Mridula Sarabhai earned the title ‘Anti-National’

• If I had a hundred women like Mridula, I could launch a revolution: Gandhi ji • Though a freedom fighter, she was expelled from the Congress, branded a traitor!

Dr. Hari Desai Tuesday 14th July 2020 13:50 EDT

Mridula Sarabhai, born into Ahmedabad's celebrated industrial dynasty and nuclear scientist Vikram Sarabhai's sister, was one of those amazing women who fought for India's freedom. She was mentioned as the real Boss and strength of Kamla Patel, the lion lady of Charotar, in the last column. 'If I had a hundred women like Mridula,' said Gandhiji, 'I could launch a revolution in India'. Born in 1911 into the Sarabhai family of Ahmedabad, she came under the spell of Gandhiji and left her home to join the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. She was imprisoned several times between 1930 and 1944. Deeply influenced by Pandit Nehru's ideas on socialism and secularism, and a close associate of his, Mridula Sarabhai was involved not only in the freedom struggle but also in the fight for women's right to equality, civil liberty, and in the individual's right to dissent.

Mridula worked fearlessly during pre and post communal riots to protect the rights of minorities and restore communal peace and harmony. Her work for the recovery of abducted women in the Punjab in the aftermath of the Partition of India is well known. The last twenty years of her life were devoted to Kashmir and championing the cause of Sheikh Abdullah. She was even branded as anti-national and was sent to Tihar Jail. In her most authoritative biographical sketch of Mridula Sarabhai “Rebel With A Cause” published in 1996, Aparna Basu presents Mridula’s public life, her work for women, the freedom of the country, and Hindu-Muslim unity. A nonconformist, and a rebel championing unpopular causes, she spurned offers of high office in the political arena of national government.

Her whole life, she spent in struggle and enduring hardship. She had joined the Congress movement at a very young age, was a Satyagrahi, went to jail so many times, lived in the Ashram, remained devoted to truth and nonviolence as her religion, and gave her all to the battle for freedom every step of the way. But even though she was a freedom fighter, she was expelled from the Congress. The government considered her a traitor, and those who had once thought who closest to the highest echelons of power now socially boycotted her.

Mridula was a true Hindustani, but her mind was the scientific mind of the twentieth century. Her culture was Hindu, but such was the absence of distinction in the heart that every corner of her house was wide open to the piety of all creeds and religions. the soul of every faith dwelt in her, but what her own religion was, one would not know. With one foot in India and one foot in Pakistan, she could be found at times in dialogue with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and at others, it would be Lord or Lady Mountbatten who were her interlocutors. Her unusual personality, her heroic endeavours, and her boundless generosity led to the birth of the Shanti Dal. Scores of the workers of this voluntary organisation fanned out in the riot torn areas right up to Kashmir. A veritable army of workers - women and educated girls - was readied, who infiltrated into camps, ashrams, offices, schools, every institution, to spread the message of peace and security.

What is interesting is that while many of the freedom fighters, particularly men, took position of high power and authority in the Indian Government after independence, Mridula Sarabhai did not do so. Mridula had been a general secretary of the Congress party. She had been Gandhiji's special emissary. She was also in charge of Jyoti Sangh, a home for destitute women. She was also the organizer of the Ahmedabad Women's Congress volunteer corps, and also intimately connected to the Kasturba Trust, the Talimi Sangh, Sarvodaya Samiti, and the Gandhi Peace Foundation. When the Recovery organisation was established under Lady Mountbatten's patronage, it was Mridula who was its manager and everything else.

Mridula Sarabhai continued to remain an activist, many times critical of Government polices and was also jailed post independence for her outspoken views and actions. About Mridula Sarabhai, Aparna Basu writes, “...From 1953 Mridula devoted herself to Kashmir and stood by Sheikh Abdulla and his supporters even when they were accused of treason, as a result she had to resign or leave every organization she was connected with...her phone was tapped, CID watched her house...She was dismissed from the Congress party in 1958 and was finally detained under the Prevention Detention Act in Tihar jail and later put under House detention in her home in Ahmedabad under Defence of India Rules...” She died in this house in 1974.

The details of the role played by Mridula Sarabhai in the movement in Kashmir in the early years of Independence are documented in a book titled, ‘Kashmir and Sher-e-Kashmir: A revolution derailed’ published in 2012. The author of the book is PL.D. Parimoo, a native of Kashmir based in Ahmedabad, who has done much research on the subject in recent times. It is indeed surprising that so little is known of a person like Mridula Sarabhai. This is particularly intriguing because many other women from the Sarabhai family and their contribution to the society is fairly known.

Next Column: Ansuya Sarabhai: A Labour Leader from Mill-owner family

Photo Line:

Pandit Jawaharlal with Mridula Sarabhai (Courtesy: The Tribune)

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