Women in Indian Freedom Struggle have played a vital role with immense courage, confidence and patriotism. They were the iconic figures in Indian political arena.
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Role of Women in Independence Movement
Women in Indian freedom struggle have significantly contributed almost at par with their male counterparts in fighting the British yoke. The initiative, bravery, guts and headship that the women have showed in the freedom movements for the country’s independence from colonial rule have given them widespread name, fame and significance in the Indian society. During the uprising of 1857, women of the ruling class came together along with the men to fulfill their ambition for an independent India. Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar and the famous Lakshmi Bai ofJhansi, Matangini Hazra and Sarojini Naidu had become iconic figures in the Indian political arena. After the mortifying defeat of 1857, the British Government replaced the British East India Company and British rule became a historical fact.
Indian women actively participated in the revolutionary movements for social changes during the national struggle for Independence. Thus, the participation of women was not restricted to one type of activity such as the non-violent Satyagraha Movement. Women`s early contribution to the Indian national movement started in the late 19th Century with their involvement in the Indian National Congress. In 1890, Swarana Kumari Ghoshal, a women novelist and Kadambari Ganguly, the first woman graduate of the British Empire, went to attend the Congress meeting as a delegate. Even Sarojini Naidu requires to be mentioned with equal importance better known as `Nightingale Of India`. In the year 1905, National Movement for the country`s independence took a crucial turn with the division of Bengal.
During the freedom struggle of the country, women were not lagging behind. Women joined men to protest against the British rulers by boycotting foreign goods and resolving to buy only those goods produced in the territory of Bengal. Mrs. Nonibala Devi joined the new Jugantar Party which was dedicated to aggressive movement in the early 20th century. Some of the women who played a very active role in the Swadeshi Movement were Sarojini Naidu, Urmila Devi, Durgabai Deshmukh, S. Ambujammal, Basanti Devi, and Krishnabai Ram.
Contributions of Indian Women Freedom Fighters
1. Rani Lakshmi Bai 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.
2. Sarojini Naidu- Sarojini Naidu, The Nightingale of India, was a famous Indian poet and a famous freedom fighter. She was the first Indian woman to be appointed the President of the Indian National Congress and the Governor of Uttar Pradesh in India. Most of all, she was a noted child prodigy and a master of children’s literature. She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She re-established their self-esteem and often said, “ When there is oppression, the only self-respecting thing is to rise and say this shall cease today, because justice is my right”.
3. 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.
4. Aruna Asaf Ali- She became an active member of Congress Party after marriage and participated in public processions during the Salt Satyagraha. She was arrested on the charge that she was a vagrant and hence not released in 1931 under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact which stipulated release of all political prisoners. Other women co-prisoners refused to leave the premises unless she was also released and gave in only after Mahatma Gandhi intervened. A public agitation secured her release. In 1932, she was held prisoner at the Tihar Jail where she protested the indifferent treatment of political prisoners by launching a hunger strike. Her efforts resulted in an improvement of conditions in the Tihar Jail but she was moved to Ambala and was subjected to solitary confinement.
5. Indira Gandhi- from her early years, she 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 day before her death she was in Orissa, where in her speech she spoke, “ I am alive today; I may not be there tomorrow. I shall continue to serve till my last breath and when I die every drop of my blood will strengthen India and keep a united India alive”.
6. Kamala Nehru- She is Jawaharlal Nehru’s wife and gave full support to her husband in his desire to work actively for the freedom struggle. In the Nehru home town 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). In the Non Cooperation movement of 1921, she organized groups of women in Allahabad and propagated use of khadi cloths. When her husband was arrested, to prevent him delivering a “ seditious” public speech, she went in his place to read it out. She was twice arrested by British authorities.
7. Vijayalakshmi Pandit- She represented India in many of the conferences abroad. She attended numerous public lectures and challenged the British dominated delegate’s rights to represent India therein. She was a great fighter and took parts in many of the freedom movement . She was arrested in 1932 and sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment. She was arrested in 1940 and yet again during the Quit India Movement in 1942.
8. Begum Hazrat Mahal- She was a great Indian freedom-fighter who played a major role during India’s First War of independence (1857-58). She was also known as the Begum of Awadh (Oudh) and was the wife of the then Lucknow ruler, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She led a band of her supporters against the British, and was even able to seize the control of Lucknow. She worked in close association with other leaders of the India’s First War of Independence, including Nana Sahib. Begum was not only a strategist but also fought on the battlefield. When the forces under the command of the British re-captured Lucknow and most part of the Awadh, she was forced to retreat. When her forces lost ground, she fled Oudh and organized soldiers again in other places. She turned down all offers of amnesty and allowances by the British rulers.
9. Miss Padmaja Naidu- She devoted herself to the cause of Nation like her mother (Sarojini Naidu). 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.