Women power to the fore


Durgabai Deshmukh

Born in 1909, Durgabai was associated with the freedom struggle at a young age as a student leader. She was barely a teen when she took active part in the non-cooperation movement in 1922. When the movement ended, she vociferously propagated the ideals of Gandhi in and around her hometown of Rajahmundry. As a 14-year-old she was once in-charge of inspecting tickets for entry to a khadi exhibition, where she forbade Jawaharlal Nehru himself from entering the venue for not producing a ticket! Despite being actively involved in several freedom movements - including the satyagraha, and being imprisoned more than once for her resolute participation in the struggle, she managed to complete B.L. and M.A. degrees. An advocate of women’s right to education, she’s most remembered as the founder of Andhra Mahila Sabha (Andhra Women's Conference) in 1937, which was the first of the many organisations she would go on to found. This recipient of the UNESCO Award for outstanding work in literacy passed away in 1981.

Aruna Asaf Ali

After her marriage to Congress leader Asaf Ali – which raised many an eyebrow way back in 1928 for marrying a Muslim and a man older to her by more than two decades - Aruna was actively involved in the Independence movement. She is well remembered for hoisting the Indian National Congress flag in Bombay, initiating the commencement of the Quit India Movement in 1942. She took part in processions organised as part of the non-cooperation movement. Aruna was jailed thrice, and during one of her terms she protested against the indifferent treatment meted out to the inmates. She is also remembered for her emphasis on women’s empowerment and education. Aruna, who went on to become Delhi’s first Mayor, was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1997, a year after she passed away.

Sucheta Kriplani

Just like Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta – married to socialist Acharya Kriplani, came to the forefront of the freedom struggle during the Quit India Movement. A few years later, when the riots of Indian partition were at a high, she accompanied Gandhi to Noakhali in Bengal. She was also part of the subcommittee that drafted the Indian Constitution. On August 14, 1947, she sang Vande Mataram at the Constituent Assembly, just before Nehru delivered his famous “Tryst With Destiny” speech. Much after Independence, Sucheta would go on to become the first woman Chief Minister of India – heading the State of Uttar Pradesh from 1963 to 1967. She quit politics in 1971, and passed away in 1974.

Kamala Nehru

Soon after her marriage to Jawaharlal Nehru at the tender age of 17, she became involved in the freedom struggle. A strong voice of the Gandhi-led non-cooperation movement in 1921, she was hugely successful in commanding people’s attention. In Allahabad, she brought together a large number of women to picket shops selling foreign cloth and liquor. In one instance, when Nehru was arrested and stopped by the British from delivering a public speech, it was Kamala who took charge and read out the entire speech. She also actively participated in no-tax campaigns. Seeing how compelling a voice she was turning out to be, the British arrested her twice during the struggle. She lost her battle to tubercolosis and passed away aged 37 in 1936, without witnessing India’s Independence.

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