Friday, December 3, 2021

Recalling the Inspiring Saga of Women Revolutionaries in India’s Freedom Movement

Women played an important part in India’s independence struggle and it is time we recall their tremendous contributions towards the attainment of the nation’s freedom.

Several women revolutionaries made  very courageous contributions to the freedom movement but their inspiring struggles have not received the wide recognition which is so richly deserved by their great work in very difficult conditions.

Sushila Didi was an important member of the Hindustan Socialist Republic  Association (HSRA) led by Chandra Shekhar Azad and  Bhagat Singh. She fulfilled many difficult responsibilities. Even before joining this organization she displayed a great sense of responsibility in bringing up her younger brothers and sisters as her mother had died at a young age. As a schoolgirl she distributed pamphlets of revolutionaries. When she learnt about the death sentence given to four accused of Kakori case, all of them very valiant freedom fighters, she donated all her jewelry for their defense and legal appeal of case.

After joining  HSRA she participated in many of its activities. She was a part of the group which had assembled in Lahore to try for a rescue effort for jailed Bhagat Singh, an effort which had to be called-off at the last moment. As the police was on the look-out she had to assume a hidden identity but even then continued to participate in mainstream freedom movement activities under a false name and even served a short jail sentence under this name. She took up a job as governess in a rich household and winning over their trust with her good work she even arranged shelter there for her comrades.

After independence she continued to be involved in several constructive activities including education.

Durga Bhabhi was another important member of HSRA. The Bhabhi part of her name struck to her as her husband Bhagwati Charan Vohra was a devoted revolutionary and his memory is cherished as one of the most selfless and close colleagues of Bhagat Singh. Durga accepted the ideals and aims of this group as her own. Her first and very important contribution was in helping Bhagat Singh to escape from Lahore after the police had launched a big hunt for him. Bhagat Singh was dressed up as a sahib while she and Shachi, her small child, travelled with him as family members and managed to escape the very suspicious eyes of the police.

Bhagwati Charan Vohra (left) with his son, Sachindra, and wife, Durga Devi.

As theirs was a relatively well-established family in Lahore their household was used as a meeting place and for leaving messages by revolutionaries.  When Bhagwati Charan Vohra went underground Durga Bhabhi worked hard to continue playing this role and providing many supportive services, even though her house was under surveillance. Both she and her husband provided a role-model of untiring, selfless, self-effacing work in very hostile conditions. In fact Bhagwati and Durga worked in exceptionally hostile conditions .

She was involved in some daring activities but suffered a big setback due to the sudden accidental death of her husband while preparing for rescue of Bhagat Singh from jail. Despite being in deep mourning she continued to be a part of the rescue effort till the entire effort had to be abandoned because of unavoidable circumstances.

Later she continued to participate in freedom movement in more open ways and after independence took up various constructive activities. 

In Bengal several women and young girls responded to the call of a great revolutionary Master Surya Sen to join the various actions of the revolutionary freedom movement in Chittagong. Pritilata Waddedar was one of these  young girls. She was a topper in her school and was mentioned for special merit in college. But abandoning the plans of a bright career she responded to the call of freedom movement and at the age of 21 she was in the middle of the revolutionary struggle in Chittagong, participating in several courageous assignments. Despite her young age due to her deep commitment and great performance she was already being given leadership responsibilities.

During one of the actions she received a bullet wound. Despite bleeding profusely she managed to escape for some distance but then could not run any further. Rather than fall into the hands of those pursuing her, she preferred to consume poison which she carried with her for such a situation. Thus ended a very noble life of great courage at a very young age.

Suniti Choudhury was another revolutionary who got into daring actions at an even younger age. She had attracted a lot of attention for her deep commitment and courage and  this was the reason why she got selected for the daring assignment of attacking an official who was known for being exceptionally cruel and unjust towards freedom fighters. She along with her friend Santisudha carried out the assignment successfully and in the course of her trial continued to shout slogans of freedom movement and revolution. Finally she was imprisoned for seven years.

Suniti Choudhury | Image : Wikimedia Commons

After serving jail sentence she returned to her unfinished education and later went in for medical education. After independence she became famous as a very reputed doctor and was offered tickets for contesting in elections by both the Communist and Congress Parties but by then she had become too involved in medical work with a focus on serving the poor.

Women family members of several great revolutionary freedom fighters also became deeply involved in serving the cause of the freedom movement. A very important contribution in this context was made by Bibi Amar Kaur, sister of Bhagat Singh. She participated in the freedom movement and was jailed in Ambala with her 1 year old son in 1945. During the partition days she overstayed on the other side for several weeks after independence so that she could use her stature to protect several women and children still stranded in refugee camps, even though for this she had to place her own life in serious risk time and again.

After independence Bibi Ji was involved in a host of constructive activities and work to carry forward the legacy and teaching of her martyr brother and his comrades.

Mothers of several revolutionaries displayed exemplary courage when they learnt about the martyrdom of their sons. In this context the examples of mothers of Bhagat Singh and Ram Prasad Bismil in particular  should be mentioned with great honour as by their great courage and dignity in their hour of greatest grief they became symbols of great inspiration for the entire freedom movement. Bebe Ji, as the mother of Bhagat Singh was often called,  continued to give her blessings to many noble causes in the days after independence.

Mother of Bismil refused to cry when she went to meet her son for the last time in prison just a short time before he was to be executed and instead said very inspiring words regarding her son bringing great honor to her and the country. In fact she even helped a fellow-revolutionary to obtain important addresses from Bismil even during this meeting by taking him alongside her as a relative.

The mother of Yashpal, a revolutionary who emerged later as a leading and highly admired author, was also a great source of inspiration as she supported herself and her family by doing odd jobs and on the rare occasion when she met her son leading an underground life she only asked him to maintain his courage no matter what the difficulties. Later her younger son also joined the revolutionary path. Both sons were imprisoned and mother continued to send inspiring messages. Again she showed remarkable reformist zeal when she supported the unorthodox relationship of Yashpal with a revolutionary colleague Prakshwati and even accompanied her to jail for the first wedding in prison in India in which Yashpal and Prakshwati were married. Prakashwati worked hard to help the revolutionary movement although she initially faced a lot of unjustified criticism due to her relationship with Yashpal.

The great courage and struggles of these women revolutionaries need to be more widely known to the new generation as their inspirational role is still very important.

Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. His recent book on survival issues and people’s response titled Planet in Peril has been published by Vitasta, Delhi.

 

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