nehru cheerfully gave her husband and children to the country’s cause and herself, old and trail entered the pray at its thickest.

 

            Jawaharlal’s brave wife, Kamala; kept smiling all through the long years of travail of her brief life.

 

 

            Kamala Nehru was a flame that flickered briefly in the raging storm of the freedom movement in India. Not everybody knows that she braved lathi-charges, picketed liquor shops and languished in jail for the cause of Indian independence. She influenced her husband Jawaharlal and stood by him in his determination to plunge into the movement started by Mahatma Gandhi, to free the mother Mahatma Gandhi, to free the motherland from the clutches of the British rulers.

 

            With Jawaharlal away in prison, Kamala took to social work to begin with. She started a dispensary in her house in Allahabad and also started a movement for women’s education and to get them out of purdah.

 

            As a member of the Rashtriya Stree Sabha which was set up on a Jallianwala Day in 1921, Kamala Nehru worked for the entry of Harijan into temples.

 

            Kamala Nehru was first among the group of volunteers to sell contraband salt during the Salt Satyagraha. All through the long months of 1930, the Desh Sevika Sangh which she led along with Kusturba Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu, did hard jobs like policing disturbed areas in Bombay. While the men were in jail, they took over.

 Many women of the Nehru family too had joined the Civil Disobedience Movement. Kamala Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru's wife gave full support to her husband in his desire to work actively for the freedom struggle. In the Nehru hometown of Allahabad she organized processions, addressed meetings and led picketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops. She played a prominent part in organizing the No Tax Campaign in United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh).

KAMALA NEHRU (1899-1936)

She was the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Mul, a businessman of Delhi. Married to Jawaharlal Nehru at the age of 17 she gave birth to the only daughter Indira Priyadarshini. Within 3 years of marriage her husband plunged into Non-cooperation Movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Kamala was a woman of great courage and determination and she also threw herself into the Civil Disobedience Movement and the historic Dandi March by Mahatma Gandhi. Her brave and heroic role in the freedom struggle left an indelible imprint on the Nationalist Movement. She died at a very young age on 28-02-1936

Sarojini Naidu:

           

            Great as a poet and orator, Sarojini Naidu was one of the most enlightened women of modern India.

 

She was one among the many men and women who dedicated their lives for the freedom struggle of the counry under the guidance of Gandhiji. At a very young age she wrote many patriotic poems which inspired people in India to throw off the foreign yoke. She joined the Home Rule movement launched by Annie Besant. This was her first step in politics. On the call of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, she joined the Indian National Congress in 1915. She propounded the idea of Swarajya in her powerful speech at the Lucknow Conference in 1916. in 1921 she participated in the Non-Cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. She became President of the Congress in 1925. When Mahatma Gandhi started his Civil disobedience movement in 1930, Sarojini Naidu became his principal assistant. She was arrested along with Gandhiji and other leaders. But this did not deter her spirits. In 1931, she was invited along with Gandhiji to the Second Round Table Conference in London. In 1942, Sarojini Naidu joined the “Quit India” movement launched by Gandhiji and again was victim of the wrath of the British government and jailed. The repeated jail terms only gave her more courage and she continued to take active part in the freedom movement. After India became independent in 1947, she was appointed Governor of Uttar Pradesh as a token of recognition of her services.

 The other remarkable woman elected to the presidentship Indian National Congress was Sarojini Naidu. She became its president in 1925. Sarojini loved poetry and had been composing verses in English since an early age. At the age of 15 she fell in love with Dr.Govindrajulu Naidu whom she alter married. A dramatic meeting with another respected leader of time, Gokhle, in 1906 was to change her life forever. His response to her fiery speech brought into her life the impact of a visionary who saw in her oratory and brilliance a leader of the future.

 

The period from 1917 to 1919 was the most dynamic phase of Sarojini's career. During this time, she campaigned for the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms, the Khilafat issue, the draconian Rowlett Act and the Satyagraha. When Gandhi launched the Civil Disobedience Movement on April 6, 1919 she proved a faithful lieutenant. With great courage she quelled the rioters, sold proscribed literature, addressed frenzied meetings on the carnage at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

 

In 1930 when Mahatma Gandhi chose her to lead the Salt Satyagraha the stories of her courage became legion. After Gandhi's arrest she had prepared 2,000 volunteers under the scorching sun to raid the Dahrsana Salt Works, while the police faced them half a mile up the road with rifle, lathis (canes) are steel tipped clubs. The volunteers wildly cheered when she shook off the arm of the British police officer who came to arrest her and marched proudly to the barbed wire stockade where she was interned before being imprisoned.

