Our country India has a great pre-independence history and India would not have been breathing liberation if it had not been for these valiant women who are not known and almost forgotten. You will hardly find their mention in History textbooks or Indian films. They are the one who fought for the nation without having name or fame. They are the lesser-known but equally valorous leaders who made a mark in the history. Many people came together to fight for the nation’s independence. However, not much has been written about them. We talk about women’s plight, fight and struggle. We talk about women of India with great respect; somewhere we need to even remember that whatever we possess today, there are some women’s struggle stories behind the same. Our independence was hard fought. The British ruled over our land for a long time. But then, there are heroes, so there are heroines too, the ones who stood up and fought. Some get the spotlight while some stay in the dark and contribute just as much as the others. This bode is true for India’s freedom fighters as well. There are many who fought equally hard but never got any share of the limelight because they simply never cared. Their only focus was seeing an independent India. But as citizens of this country, we should know about some of them.
Bhogeswari Phukanani was brutally shot down by the British for launching the revolutionary mass program, the ‘Bharbhuj’. Kanaklata Barua too was shot down in a procession during the Quit India Movement in 1942 for proudly holding up the national flag. Another woman Durgabai Deshmukh led numerous Satyagraha movements and was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and the Planning Commission of India. She played a prominent role in the Indian freedom movement. At the Khadi exhibition in 1923, she was in charge of ensuring that all visitors had proper tickets before entering. She even forbade Pandit Nehru from entering until the organisers gave him a ticket and she let him pass. Sucheta Kriplani was the first woman to become the Chief Minister of an Indian state (UP) and was also the founder of the All India Mahila Congress in 1940. She was a Gandhian and worked with him during the partition riots as well as the independence movement. On August 15, 1947, she sang Vande Mataram in the Constituent Assembly.
Matangini Hazra was a part of the Quit India Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement. During one procession, she continued to advance with the Indian flag even after being shot thrice. She kept shouting “Vande Mataram”. Along with her husband, she led a procession in front of the Siwan Police Station. Though he was shot, she bandaged his wounds and kept going forward. By the time she returned, he had died. However, her will to go on was stronger still and she continued to fight holding the flag high. Kamaladevi was the first woman to run for a legislative seat in India and interestingly, she was also the first Indian woman to be arrested by the British regime. She played a very vital role as a social reformer and brought back handicrafts, theatres and handlooms to help in uplifting the socio-economic standard of the Indian women. Today we may fight in the name of religion, but Muslim women too sacrificed their lives for our nation’s freedom. Begum Hazrat Mahal was a vital part of the 1857 Indian Rebellion. After her husband was exiled, she took charge of Awadh and even seized control of Lucknow during the rebellion. Later, Begum Hazrat had to retreat to Nepal, where she died. Few have heard of her, but when she was 33 years old, she gained some prominence as she hoisted the Indian National Congress flag during the Quit India Movement at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay in 1942.
Bhikaji Cama, although there are numerous roads and buildings named after her around the country, only a few know who she was and what she did. Not only she was a part of the Indian Independence Movement, she was also a figure for gender equality. She donated most of her personal belongings to an orphanage for girls. She also unfurled the Indian flag at the International Socialist Conference at Stuttgart in Germany, 1907. She was an officer of the Indian Army and was also referred to as Captain Lakshmi. Lakshmi was a World War II veteran and spent time as a prisoner in Burma. When she heard that Bose was recruiting women soldiers as well, she gave her name. She was ordered to form a female regiment called Rani of Jhansi Regiment, where she got the rank of Captain.
Abadi Bano Begum born in 1852 was one of the first few Muslim women to join the fight. She addressed a political gathering from behind purdah and was one of the first women to do it. Parbati Giri was only 16 but actively remained in the forefront of all freedom struggle activities, especially the Quit India Movement. She was also imprisoned for two years for taking part in such activities. Giri was also involved in social work post-independence and was also known as the Mother Teresa of Western Orissa.
Velu Nachiyar was the first queen to wage a war against the British and gave them a good run for their money. The former princess of Ramanathapuram opposed the British rule even before the Sepoy Mutiny.
When I look at the Indian history and its freedom struggle, I feel proud of that womanpower, in spite of all odds and unfavourable circumstances, created their own space and participated to get Indian freed from slavery.
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