Wednesday 3 August 2011

Women Warriors of India’s Freedom - VIII

Preeti Lata Waddedar (1911-1932), a member of the revolutionary group of Chittagong, led an attack on a racist European Club (September 23,1932), which bore the sign, ‘Dogs and Indians not allowed’, injuring ten persons and killing one, before killing herself by consuming Potassium Cyanide.
The Indian National Army of Netaji   Subhas  Chandra Bose (1897-1945), named a regiment after Lakshmi Bai, the valiant Queen of Jhansi. Dr Lakshmi Swaminanthan was the commander of the regiment as also the Minister of Social Welfare and Medicine in the Azad Hind cabinet. She did not surrender to the British even after the fall of INA. Subsequently, she was arrested and sent to Rangoon. Due to strong nationalist opinion she was released but continued her activities despite government ban.
Women participation in the freedom struggle symbolised national resurgence. Although women had little or no role in the Transfer of Power negotiations with the British, they acted as catalysts of political change. Without them, anti-imperialist struggle would have lost its sheen, its momentum and its sustaining power. They created conditions in which it became virtually difficult for the British to govern.
The dignity and grace of women combined with their quest for freedom and an indefatigable spirit, provided nationalism with a culture of the heart.
The participation of women of almost all castes, classes, religions and regions in the freedom struggle, was a signal that a nation was  in the making. The ‘caged birds’ or ‘netted fish’ of  the past became  free to  fly high in the political sky or swim along with men in political waters, breaking all social barriers and cruel customs of yore. 
From  the sobriety  of domestic life, they came out   in the public domain ,involving themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally in the common cause of freedom.
Those with burning passion and zeal participated in revolutionary activities and showed rare courage and determination.
‘I would go mad if I could not find relief in death. I only sought the way to death by offering myself at the feet of the country,’ said the Bengali revolutionary, Bina Das, during her trial. The fact that even prostitutes did not remain untouched by the national spirit and contributed to Congress funds shows the vast dimensions of the freedom struggle, without any parallel in history.
Women participants in the freedom struggle were rich and poor, literate, semi-literate and illiterate, from rural, urban and tribal areas, from all age-groups, and having all types of marital status–single, married, widowed or divorced. Some were great intellectuals, orators, poets, writers or editors; some          good organisers and propagandists, and travelled in India and across its borders, to create  national consciousness or to apprise people about the nefarious aspects of the British rule. Some worked for the fellowship of faiths, and of people of different religious communities.  Many contributed to the constructive programme of Mahatma Gandhi which included, removal of Untouchability, rural reconstruction, promotion of khadi,etc. Sister Nivedita and Mrs Annie Besant worked tirelessly for the Indian cause in a detached spirit .
The majestic bearing of women of the Nehru family – Swarup Rani, Kamala, Vijaylakshmi and Indira, women of nobility like Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur (from the royal family of Kapurthala), and of the spouses or relations of eminent political and religious leaders like
Mrs. Katkar (wife of Bal Gangadhar Tilak), Basanti Devi (wife of C. R. Das), Urmila and Sumati (sisters of C.R.Das), Nieli Sen (wife of J. N. Sengupta), Radha Devi (wife of Lala Lajpat Rai), Abadi Bano Begum (mother of Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali), Sarla Devi(niece of Rabindranath Tagore), Sucheta Kriplani (wife of J. B. Kriplani) Lado Rani Zutshi (wife of Motilal Nehru’s nephew), Prabhabati Debi (mother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose), Kasturba (wife of Mahatma Gandhi), besides many more, lent distinct charm to meetings, public protests and demonstrations, and set examples in moral bravery and sacrifice. When Kasturba Gandhi died in prison, schools and colleges in many parts of India were closed as a mark of respect to the departed soul.
The role of women in freedom struggle is beyond measure. They epitomised the rousing nationalist spirit of the times. The solemnity of their feelings and the intensity of their love for the motherland rendered a festive spirit to the movements against the British Raj. They lit the spark of freedom in the hearts of the timid, gave direction to the vacillating , and confidence to the ones who felt discouraged by trifling setbacks. They struggled for their rights but never lost sight of the family ideal.
If men provided body and mind to nationalism, women provided it paraperceptive ability, fixity of purpose, and the will never to submit or yield.
Excerpted from an address to an UGC-Sponsored National Conference at Bhatinda (Punjab).
Article by : Satish K. Kapoor
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 May 2011
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