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Freedom struggle was in full force and she came under the influence of Gopalakrishna Gokhale  and Gandhi. Gokhale advised her to spare all her energy and talents for nation's cause. She gave up writing poetry and fully devoted herself to emancipation of women, education, Hindu-Muslim unity etc. She became a follower of Gandhiji and accompanied him to England. Whenever in England, she openly criticized British rule in India which caught the attention of scholars and intellectuals.

 

Padmaja Naidu

 

            Sarojini’s daughter Miss Padmaja Naidu devoted herself to the cause of Nation like her mother. At the age of 21, she entered the National scene and became the joint founder of the Indian National Congress of Hyderabad. She spread the message of Khadi and inspired people to boycott foreign goods. She was jailed for taking part in the “Quit India” movement in 1942. After Independence, she became the Governor of West Bengal. During her public life spanning over half a century, she was associated with the Red Cross. Her services to the Nation and especially her humanitarian approach to solve problems will long be remembered.

 

Vijay Laxmi Pandit

 

            Sister of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru also played a great role in the freedom movement. She was elected to Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 1936 and in 1946. She was the first woman in India to hold a ministerial rank. She was imprisoned thrice for taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932. 1941 and 1942. After Independence, she continued to serve the country. She was the first woman to become president of the United Nations General Assembly.

 Jawaharlal Nehur's sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit inspired by Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and impressed by Sarojini Naidu entered the Non Cooperation Movement. She was arrested in 1932 and sent to and sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment. She was arrested in 1940, and yet again during the Quit India Movement. She attended the Pacific Relations Conference at Hot Springs, U.S.A. as leader of the Indian delegation sponsored by the Indian Council of World Affairs. She was present in San Francisco when the U.N first met there, and through numerous well attended public lectures she challenged the British dominated delegates rights to represent India therein.

VIJAYALAXMI PUNDIT (1900-1990)

She was the younger sister of Jawaharlal Nehru. She was the first woman to be elected president of the United Nations General Assembly (1953-54). She joined the National Movement inspired by Gandhiji's call and courted arrest in 1932 and 1940. She served as ambassador of India in USSR, USA, Mexico, Ireland and Spain and also as High Commissioner of UK. She was elected to Loksabha in 1952 and 1964 and served as Governor of Maharashtra during 1962-64.

 

Sucheta Kripalani

 

            The contribution of Sucheta Kripalani in the struggle for freedom is also worthy of note. She courted imprisonment for taking part in freedom struggle. She was elected as a member of Constituent Assembly in 1946. She was general secretary of Indian National Congress from 1958 to 1960, and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1963 to 1967. Sucheta Kripalani was in the words of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, “a person of rare courage and character who brought credit to Indian womanhood.”

 Indira Gandhi

 

            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 endeavour 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, re-vivalism and religious fundamentalism of all types. She repeatedly warned the nation that communalism and obscuranatism were the tools employed by the forces of destabilization. She laid down her life in defence 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 identifie do 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.

 Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal and Kamla Nehur founded the Bal Chakra Sangh and Vaner Sena to help the Congress in the non-riot affected areas of Delhi under Gandhi's directions.

INDIRA GANDHI (1917-1984) 

Born in Allahabad she had education in Switzerland, Oxford, Bombay, Pune and at Shantiniketan. She married Feroz Gandhi in 1942 and had two sons Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. 

She provided dynamic leadership to the country as Prime Minister from 1966 - 1977 and again from 1980-1984. She abolished privy purses, nationalized Banks and launched a twenty - point programme for the eradication of poverty in the country. She had been the recipient of many International and National awards including Bharat Ratna in 1972 She was assassinated on the morning of 31-10-1984 and India lost a most charismatic leader in her death. INDIRA GANDHI (1917-1984) 

Born in Allahabad she had education in Switzerland, Oxford, Bombay, Pune and at Shantiniketan. She married Feroz Gandhi in 1942 and had two sons Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. 

She provided dynamic leadership to the country as Prime Minister from 1966 - 1977 and again from 1980-1984. She abolished privy purses, nationalized Banks and launched a twenty - point programme for the eradication of poverty in the country. She had been the recipient of many International and National awards including Bharat Ratna in 1972 She was assassinated on the morning of 31-10-1984 and India lost a most charismatic leader in her death.

