5 Female Freedom Fighters of India: Women Who Fought With Khaadi

Posted: October 18, 2015

Here are 5 female freedom fighters of India who got us freedom using Khaadi. They still remain an inspiration to many.

Last week, we talked about  women riding on horse backs and brandishing swords, killing people who threatened their nation, who became a part of the history. But history doesn’t end here and neither did the struggle. Because the Indian Freedom struggle went on long after the people shed blood.

After the uprising of 1857, the British government removed the East India Company as the mediators, and exercised direct rule over India. We saw an increase in education among masses and freedom struggle became more than swords and guns. Now, the struggle was not just to make British leave India but to produce a nation with no anarchy, divisions or inequality.

Women participated in large numbers, organizing protests, picketing shops selling foreign material and even selling jewellery to fund these protests. A lot of these women gave away their fine and expensive clothing to accept Khaadi, which had now become the new weapon against the British.

Some names which became an integral part of this struggle are:

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

Popularly known as ‘The Nightingale of India’, Sarojini Naidu was a child genius. Her talent got acclaimed by the Nizam of Hyderabad who, when she topped matriculation examination in the age of 12, decided to send her to Britain for further studies.

Most of her poems caught various scenes in an Indian environment. She travelled extensively to lecture on social welfare, women empowerment and nationalism. She also helped to establish the Women’s India Association in 1917 and was elected as the first governor of an Indian state in 1947.

A great orator, Sarojini was known for her wisecracks and jolly nature. She married out of caste, creating an example for people deeply rooted in casteism.

Kamla Nehru (1899-1936)

Kamla Nehru was brought up in a very conservative environment. She was home-schooled, and none of her education included the language English. Her marriage to Jawaharlal Nehru brought a huge change in her. From a shy, timid girl she transformed into one of the most active women leaders of Indian Freedom Struggle.

She convinced a large number of women to participate in the picketing of shops selling foreign liquor and other merchandise. This was an important step in the Non-Cooperation Movement. When the police arrested Jawaharlal Nehru for organising a public speech which was considered as ‘seditious’ of nature, she took her husband’s place and delivered the speech on the same podium. She kept the movement going when most of the senior leaders were arrested and jailed.

Durgabai Deshmukh (1909-1981)

Married at 8, Durgabai found herself nonetheless attracted to the political scene in Indian Freedom Struggle. She later left her husband from the child marriage to pursue her education. Highly dedicated towards her studies, she started a school for young girls at the age of 14, for which she was awarded a gold medal by Mahatama Gandhi. She even used her time in jail to increase her knowledge of English and in 1942, became the first female criminal lawyer in India.

She was a great social activist and started a number of programmes for education, training and rehabilitation of needy women children. She founded the Andhra Mahila Sabha, which got her recognition at the national level.

There’s an incident from her childhood when she refused to let Jawaharlal Nehru in a Khaadi cloth exhibition because he wasn’t carrying a ticket. Nehru praised her courage and in later life, supported her through many phases, including her remarriage to C.D. Deshmukh in 1953.

Aruna Asaf Ali (1909-1996)

Aruna was born in a Bengali Brahmin family, and faced opposition when she decided to marry Asaf Ali, a leader in the Congress, in 1928, only to be denounced by her family. After her marriage, she became an active participant in Congress and participated in the Salt Satyagraha. Upon arrest, she was charged as a vagrant and thus refused to be released as was the pact made for political prisoners. This caused quite a turmoil among the political crowd.

She continued much of her activities in an underground mode in 1940s as there was a warrant issued against her and continued her activities to bring the social awakening in the Indian youth. She did a lot of welfare work after independence and established the National Federation of Women in 1954.

She had strong socialist ideals and was deeply saddened by the greed setting in the politicians of the independent India.

Usha Mehta (1923-2000)

Usha Mehta was an active participant in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Highly inspired by Gandhian principles, she participated in a protest march against Simon Commission, when she was just 8. During this time, she was discouraged from these activities as her father was a government servant. However, after her father’s retirement, when her family shifted to Mumbai, her participation became more prominent.

She organised and hoisted the Indian Flag at a rally in 1942 when most of the senior leaders, including Gandhi were arrested. She, along with her close associates, established a clandestine radio station which broadcasted messages from Gandhi and other leaders, called Secret Congress Radio. She was arrested for this and later imprisoned for 4 years in jail.

A lot of these women were from normal families, with no income and yet devoted their life to simple and hard Gandhian principles. A lot of these women were highly disappointed because of the growing despair in the country they fought so hard to free. The country they made after years of struggle emerged as a state with no morals.

A lot of work is yet to be done, for we have to create the country they dedicated their lives towards. This nation and its freedom is their legacy, left to us.

Images courtesy: Sarojini Naidu here, Aruna Asaf Ali here and Usha Mehta here

 

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