The Indian Freedom Struggle is a glorious account of different philosophies, people, cultures, and religions, from all walks of life, coming together to fight the common oppressor. The success of this freedom struggle can be attributed to many things, chief among them being the philosophy of non-violence, unity of the people, etc. However, one such contributor which is primary to this success story is the role of women. Who says fighting is only something that men can do? Countless women took part in the Indian Freedom struggle to rid their homeland of those who had ruined it. Gandhi Ji’s belief in the wisdom of Ancient India, which was devoid of gender prejudice that we see today. The contributions made by these courageous women gave the movement the strength that is required for there were no tears to hold back anyone from fighting for their country. While we appreciate the women in various other fields where they have been proving their mettle, it is time to remember those who died for this country or lived to see it on its feet.
Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi
“Khoob Ladi Mardani thi, Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi” is a couplet that one hears whenever we look into the history of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi. In 1858, the British introduced the policy of Doctrine of Lapse according to which, if a ruler of any state dies without a natural born heir, their territory will automatically be annexed to the British Empire. When following the death of the king, under this doctrine, the British didn’t recognize Damodar Rao, Maharaja Gangadhar Rao, and Rani Laxmibai’s adopted son, as the heir to Jhansi, the warrior queen revolted. This revolt came at the same time as the revolt of 1857 which was the first biggest revolt in India against the British rule. During her final battle at the Gwalior Fort, Rani Jhansi fought with her son tied to her back. Although she died during the battle, the queen paved way for many young girls who were bound by society from joining the physical combat. This lay the groundwork for generations of women freedom fighters in India.
Usha Mehta (Savitribai Phule)
At the age of 8, Usha Mehta was already raising her voice against the British Raj. She and some other classmates held a protest against the Simon Commission, chanting the words “Simon go back”. Usha’s participation in the freedom struggle is especially unique since quite similar to the situation today she had to go against her family to stand up against the oppressive government. Her father was a judge under the British government, and her activities threatened his job and the family’s source of income. However, with her father’s retirement in 1930, this barrier was lifted. From an early age, she became a Gandhian, influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy on life and approach towards the common enemy. When the family moved to Bombay, she participated more actively in the protests against the British Rule. Her most recognized contribution to the Freedom struggle is the broadcasting of an underground, clandestine radio channel called the Secret Congress Radio, during the Quit India Movement.
One of the most recognized names of the Indian Freedom Struggle is that of Sarojini Naidu, also known as the Nightingale of India. Not only was Mrs. Naidu dedicated to the goal of a free India, she focussed on other important issues as well that were affecting the life of Indians. Women education and maintaining secularity became prime issues that she acted on during her time both as an activist and as the first Governor of Uttar Pradesh. After joining the freedom movement following the Partition of Bengal, she was one of the leading figures in the movement and became the first woman President of the Indian National Congress. She played a notable role in the Quit India and Civil Disobedience Movement, for both of which she was sent to separate jail tenures along with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi. Mrs. Naidu wielded the pen just as well as she delivered speeches. Her poetry and lectures motivated women around the country to join the Freedom struggle, do their part for the nation and not be left behind. Until this day, her birthday is celebrated as Women’s Day around the country.
This name you probably haven’t heard before because her story is a short one. A short one, but one that is worth glorifying all the same. The Indian Freedom Struggle holds a unique place in the history of Freedom struggle across the world led by the colonies of the British Empire. This is so because resilience was combined with non-violence to create a united front against the oppression. From a conservative Assamese family came the orphan Kanaklata, who upheld all principles of the Gandhian philosophy and died by them during the Quit India Movement. On the 22nd of September 1942, at the Gohpur Police Station in Barangabari, Kanaklata led a group of patriots to hoist the Indian flag. As a leader of the Assamese women in the Freedom struggle, she tried negotiating with the police to carry out the process peacefully. Despite the death threats given by the police, she went ahead to host the nation’s flag. Kanaklata was one of the youngest martyrs of the Indian Freedom Struggle, shot by the British police at the age of 17. Her example only goes on to show that you are never too old or too young to stand up for what you believe in. change can be brought about even by the smallest of voices.
Aruna Asaf Ali
The Grand Old Lady of Indian Independence was nothing short of a real-life superwoman. No matter where the Britishers sent her, she found a way to get under their skin and further the independence agenda. Aruna Ganguly, after marrying Asaf Ali, a leader of the Indian National Congress, she was introduced to the Indian Freedom Struggle. Her first participation in this was during the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 when she was arrested for the first time. While the other prisoners were released due to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931, the Britishers were forced to release Mrs. Ali under the pressure of people protesting against her imprisonment. The very next year, she was arrested again and this time she went on a hunger strike that forced the authorities to treat the political prisoners better. Aruna used her popularity among the people greatly to the favor of the cause she was fighting for. During the Quit India Movement, she hoisted the National flag at the Gowalia Tank ground in Bombay.
It is not very surprising that most of the textbooks that we read today don’t provide much detail on the contribution of women to the Indian Freedom Struggle. However, we need to study the finer details of this glorious struggle to understand how important the contribution of women was to the cause. The situation today is just as Mahatma Gandhi assessed back in the day, “Woman, I hold, is the personification of self-sacrifice, but unfortunately today she does not realize what tremendous advantage she has over man”. The stories of these women from the Indian Freedom struggle hold true the fact that whatever change we hope to bring to this world cannot be accomplished without an equal participation of women.