FOREIGN WOMEN IN THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT OF INDIA

 

            Besides the hundreds and thousands of Indian women who dedicated their lives for the cause of their motherland, there were a number of noble and courageous foreign women who saw in India – its religion, its philosophy and its culture, a hope for the redemption of the world. They thought that in India’s spiritual death shall world find its grave.

 

            These noble women were sick of the material west and found in India and in its civilization, solace for their cramped souls.

 

            First of all we will take up those who were influenced by the great men of India like Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, and came to this country to serve it.

 

Sister Nivedita

 

            ‘Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India’

-          Epitaph on her Samadhi.

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Sister Nivedita was one among the host of foreign women who were attracted towards Swami Vivekananda and Hindu philosophy. Born in Ireland on 28 October 1867, she arrived in India in January, 1898, in search of truth. She was impressed by the ideals of Womanhood in India. She once remarked that India was the land of great women. She, however, felt that Indian women needed, to cultivate among themselves a wider and broader concept of the nation, so that they could participate along with men in building a free and strong nation.

 

      On the death of her spiritual Master, Swami Vivekananda, she freed herself from the obligations of the Monastic Order, spoke and wrote against the British policy in India. She attacked Lord Curzon for the Universities Act of 1904 and partition of Bengal in 1905. She held the British responsible for disastrous state of Indian economy; she attended the Benares Congress in 1905 and supported the Swadeshi Movement. She helped Nationalist groups like the Dawn Society and the Anusilan Samiti. She was a member of the Central Council of Action formed by Aurobindo Ghosh and took up the editorship of the Karmayogin when he left for Pondicherry.

 

      She propagated for the cause of India throughout America and Europe. Swami Vivekananda described her as a real Lioness. Rabindranath Tagore regarded her as Lok-Mata  and Aurobindo Ghosh as Agni-sikha.

 

The Mother

 

      Mira Alphonse, the Mother, was born in Paris in 1978. She had shown depth of vision and fragrance of expression even in her early childhood. She came to India in 1914 and met Shri Aurobindo. She was associated with the work of Shri Aurobindo when he started a philosophical monthly named Arya on August 15, 1914, to express his vision of man and his divine destiny.

 

      She took charge of Ashram in Pondicherry in 1926. She was the inspirer of Auroville, the international town near Pondicherry. It was to serve as a meeting place for the followers of Shri Aurobindo.

 

      Paying her tribute to the Mother at a women’s gathering in Kanpur the late Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi said: “The Mother was a dynamic lady, who came from France and adopted the Indian culture. She played an important role in motivating women like Mrs. Annie Besant and Mrs. Nellie Sen Gupta, The Mother had also contributed to enrich India’s age-old heritage and culture”.

 

Mira Behn

 

      Mira Behn, or Mira as she was most often called was the western world’s acknowledgement of guilt and the will to atone for it. This was not at all in her won consciousness, but in that which put her forth. Gandhi did not evoke her. The most he did was to tell her she could come if she wished. She came as a daughter not only of the western mind but, specifically, of that class which had made and governed the British empire in India. Her father had been the naval commander-in-chief there.

 

      This is how Madeleine Slade brought up in affluent environment of a proud aristocracy came to serve the cause of India’s freedom by identifying herself completely with the life and work of Gandhi, who promised to Romain Rolland that he would leave no stone unturned, to assist her to become a bridge between the East and the West.

 

       Daughter of a British Admiral Madeleine Slade renounced the life of luxury and worked in the service of India. She accompanied Gandhi to England in 1931 and undertook a tour of America and Britain in 1934 to enlist sympathy for the Indian cause. She suffered imprisonment in 1932-33 and 1942-44 for the cause of India’s Independence.

 Meera Ben and Sarla Ben popularly known as Mahatama Gandhi's two English daughters also made significant contribution to the cause of freedom.

Meera Ben whose real name was Madeleine Slade attended the second Round Table Conference with Gandhi. She sent news releases concerning Gandhi's campaign to the world press for which the government repeatedly threatened her, but she continued her work. She undertook Khadi tour throughout the country. She was arrested for entering the city of Bombay in violation of the government order. Catherine Mary Heilman or Sarla Ben as she was better known, went from village to village helping the families of political prisoners

 

 

 

Dr. Annie Besant

 

      Dr. Annie Besant, along with Charles Braudlaugh, it is said, did more than anyone had done in a hundred years to break down the barriers of bigotry and prejudice, who won the greatest victories of their times for the freedom of speech and liberty of the press which Britain enjoys today.

