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(This story was originally published on 15 August 2019. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark India’s Independence Day.)
After nearly two hundred years of enslavement, struggles sustained through decades, battles and sacrifice, satyagrahas and martyrdom, India finally achieved ‘purna swaraj’ (complete self-rule) from the British. Oppressed and bearers of social burdens, women still played a pivotal role in India’s freedom struggle. Rani Laxmibai, Bhikaji Cama, Sarojini Naidu, Kasturba Gandhi, Aruna Asaf Ali, Captain Laxmi sehgal and Sucheta Kripalani transgressed the restrictions put on women and were active participants in fighting for India’s independence. The names of these brave women are inscribed in history and continue to inspire generations.
“... your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought in your dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the deathless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!”
Gandhi, acknowledging the struggles faced by women freedom fighters, said, “Man can never be a woman’s equal in the spirit of selfless service with which Nature has endowed her.”
On 15th August, celebrated as Independence Day, we highlight 15 women freedom fighters’ tales of valour which were lost in the pages of history.
1. Matangini Hazra
A freedom fighter from Midnapore (now West Bengal), Matangini Hazra was a fervent participant in the Quit India Movement as well as the Non-cooperation Movement. She was shot dead by British forces outside the Tamluk police station in 1942. She shouted ‘Vande Matram’ till her last breath. She was fondly known as ‘Gandhi buri’ (old woman Gandhi).
2. Kanaklata Barua
Kanaklata Barua was a revolutionary from Assam who actively participated in the Quit India Movement. She was shot dead by the British police in 1942. She held the tricolour high in her hand till the very end. She was only 17 years old when she was martyred.
3. Jhalkari Bai
Jhalkari Bai was the ‘other rani’ from Jhansi. She was a soldier in Rani Laxmibai’s Army and her trusted and key aide. When the British besieged Jhansi, due to her striking resemblance to Rani Laxmibai, as planned, she disguised herself as the Rani, fought bravely against the British forces and sacrificed her life to allow Rani Laxmibai to escape.
4. Rani Chennamma
Rani Chennanmna was the queen of the princely state of Kittur (now in Karnataka). She was one of the first rulers to rebel against the British forces. She led an army against the East India Company in 1824 at the age of 33. She was later captured and sent to prison, where she died in 1829.
5. Pritilata Waddedar
Pritilata Waddedar was a revolutionary from Bengal. She was a key aide of Masterda Surya Sen. She was actively involved in the Quit India Movement. In 1932, she, along with others, attacked and set afire the Pahartali European Club because its signboard read, ‘Dogs and Indians not allowed’. She sacrificed her life by consuming cyanide to avoid arrest.
6. Uda Devi
Uda Devi was a ‘Dalit veerangana’ of the rebellion of 1857. She took part in the Battle of Sikandar Bagh in November 1857. During the battle, she climbed up a peepal tree and shot more than 30 British soldiers before she was spotted and shot dead.
7. Bhogeshwari Phukanani
Bhogeshwari Phukanani was a freedom fighter and an activist from Assam. She was involved in the Quit India Movement and instructed her eight children to fight against the British as well. She was shot dead by the British forces in 1942. She is remembered as the ‘60-year-old martyr’.
8. Bhimabai Holkar
Bhimabai Holkar was the daughter of Yashwant Rao Holkar, the Maharaja of Indore. In 1817, Bhimabai fought against the British Colonel Malcolm and defeated him in guerrilla warfare. At the Battle of Mahidpur, she led a cavalry of 2,500 soldiers against the British forces. It is believed that her taking on the East India Company inspired Rani Laxmibai.
9. Rani Gaidinliu
Rani Gaidinliu was a revolutionary and a Naga political leader from Manipur. She joined the freedom struggle at the age of 13. At 16, she was arrested by the British police and sentenced for life in 1932. Jawaharlal Nehru met her in Shillong Jail in 1937 and promised to pursue her release. She was released post Independence and given the title ‘Rani’ by Nehru.
10. Usha Mehta
Usha Mehta was a Gandhian and a freedom fighter from Gujarat. She was a child revolutionary. She joined the ‘Simon Go Back’ movement at the age of eight. She is remembered for organising the ‘Secret Congress Radio’, an underground radio station which functioned for a few months in 1942, during the Quit India Movement. She was conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in 1998.
11. Parbati Giri
Parbati Giri was a freedom fighter and an activist from Odisha. She was 16 when she was at the forefront of Quit India Movement. She was imprisoned for two years for her anti-British activities. After India attained independence, Giri dedicated her life to the welfare of orphans. She is fondly known as the ‘Mother Teressa of Odisha’
12. Krishnammal Jagannathan
Krishnammal Jagannathan was a Gandhian and a social activist from Tamil Nadu. She and her husband, Shankaralingam Jagannathan, protested and fought against social injustice under the British rule. Post independence, they continued to work for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1989.
13. Amrit Kaur
Amrit Kaur was the daughter of Raja Harnam Singh of the princely family of Kapurthala in Punjab. She was a freedom fighter, a Gandhian and a social activist. She was jailed by the British for four years for taking part in the Mahatma Gandhi-led Dandi March in 1930. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly, the body that framed the Constitution of India. She was India’s first Health Minister.
14. AV Kuttimallu Amma
AV Kuttimallu Amma was a politician from Kerala. She picketed shops selling foreign products during the Swadeshi Movement in 1931. She fought the British and marched with her two-month-old daughter in her arms during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932. She was jailed twice by the British police for her anti-British activities.
15. Savitribai Phule
Savitribai Phule was a reformist and a social worker from Maharashtra. Along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, she played a key role in the upliftment of women in society. She fought for women’s rights under the British rule. She was the first female teacher of India’s first all-girls’ school, founded in Pune in 1848.
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