The 18th and 19th century Indian society was a stagnant and decadent society, mired in countless superstitions and social evils, mostly against women. The educated and enlightened reformers of the day challenged them and worked for the upliftment of womenâ€™s status. In this regard, the contribution of womenâ€™s rights activist, Pandita Ramabai Ranade is noteworthy. When organized political movement started taking shape in the form of Indian National Congress(INC), the members committed themselves to give due share and regard to women in freedom struggle and national life. In 1890, Kadambini Ganguly, the first woman graduate, was the first woman to address the INC.
The freedom movement is studded with sterling examples of women who courageously fought the British like Usha Mehta, Bina Das, Pritilata Waddedar, Santi Ghosh, Suniti Chanderi, Mira Alphonse, Nillie Sen Gupta, Mira Behn, Sarla Behn are just a few to mention.
It is always a matter of great pride to read about the iron ladies of India. Some of such pricless stories of their contributions in making what India is today are listed here.
Rani Laxmi Bai
At the time, when the British rule was largely accepted as the destiny of the country, one warrior lady stirred the nation to rise and fight the unscrupulous British. Rani Laxmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, wanted to protect her right over her own motherland, Jhansi, from the evil eyes of Dalhousie who framed the nefarious Doctrine of Lapse to capture the Indian princely states. During the 1857 first national struggle of independence, she fought bravely against the British and died fighting.
The lady who became the guide and a supporter of Indian freedom movement from abroad was Madam Bhikaji Kama. She was born in an affluent Parsi family and married to a Pro- British renowned lawyer of the day. But, she found her solace serving her countrymen. She was exiled from India for her anti-British activities and chose to fight from abroad rather than conceding to their demand to become a law abiding British subject. She designed and unfurled the first national flag at the International Socialist Conference in Germany in 1907, organized Free India Society and began her journal â€˜Bande Mataramâ€™ to spread her revolutionary thoughts. She was also a staunch supporter of gender equality.
Kasturba Gandhi was no less a hero than her husband, Mahatma Gandhi, himself. She had an equal appeal amongst the women and gathered them to fight the injustice being inflicted on them. First in South Africa and then in India, she led many civil disobedience movements against the British oppression. Infact, the ideals of Gandhi were translated into action by this iron lady.
A gifted poetess and a social activist, Sarojini Naidu was a towering personality amongst the freedom fighters of the day. She took upon the charge to instill in the Indian women the realization of their crucial role in the fight for independence. She was the second woman President of the Indian National Congress in 1925. When Gandhiji was arrested in 1930, she took the helms of his movement. She also became the first ever woman Governor of the independent Indiaâ€™s state of Uttar Pradesh (United Provinces then).
Popularly known as Captain Laxmi, Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan was the Captain of the all-women regiment, Rani of Jhansi regiment of the Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj. She was also the Minister-in-charge of womenâ€™s affairs in the Azad Hind government. In the Battle of Imphal, she was arrested by the British forces. Later, she married the iconic Col. Prem Kumar Sehgal of the touted INA trials. After independence, she continued her activist fervour alive and was an active Communist Party of India (Marxist)leader and was a founding member of All India Democaric Womenâ€™s Association. She is remembered as a spirited freedom fighter, a dedicated medical practitioner, and an outstanding leader of the women’s movement in India.
She was a distinguished Naga nationalist woman leader from Manipur. At a young age of 13, she raised the banner of revolt against the British during the Civil Disobedience Movement. The title of â€˜Rani of the Nagasâ€™ was bestowed upon her by none other than Jawaharlal Nehru himself!
Aruna Asif Ali
1942, Gandhi had announced the beginning of Quit India Movement from Bombay on 8th August and the British government jailed all the prominent leaders all over the country. Aruna Asif Ali rose to the occasion to lead the movement that proved to be a final blow to the British empire in India. She also edited â€˜Inquilabâ€™, a monthly journal of the Indian National Congress.
Another prominent revolutionary leader from Bengal, Kalpana Dutta was inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Surya Sen. She joined his Chittagong Armoury Raid in 1930 under the banner Indian Republican Army (Chittagong Branch). Later, she became a Communist leader.
A lady of Irish background was born in London and found her home in India fighting the British empire for the right of her Ireland and India of â€˜Home-Ruleâ€™. She was enthralled by the rich cultural heritage of India and worked tirelessly through her Theosophical Society to make the Indians aware of their invaluable heritage. She became the first woman ever President of the Indian National Congress. Under her leadership, Home Rule Movement was started and the two factions of the Congress came together again. Her contributions to freedom movement, educational advancement and social reforms in the country are tremendous.