 

      A strong votary of truth, she came to India in 1893 at the age of 46, impressed as she was by its great religion and philosophy. On arrival, she found that the state of things in India were bad, and that the Indians had almost lost their moorings. Through her lectures, she tried to awaken them to their lost heritage by dedicating herself to the cause of religion, society and education of India. In doing so, she was watchful that Indian revival must be through Indian traditions and customs and not through any of the European concepts. As early as 1898 and later in 1902 she urged Indians to were native dress, use and develop Indian manufacturers and also develop a national language.

 

Dr. Annie Besant entered active politics in 1914. She demanded Home Rule for India and suffered internment for it from June to September 1917. By then she had tried and achieved unification of the Congress and Hindus and Muslims in 1916. She had done ample work to formulate favourable opinion about the Indian question in outside world. The August declaration of 1917 is attributed to her efforts.

 

      She fittingly became the president of Indian National Congress in 1917. Tilak declared that if we were nearer our goals, it was due to Dr. Annie Besant’s sincere efforts. Gokhale considered her a true daughter of Mother India. Subash considered her a doughty fighter for Indian freedom. Jawaharlal Nehru said that in India, her memory would endure, especially for the part she played in our freedom struggle in the dark days of the Great War and afterwards. Sarojini Naidu, had this to say.

 

      “Had it not been for her and her enthusiasm, one could not have seen Mr. Gandhi leading the cause of Indian freedom today. It was Mrs. Besant who laid the foundation of modern India – Dr. Besant was a combination of Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati

Annie Besant an Irish lady became the leader of the of the Theosophical Society. In 1902 while in London she criticized England for the conditions prevalent in India. In 1914 she joined the Indian National Congress and gave it a new direction.

 

The idea of the Home Rule League was first discussed by her. She with the radical congress leader Tilak presented a memorial to Montagu on December 18, 1917 which gave equal rights to women in the matters of political franchise. She was the first woman president of the Congress and gave a powerful lead to women's movement in India.

 

 

Margret Cousins the freedom fighter from Ireland, who joined Annie Besant's Home Rule Agitation and played a significant part in the awakening of the masses especially women, in Towards Progress and Freedom remarked, within three years over 5,000 women had served terms of severe imprisonment, they had suffered lathis charge, loss of property, loss of livelihood from ill-health, loss of caste, loss of reputation.

RAJKUMARI AMRIT KAUR (1889 - 1964)

She was born in a Royal family of Kapurtala. Her father was Raja Harnam Singh. She had her education in London. When she returned to India at the age of 20 her father kindled in her the flame of National Movement. She took part in Salt Satyagraha and Quit India Movement and also became an active social worker. She was the first woman to hold a post in the cabinet as Minister in 1947. Her major contribution as Minister of Health was the setting up of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. She remained a Rajya Sabha Member till her death on 02-02-1964

 Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur from Kapurthala, Punjab, came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi during the Marital Law days in Punjab in 1919 and became his secretary. In 1926 she founded All India Women's Conference and was its secretary for many years.

ARUNA ASAF ALI (1909 - 1996)

She was born in a Bengali Brahma Samaj family at Kalka in Haryana. She married Asaf Ali a prominent lawyer of Delhi against convention. She actively participated in the National Movement for Independence. Following the arrest of all congress leaders in 1942 she went underground to guide the movement evading police arrest. She became the symbol of the spirit of youth in this country guiding and leading the National Movement from underground. She remained underground till 1946 when the warrant of arrest was withdrawn. Aruna belonged to the heroic age of Freedom Movement. With this background, after Independence she could not adjust to the political realities and chose to live in retirement till her death on 29th July 1996. She was awarded Bharat Ratna (1997) Posthumously.

Arun Asaf Ali, a radical nationalist played an outstanding role in the historic Quit India Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on August 9, 1942, and was a prominent leader of the underground movement. She published bulletins, went from place to place and even met Mahatma Gandhi avoiding arrest. She edited Inqulab a monthly journal of the Indian National Congress.

 

Many young girls were encouraged to adopt the revolutionary creed by Subhas Chandra Bose. Under his guidance the Rani Jhansi Regiment was formed as the women's wing of the Indian National Army. Military training camps were set up for women in Singapore, Malayasia and Myanmar.

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. 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.

This flag is of Indian Independence! Behold, it is born! It has been made sacred by the blood of young Indians who sacrificed their lives. I call upon you, gentlemen to rise and salute this flag of Indian Independence. In the name of this flag, I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to support this flag." -- B. Cama , Stuttgart, Germany, 19she unfurled the first National Flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907. A thousand representatives from several countries were attending. An Indian lady in a colorful sari was a rare phenomena in those days and her majestic appearance and brave and clear words made everybody think that she was a Maharani or at least a princess from a native state.

