Rekindling the stories of India's overlooked women freedom fighters

Wednesday 16th August 2023 08:06 EDT

Indian women's efforts in the freedom movement prepared the ground for important socio-political developments, such as the recognition of women's rights, their growing involvement in public life, and the final drafting of the Indian Constitution. Their efforts demonstrated that the fight for independence was a collective endeavour, transcending gender boundaries. It is important to recognise and celebrate the essential role that women played in determining the nation's fate and securing its freedom as India celebrates its path towards independence.

Basanti Devi was involved in the struggle for independence after her husband, Chittaranjan Das, was detained for taking part in the non-cooperation movement. She participated in civil disobedience and the Khilafat, among other movements. She was also a founding member of the women's educational facility, Nari Karma Mandira. She oversaw the weekly Bangalar Katha magazine after her husband's passing. She served as President of the Bengal Provincial Congress and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1973.

Aruna Asaf Ali was a publisher, political activist, and educator from India. She was a vocal supporter of Indian independence and is most remembered for raising the Indian National Flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay in 1942, giving the Quit India Movement one of its most iconic images. She was labelled the Heroine of the 1942 Movement for her bravery in the face of peril, and in her latter years she was referred to as the Grand Old Lady of the Independence Struggle." Along with Ram Manohar Lohia, she also co-edited the monthly Congress Party magazine Inquilab. In a 1944 issue, she exhorted the youth for action by asking them to forget futile discussions about violence and non-violence and join the revolution.

West Bengal-born Bina Das was another Indian nationalist and revolutionary. She was born to parents who were active in the Brahmo Samaj and the battle for freedom and who worked as social workers and educators. Das belonged to the Chhatri Sangha, a coalition of feminist organisations in Kolkata that was on the cusp of revolution. On February 6, 1932, she attempted to murder Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson in the Convocation Hall of the University of Calcutta. The revolver was donated by Kamala Das Gupta, another liberation fighter. She attempted to shoot five times but was unsuccessful, and she was given a nine-year prison term. After her early release in 1939, Das joined the Congress Party. In 1942, she participated in the Quit India movement and was imprisoned again from 1942 to 1945.

Suniti Choudhury, another nationalist, is renowned for her involvement in an armed revolutionary fight and for the assassination of a British district magistrate when she was 16 years old with Santi Ghose. She is often dubbed the youngest woman revolutionary in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Chowdhury and Santi Ghose, both 16 years old at the time, went into Comilla district magistrate Charles Geoffrey Buckland Stevens' office on December 14, 1931, pretending to bring a petition to set up a swimming competition among their classmates. While Stevens was looking at the petition, Ghose and Chowdhury took out automatic pistols from under their shawls and shot and killed him.

Lakshmi Sahgal, also known as Captain Lakshmi, was a former Indian Army officer. In the fight for freedom, she took up a gun for the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose-founded Indian National Army (INA) and steered it like a tigress. She was in charge of forming and commanding the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, which included female soldiers. She had completed a prison term in Burma for her participation in World War II before joining the INA.

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