Wednesday 3 August 2011

Women Warriors of India’s Freedom - I

Women have rendered a distinct flavor to the Indian nationalism, with their charm and dignity, infinite patience and power of endurance, and through innovative strategies, which they are capable of naturally. They participated in political agitations and revolutionary activities bearing privations of all kinds. They questioned the raison d’être of the British rule with  such burning passion and zeal  as have few parallels in the annals of history.
The intrepidity and valour of women like Bhima Bai of the Holkar dynasty, Rani Channamma (1778-1829) of the princely state of Kittur (Karnataka), Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Bina Das, Kalpana Dutta, Pritilata Waddedar, Santi and Suniti of Bengal, Kanak Lata Barua of Assam, Rani Gaidinliu of North-East, Durga Bhabhi of Punjab and many more, have become legendary and continue to inspire people. Women proved that they were not anatomical showpieces but could be a great support to men, float organisations, fight for rights, bear police lathi-blows, undergo prison ,and if need be, hold a pistol or bomb in their delicate hands.
During the course of freedom struggle, the ‘eternal feminine’  image of women acquired masculinity and some of them assumed leadership-role in many parts of India. Women nationalists  hailed from all groups and sections of society , but they worked together for a common cause. 
Women of royalty rubbed shoulders with those from the middle class and the downtrodden sections, and in some cases, even the fallen ones, in their fight against the British Raj.
In the scheme of cosmic opposites, the role of men and women is complimentary and not at odds with one another. Hence the history of freedom movement cannot be seen in isolation, as the work of men alone. If man can boast of his muscular power, woman can rely on her innate patience and the ability to forbear; if he is ingenious, she has the sixth sense; if he is vociferous, she possesses the silent power of influence and suggestion. While man operates at the sensory level, she makes use of her extrasensory perception.
The ruggedness of man is contained by her purity and selflessness. Man’s strength is his weakness but woman’s weakness is her strength. She is superior to man in many ways; for example, her resistance to diseases, sufferings and shocks, is better as compared to man. She is ‘more practical and down to earth’ . Swami Vivekananda observed: ‘If woman cannot act, neither can man suffer.’  However, during the freedom struggle women ‘acted’ as well as ‘suffered’ .
The mother being ‘one of the great primordial archetypes of humanity’, the protection of motherland  acquired nationalistic overtones. In his novel, Ananda Matha (‘abbey of bliss’), published in 1880, Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1838-1894) used the expression Mother (goddess Kali) as a veritable metaphor for motherland. The salutation Vande Mataram (‘Mother, I bow to Thee’), which occurs in the novel, became the soul-stirring slogan of Indian revolutionaries. It fostered national unity, became a form of greeting , and inspired millions of countrymen to bear police atrocities without demur. Revolutionaries like Madan Lal Dhingra (1883-1909) kissed the gallows with Vande Mataram on their lips.
After the Partition of Bengal(1905) by Lord Curzon (1859-1925), the streets of Calcutta resounded with the cries of Vande Mataram and thousands undertook the vows of Swadeshi and boycott. While it became the mantra of nationalists it was the bugbear of the British bureaucracy which considered sloganeering with Vande Mataram as a sign of revolt.
When Bampfyld Fuller, Lt. Governor of the newly created province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, banned the shouting of the slogan, Sarojini Bose(wife of Tara Prasanna Bose) took the pledge in public that she would not wear gold till the government withdrew its circular. Students, both boys and girls, wore badges with Vande Mataram inscribed on them.
In organised gatherings, Vande Mataram used to be sung mostly by girls, with folded hands in front of the symbolic portrait of Mother India. The reverence for mother thus metamorphosed into the religion of patriotism.

The first Indian national flag proposed by some Indians in England and France in 1906, had saffron with eight stars across at the top, white with Vande Mataram in the middle, and green with moon to
right and sun with left, at the bottom.
Vande Mataram was the rallying cry of nationalists of the Ghadr Party formed in 1813 in the U. S. with a view to overthrowing the British rule by force. It resounded in the Central Legislative assembly on April 8, 1929, when Sardar Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) and Batukeshwar Dutt (1910-1965) threw a bomb to protest against the passage of the Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill.
Surya Sen (1894-1934), a Bengali revolutionary of the Chittagong group, proclaimed the Provisional Revolutionary Government while chanting Vande Mataram.
The song was first sung at the annual session of Indian National Congress (estbd. 1885) held at Calcutta in 1896. It became controversial when the Party came to power in six of the eleven provinces of British India in 1937. After independence it acquired the status of a national song.
The idea of India (Bharatavarsha) as mother, pervaded the entire course of the freedom struggle and had its roots in the ancient aphorism: Janani janambhumishcha swargadapi gariyasi, which means that ‘Mother and Motherland are greater than even heaven.’
 It received a boost when Swami Dayananda (1824-1883), founder of the Arya Samaj (Bombay,1875), asserted that foreign rule, howsoever good was worse than indigenous rule, howsoever bad it was. Both in his lectures and writings , Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) described Bharatavarsha as motherland, the punyabhumi or ‘land of virtue’, hallowed by saints and sages of yore. His ardent disciple, Sister Nivedita (Margaret Elizabeth Noble) perceived India not as a congeries of states but as ‘one living reality’, a motherland (matribhumi).
( to be continued)
Article by: Satish K. Kapoor
Published in Bhavan's Journal 30 April 2011
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