The tricolor-flag Madam Cama unfurled had green, saffron, and red stripes. Red represented strength, saffron victory, and green stood for boldness and enthusiasm. there were eight lotuses representing the eight provinces and flowers represented princely states. "Vande Mataram" in Devanagari adorned central saffron stripe which meant "salutation to Mother India." The sun and the moon indicated Hindu and Muslim faiths. The flag was designed by Veer Savarkar with the help of other revolutionaries. After Stuttgart, Madam went to United States. She traveled a lot and informed Americans about Indians struggling for Independence. She told about British efforts to smother the voice of educated Indians who protested against tyranny and despotism of British who always boasted themselves as "mother of parliamentary democracy" over the world! She could be called "Mother India's first cultural representative to USA."Where is the Flag Now?
The flag was smuggled into India by Indulal Yagnik, the socialist leader of Gujarat. It is now on public display at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune

BHIKAIJI CAMA (1861-1936)

Madam Bhikaiji Cama was the mother of Indian revolution. She was born in a rich Parsi family and was married to Rustum Cama, a well known solicitor of Bombay. The political events in India influenced her deeply and she delved deep into politics.

In 1907 Madam Cama attended the second International Socialist Congress at Stutgart, Germany where she presented India's case for Independence most forcefully and at the end of her speech she unfurled the Indian Tricolour with Vande Mataram insigmia thereon for the first time on foreign soil and made history for India by asking the congregation to stand up and salute.
This woman of extraordinary courage and intelligence passed away on 16-08-1936.

 DURGABAI DESHMUKH (1909 - 1981)

She was the mother of social work in India. She was born in a middles class Andhra family in Kakinada. In 1937 she founded Andhra Mahila Sabha in Madras which to-day runs two hospitals, 2 colleges and 3 high schools. As Member of Parliament she worked to set up a social welfare board on 13-8-1953 to carry out programmes of educating, training and rehabilitating the needy women, children and the disabled. She was the recipient of a number of awards including Padma Bhushan and the UNESCO award for outstanding work in the field of literacy.

RUKMINI LAXMIPATHI (1892-1951) 

She was born in an agriculturist family in Madras and was married to Dr. Achanta Laxmipathi. Rukmini was deeply influenced by national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojini Naidu and C. Ragopalachari. She joined the congress in 1923 and gave all her jewellery to Harijan Welfare Fund. She actively participated in Salt Satyagraha and had to undergo imprisonment for a year. She was elected to Madras Legislative Assembly in 1937, and served as Health Minister in T. Prakasan Ministry in 1946. She was a great social reformer and worked for the upliftment of women in society. She died on 6-8-1951.

MEERA BEHN (1892 - 1982)

She was born as Madeleine Slade in an aristocratic family in England. She read Romain Rolland's book 'Mahatma Gandhi' at one sitting and this changed the course of her life. She came to India and remained with Gandhiji. Gagndhiji gave her the name Meera in view of her devotion to him and her dedication and service to India. In India she was sent to Kanya Gurukul at Dehradun where she studied Hindi and scriptures and taught English there.

She accompanied Gandhiji to the Round Table Conference in 1932 and acted as Gandhiji's interpreter in the continents on their way back. She joined the Satyagraha Movement and was imprisoned once with Kasturba and twice by herself. She was arrested along with Bapu on 9-8-1942 and was in the Aghakhan Palace Detention camp till May 1944.

On 18-1-1959 she left the shores of India and settled in a small village near Vienna and died there on 20-7-1982 . She was awarded Padma Vibhushan in January 1982

 

 

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3.  SAROJINI NAIDU
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4.KASTURBA GANDHI

 6.ARUN ASAF ALI
 


7.Indira Gandhi
 
 

8.KAMLA NEHRU AND VIJAYALAXMI PANDIT
).
 
 
 


9.MADAM CAMA
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10.BEGUM HAZRAT MAHAL

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11.Padmaja Naidu
 
 
 

12.Sucheta Kripalani
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”.

  

ANNIE BESANT
 


MEERA BEN AND SARLA BEN
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WOMEN LEADERS - II

 

KASTURBA GANDHI (1869-1944).

