Role of Women in India’s Struggle for Freedom

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Now-a-days they are in trouble, they are struggling with their identity crisis, their freedom, their obeisance is on take. The harsh reality of society is that somewhere they are on top and some where they are under the boots of patriarchy. Can’t we save the prestige of “Bharatmata”. Let us go 200 years back and take a look on women of that time during British-Raaj. Role of women in India’s struggle for freedom is unforgettable. And let us recreate the fire into us and bring the change we need.

 

The entire history of India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule is replete with the story of bravery, courage, sacrifice and political sagacity of the freedom fighters of the country. We all are very much familiar with names and deeds of such great personalities as Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak, C. Rajagopalachari, Bhagat Singh and so on. Their number and stature often give us an erroneous impression that it was only a man’s movement But it is not so. Many prominent women also played a vital part in this freedom movement.

 

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During the revolt of 1857, women of the ruling class came together along with men to fight against the alien rulers. Two names that deserve mention here are that of Rani Laksmi Bai of Jhansi and Hazrat Mahal, the Begum of Oudh. The young Rani of Jhansi bought valiantly against the British and even her enemies admired her courage. Begum Hazrat Mahal also took an active part in the defence of Lucknow and she appeared on the battle field to encourage her troops. She gave stiff resistance. But after the fall of Lucknow she escaped to Kathmandu.

 

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With the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, Indian National movement took a new turn and more and more
woman begun to take active part in it. In 1890, Swaran Kumari Ghosal, a woman novelist and Kadambini Ganguly, the first woman graduate of India attained the INC meeting as delegates. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, even the traditionally home-centered urban women started taking part in political agitations with great enthusiasm. During the days of Swadeshi movement, they marched in political processions, boycotted foreign goods, picketed shops selling liquor, spun and propagated khadi. Among those who played an active part in the Swadeshi movement were Sarojini Naidu, Smt. Urmila Devi, the widowed sister of C.R. Das, Smt. Basanti Devi, wife of C.R. Das, Durgabai Deshmukh and others. Besides, Nonibala Devi, joined the Jugantar Dal, a revolutionary society which aimed at freeing the country from foreign yoke through armed struggle.

 

Women’s participation in active politics increased further when Mrs. Annie Besant, one of the celebrated leaders of Indian National movement, started the Home Rule Movement in 1916. Mrs. Besant also became the president of the Congress in 1917.

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Indian freedom movement attained a new dimension with the entry of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into the political scene. His clarion call to join the non-violent “Satyagraha” movement saw women getting involved in all his programmes. Women of educated and enlightened families as well as those from rural areas joined Gandhiji in his non-cooperation movement. Sarala Devi, Muthulaxmi Reddy, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, Susheela Nair, Sucheta Kripalani, Aruna Asaf Ali, Kamala Nehru, Vijaylaxmi Pandit are some of the women who took part in different non-violent movements organized by Gandhiji. After 1920, women participated in public demonstrations, faced lathis, tear gas, bullets and languished in jail for the cause of Indian independence.

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The story of women’s participation in Indian freedom movement remains incomplete without a special reference to the contribution of Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, a great patriot, poet, orator and life-long freedom fighter. In 1920-1921, she participated in the Non-cooperation movement under the guidance of Gandhiji. In 1925, she chaired the summit of the Congress in Kanpur. When Gandhiji was arrested during the course of the civil disobedience movement, she took the helms of his movement. In 1931 she participated in the Second Round Table Conference in London along with Gandhiji, as the sole spokesperson of the women community. During the Quit India Movement of 1942 she was arrested along with leading Congress leaders and jailed. After India attained independence, she was appointed the Governor of Uttar Pradesh in recognition of her service towards the motherland.

 

Many women of Nehru family joined the freedom movement. The mother of Jawaharlal Nehru, Swarup Rani Nehru cheerfully gave her husband and children to the country’s cause and she herself, old and frail, entered the fray at its thickest. Kamala Nehru, married to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1916, participated in various movements, led the Civil Disobedience Movement.

 

Another courageous woman whom we remember in connection with the Quit India Movement was Matangini Hazra, a peasant widow of 72 years. She displayed exemplary courage when she led a massive crowd marching to capture the Tamluk Thana in Midnapore district. She was shot by the police and fell down dead, holding the flag of freedom in her land.

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A part from non-violent movement, women also played a significant part in armed revolution and terrorist activities. In 1932, Bina Das shot the Governor of Bengal Stanley Jackson. In the same year, Pritilata Waddedar, along with 15 other members of the Indian Republican Army, attacked the European club at Chittagong. Thus women fearlessly participated in violent and non-violent movements.

 

In the Indian National Army, whose supreme command was in the hands of the great patriot, Subhas Bose, there was a separate regiment consisting of 1000 women called the Jhansi Rani Regiment. This regiment was led by Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan, a medical doctor by profession. There were members as young as Janaki Thevar who joined the INA at the age of 18 and later rose to become the second in-command in the women’s regiment.

 

While on one side, women fought for independence, on the other they also set up women’s organizations to improve their social, legal and economic positions, the most outstanding of which was the All India Women’s Conference formed in 1927. National workers and eminent patriots such as Annie Besant, Kamaladevi Chattapadhyay, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, Renuka Roy and Muthulaxmi Reddy all worked for the welfare of women.

 

The list of women who participated in the freedom movement is impressive and they simultaneously fought for freedom of the country and upliftment and emancipation of the members of their community.

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