Wednesday 3 August 2011

Women Warriors of India’s Freedom - VI

The participation of women gained momentum when the Congress declared Complete Independence as its creed in December 1929, and observed January 26, 1930 as Independence Day.
The Working Committee which met at Sabarmati (February 14-16, 1930) decided to launch Civil Disobedience for achieving Purna Swaraj. Although  Mahatma Gandhi did not include a single woman in his historic 200-mile march, from Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, to Dandi on the sea-coast, along with 79 volunteers, to break salt laws, hundreds of women jostled with one another to have a glimpse of him and to  greet him with flowers and coconuts, on the way. The large crowd which finally gathered around Mahatma Gandhi on the sea-coast (April 6), included Sarojini Naidu. He told Congress leaders that in case of his arrest, they should ‘take orders from Abbas Tyabjee and after that from Sarojini Naidu’.
Women from different castes, communities and regions all over India took pledge to fight for Swaraj. They broke salt laws,forest laws, and other government regulations, violated prohibitory orders, boycotted foreign cloth, participated in no-tax campaign , and did not yield before repressive measures of government. Muslim Women came out of purdah to participate in acts of civil disobedience.
Women volunteers called Desh Sevikas(‘In service of country’) were enrolled by Congress in 1930 to serve different purposes like picketing, propaganda, cooking, caring the bruised and the sick, sending messages, etc.
Such groups became common in many states. In Madras,  Krishanbai Rau  (b.1906) formed the Desh Sevika Sangh, as an auxiliary to the Women’s Swadeshi League (estd. 1928).
Sarojini Naidu raided the Dharasana Salt Works; Kamla Devi Chattopadhyaya  attacked salt fields in Bombay; Rukmini Lakshmipathi (1891-1951) and Durgabai Deshmukh (1909-1981) broke Salt Laws in Madras; Swaroop Rani Nehru (wife of Motilal Nehru) led the procession of Satyagrahis in Allahabad; Kamla   Nehru (1899-1936); wife of  Jawaharlal Nehru, organised No-Tax  campaign      and Mrs. Malaviya  (wife of Madan Mohan Malaviya’s son, Mukund) held meetings at a banned place in U.P.; Urmila Devi led picketeers in Calcutta; Kalyani, leader of the Association of Girl Students(Chhatri Sangh) demonstrated outside Bethune College, Calcutta; Satyavati Devi (1907-1945); grand daughter of Swami Shraddhananda, picketed foreign cloth shops in Delhi; A.V. Kuttimalu Amma led batches of women volunteers for picketing of foreign cloth shops in Calicut; Lado Rani Zutshi and her three daughters (Manmohini, Janaki and Shyama), Kartar Kaur, Lakshmi Devi, and Atma Devi, spread Disobedience campaign in Punjab.
All these women underwent imprisonment at one time or another. After Bhagat Singh’s execution( March 23,1931), Manmohini, the first woman president of Lahore Student Union, created a political commotion in Lahore Colleges - Government College, Law College, and Foreman Christian College - and was caught along with her compatriots, who were all raising slogans against the government, and singing patriotic songs.
In Delhi, 24 girl-guides were expelled from a school for refusing to salute the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. Instances of women satyagrahis being abused, beaten or molested by the police were common. Sometime, women would become unconscious, as a result of lathi blows and had to be physically shifted from the place.
In Kerala, women protestors were arrested and left at desolate places in the evening to teach them a lesson.
 Such was the impact of Civil Disobedience that the government banned a number of women organisations, specially in Bengal like Ladies Picketing Board, Nari Satyagraha Committee, Nikhil Jatiya Nari Sangh, and Rashtriya Mahila Sangh.
Consequent to Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest in 1930, Muthulakshmi Reddy(1886-1968), the first woman medical graduate of Madras University and the first woman legislator (1927), resigned from her position. So did Hansa Mehta from her post as Honorary Magistrate.
During the second phase of Civil Disobedience (December 31,1931) which came in the aftermath of Gandhi-Irwin Pact(1931), failure of Round Table Conferences(1930-32), and Communal Award(1932), women remained politically active till the movement was suspended by the All India Congress Committee in 1934. Some two thousand women were imprisoned during 1930-32(Percival Spear, p.283). Shrimati A.V. Kuttimalu Amma of Kerala and Satyavati Devi of Delhi had to carry their suckling infants to jail, quoting relevant rules.
Women participation  in the Individual Satyagraha movement of Mahatma Gandhi, beginning in October 1940 after the outbreak of World War II, was significant.
Sarojini Naidu was arrested on December 3, 1940 but released eight months later due to bad health. Sucheta Kriplani and Vijayalakshmi Pandit  underwent short-term imprisonment. In Assam, Pushpalata Das, founder of Mrityu Bahini and Santi Bahini in Tezpur, was incarcerated as an undertrial for two and a half months. In Kerala, A. V. Kuttimalu Amma, was imprisoned for a year. Many more women participated in individual satyagraha at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi, in various parts of India.
When failure of the Cripps Mission in 1942 spurred the All India Congress Committee in Bombay to declare (August 8,1942) that India had no other way but to sanction non-violent mass struggle under Gandhi’s leadership, women  took up Gandhi’s call :‘Quit India’ with much more vigour than before.  But as the British government detained Mahatma Gandhi, Working Committee members and thousands of Congressmen including Sarojini Naidu, declaring the Congress organisation unlawful.
On the following day, the onus fell on women. Aruna Asaf Ali unfurled the National flag at Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mumbai on August 9,1942, and remained underground for nearly forty-two months till the cancellation of her arrest warrant. She did not surrender even when the government auctioned her property.
(to be continued)
Article by : Satish K. Kapoor
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 May 2011
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