- Explain the role of women period-wise with examples.
India needs to dearly hold sacred its independence. For generations the cloak of the British Rule that had grappled the very essence of freedom was thrown over after many attempts. And hence the Independence of this nation was won in ways and by its people in unprecedented ways. Men of honor had a significant role to play in the freedom struggle. However, surprisingly women too led from the front and emerged as game changers in the quest for independence.
Role of women:
- Before 1857 : Maharani Velu Nachiyar (1730 – 1796) bravely fought with the British army decades before the 1857 Revolt. She probably remains the only queen to have defeated the British army successfully. Gauri Parvati Bai who was queen of Travancore carried out reforms and emphasized on the need for education of girls thus in many ways helping women elevate from social and educational stigma.
- Revolt of 1857 : The 1857 Revolt saw many stalwart women participants in the freedom struggle. Rani Lakshmi Bai fought alongside her battalion bravely against the British army. Begum Hazrat Mahal refused to be bogged down by the Doctrine of Lapse and reclaimed Awadh from the British as well as reinstated her young son as king. Rani Avantibai Lodhi of Ramgarh, Rani Tace Bai, Rani Jindan Kaur, Jhalkaribai and Uda Devi are other historical women who fought with the British army during the revolt. Besides their strength and courage at battles with the British armies, notable Indian women also paved way for social change. Savitri Bai Phule, the first female teacher in a first women school also opened a school for the untouchables and worked tireless for women rights. Helping her was Tarabai Shinde known for her published work Stri Purush Tulana considered as one of the first modern Indian feminist perspectives.
- 19th century and onwards :
- Sarojini Naidu, also known as the Nightingale of India, was a notable poet and writer. She travelled throughout India from 1915 to 1918, giving lectures on social welfare, women’s empowerment and nationalism. She also contributed and established the foundation, in 1917, of the Women India Association (WIA). She was an excellent leader in the Civil Disobedience Movement and Salt Satyagraha
- Annie Besant was a notable British theosophist and reformer, and a supporter of Indian Independence. Besant was a member of the Theosophical Society and later as the leader, she propagated their beliefs particularly in India. In 1916, she founded the Indian Home Rule League, and became its president. She was also a leading member in the Indian National Congress. A social reformer, she was actively involved in setting up schools and colleges to support educational activities.
- Madam Cama or Bhikaji Cama was an ardent freedom fighter who immensely contributed to the early years of the Indian battle for freedom and campaigned for women’s role in society. Although she was exiled for 35 years, her quest for liberation did not leave a stone untouched. On August 22, 1907, Cama became the first to hoist the Indian flag in Stuttgart, Germany.
- Kamala Nehru maintained her fight for freedom and established a dispensary for injured warriors in Nehru’s mansion—Swaraj Bhawan. Together with other women volunteers, Durgabai and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, she also organised no-tax campaigns.
- Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, the first woman to become the president of the United Nations General Assembly. In the British era, she was one of the first women cabinet ministers to demand for the Indian constituent assembly to frame a Constitution. In the years 1932-1933, 1940, and 1942-1943 in connection with civil disobedience campaigns, she was arrested and imprisoned by British.
- Aruna Asaf Ali played a pivotal role in the Quit India Movement unfurling the flag in Bombay to signify the start of the movement. She edited ‘Inquilab’ a monthly journal of the Indian National Congress. During the Salt Satyagraha, Aruna Asaf Ali participated in a number of nonviolent riots.
- Kalpana Dutta joined the Republican Indian Army of Surya Sen in 1931 which had been engaged in the Chittagong attack. For the revolutionaries, she used to build bombs and work as a courier agent. She had the duty of attacking a European club in Chittagong the same year, accompanied by Pritilata Waddedar. Kalpana was dedicated to relief efforts during the Bengal famine and Bengal division in 1943. In 1940 she joined the Indian Communist Party.
- Usha Mehta who as a child participated in the ‘Simon Go Back’ movement. During the Quit India campaign, a secret radio station had been revived by Usha.
Our nation needs to remember that our freedom struggle would not quite be the same without women. It is the path forward, the respect earned and the sheer belief that women are as much capable of standing up for themselves, of demanding freedom and willing to pay any price for it.