 

KAMALA NEHRU (1899-1936)

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DURGABAI DESHMUKH (1909 - 1981)

 

RAJKUMARI AMRIT KAUR (1889 - 1964)

 

 

 

RUKMINI LAXMIPATHI (1892-1951) 

 

VIJAYALAXMI PUNDIT (1900-1990)

 

 

 

INDIRA GANDHI (1917-1984) 

 

 

 

:

 

WOMEN LEADERS

 

BHIKAIJI CAMA (1861-1936)

 

BEGUM HAZRAT MAHAL

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ARUNA ASAF ALI (1909 - 1996)

 

RANI GAIDINLIU (1915 - 1993)

RANI GAIDINLIU (1915 - 1993)

Born in Nangkao village of Manipur she came in contact with the political and spiritual leader of the Nagas Haripau Jadonang who started a movement to drive away the British from Manipur. When Jadonang was hanged by the British Gaidinliu took over the leadership and challenged the Britishers. The British Govt. tried to suppress her movement. She went underground. The army made a house to house search and finally captured her in 1932 and sentenced her to life imprisonment. Jawaharlal Nehru called her "Rani of the Nagas" for her indomitable spirit and aggressive fight against the British. She spent more than 15 years in jail and was released only after Independence. She was honoured with Tamrapatra and Padma Bhushan. She died on 17-02-1993.

 

ANNIE BESANT (1847-1933)

(The year of Birth is incorrectly shown on the stamp )

From the time she landed in India in 1893 and till her death in 1933, Annie Besant worked whole heartedly for the advancement of India in every field - educational, social, religious and political. Though born an English woman she turned an Indian by her love for this country. She was the founder of Theosophical Society in Madras. In 1917 she was elected the Congress President at the Calcutta Session. With the active support of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Rt. Honourable V.S. Srinivasa Shastry Annie Besant worked whole heartedly towards fulfilment of Indian political aspirations. She died in 1933.

ANNIE BESANT (1847-1933)

 

SAROJINI NAIDU (1879-1949)

SAROJINI NAIDU (1879-1949)

Born in Hyderabad, she was the eldest of the eight children of Aghorenath Chattopadhyay and Baradasundari. She passed her matriculation at the age of 12 standing first in the whole of Madras Presidency. She did her higher studies in London. She was a poet of merit and her proems received rave reviews in the English press. She came to be regarded as the Nightingale of India. She had a happy married life with Dr. M. Govindarajulu Naidu, Chief Medical Officer to the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Sarojini Naidu was in the forefront of the National Movement. She was elected the Congress President at Kanpur Session in 1925. She went to jail several times. After Independence she became the Governor of UP and she died in office on 2-3-1949

Although by Indian law Lakshami's adopted son was legal heir to the throne, the British claimed that he wasn't. Also by Hindu Law, a surviving son, biological or adopted, was obligated to perform certain sacrifices after his father's death in order for him not to go to hell.

The British ignored Lakshami and her statement of the heir, saying that Jhansi was being misgoverned, and tried to capture Jhansi from her many times, because they said that a women could not properly rule a kingdom. The British also accused her of supporting the rebels during the Great Rebellion. In response to Britain's advances, Lakshmi assembled a volunteer army of 14,000 rebels including the women she had trained, and was ready to join the Great Rebellion. "I will never give up my Jhansi," Lakshami said.

Soon, they prepared to face an attack by Sir Hughy Rose in March 1858. For several weeks Lakshami and her army defended the state of Jhansi. Although Jhansi finally fell, Lakshami managed to escape under the cover of darkness on horseback. She rode over one hundred miles in twenty-four hours to Kalpi, where several other rebel forces gathered. She convinced them to band together on the offensive and seize the British fortress of Gwalior. They were successful, yet during the battle she died. Her death caused Jhansi and Gwalior to fall back into the hands of the British. She died with swords in her hands and reins in her mouth.

Lakshami Bai

Indian poet and political leader. Born Sarojini Chattopadhyay, she was educated in Madras and at King’s College, London, and Cambridge. In 1898 she married Dr. M. G. Naidu. Her poetry, originally published in three volumes—The Golden Threshold (1905), The Bird of Time (1912), and The Broken Wing (1915)—was written in English but deals, in a romantic vein, with Indian themes. She was active in the Indian National Congress and in 1925 became its first woman president. Participation in passive disobedience campaigns brought her several jail sentences. She was a close associate of Mohandas Gandhi and served (1947–49) as governor of the United Provinces.

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See her verses collected in The Sceptred Flute (1928) and The Feather of the Dawn (1961); biography by P. Sengupta (1966).