While thousands of women participated in the ‘Quit India Movement’, there were some who left an indelible mark with their contribution to our Freedom Struggle movement. On August 8, 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India Movement’ to end the British Rule in India, Indian women had played a significant role in this freedom struggle.
But turning the pages of history, women participation in the freedom movement against the British regime started since 1817 when Bhima Bai Holkar fought and defeated the British Colonel, Malcolm, in guerrilla warfare. During the revolt of 1857, protesting against the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’, Rani of Jhansi, Laxmi Bai, fought valiantly against the British forces before she lost her life in the battlefield. Till today, the story of her valour remains vividly etched in our minds.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “As long as the women of India do not take part in public life, there can be no salvation for the country. As long as women do not come to public life and purify, we are not likely to attain ‘Swaraj’, even if we did, it would have no use for that kind of Swaraj to which women have not made their full contribution.”
The Quit India Movement saw prominent participation of women such as Kasturba Gandhi, Vijay Laxmi Pandit, Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asaf Ali, Bhikaji Cama, Kalpana Dutta, Sucheta Kriplani, etc. When the majority of male leaders were confined in jail by the British, our women freedom fighters took to the streets, raised slogans with flags and placards and held public lectures and demonstrations.
In Odisha, there was active involvement of women in the freedom struggle. It was the revolutionary activities and untiring efforts of the women freedom fighters that added a thrust to the August Revolution. Celebrating the 71st Independence Day and 76th Quit India Movement Day, Coffee Bytes pays its tribute to these fearless, inspiring and iconic women from Odisha who are an inspiration to all the women of today .
KUNTALA KUMARI SABAT:
She was a physician by profession but a revolutionary writer. Her thought-provoking writings flamed the fire of patriotism and encouraged women to join the nation’s freedom movement under Mahatma Gandhi.
One of Kuntala Kumari Sabat’s writing –
Oh you men, if you do not rise up this time We will march forward clad in warrior’s dress We, women, coming out of the seclusion, Will take up the sword of non-cooperation In the thick of fight of peaceful Satyagraha Will march in procession batch by batch What though our heads are hung on the gallows We fear not the funeral pyre or fire pit. To-day the commander has called Rise ye, the heroic sons of India. Into this unique battlefield of non-cooperation Enter ye one by one girding up your loins. Ye all the famous heroes of India Come forward at the call of the Commander. Gandhi, the greatest Yogi, is your leader ye men and women rise up thinking of Siva. No use there is of guns and cannon in this The only weapon is your life. The drops of your blood are shots and powder Come ye armed with this weapon Your commander has called Come who will first offer his life Come together ye Hindus, Mussalmans, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, Jews and Christians. Your home is in Hindustan … Insult to it is insult to you
MALATI DEVI CHOUDHURY:
Malati Devi Choudhury was a freedom activist and Gandhian. She joined Mahatma Gandhi in the famous 1934 ‘Padayatra’ in Odisha. Mahatma Gandhi fondly called her ‘Toofane’ for her courage and dynamism. During the independence struggle, she had faced imprisonment in 1921, 1936 and 1942. Malati Devi had attended the historic Congress session on August 8, 1942 at Mumbai. She faced difficulties while travelling from Mumbai to Cuttack then. She reached Bhubaneswar station, where the British police was on high alert to nab her. Malati decided to walk all the way to Cuttack. At midnight, despite the floods in the Kathajodi river and the bridge infested with policemen, she crossed the river overcoming all obstacles and reached Cuttack on August 12, 1942. She laid foundation for the August Revolution in Odisha. Before independence, she had established the ‘Baji Raut Chhatravas’ at Angul(Odisha) in 1946, which was an epicenter for the Prajamandal Movement.
RAMA DEVI CHOUDHURY:
Rama Devi Choudhury, fondly called as Maa (mother) of the masses was one of the leading woman freedom fighters. She travelled from village-to-village to encourage women to participate in the freedom movement. She participated in the ‘Satyagraha’ Movement along with other women freedom activists like Kiran bala Sen, Malati Choudhury and Sarala Devi, at Inchudi, the place where the ‘Satyagraha’ Movement of Mahatma Gandhi first started in Odisha. She had also participated in the first phase of the Civil Disobedience Movement and had got arrested along with six other women freedom activists. During the Quit India Movement, she participated actively and got arrested along with 24 Congress activists. At thesame time, her ashram at Bari (named as Sewaghar by Mahatma Gandhi) was declared illegal by British Government and her family members were arrested. She had to face two years of imprisonment in Cuttack Jail. She had also contributed actively to the ‘Khadi’ Movement.
Sarala Devi was a freedom fighter, social activist and prolific writer. She was the first Odia woman to join the Non-cooperation Movement in 1921. During the freedom struggle, she didn’t use any foreign goods, gave away her jewellery to gather contribution for the Tilak Swaraj Fund. She took part in the Salt Satyagraha Movement at Inchudi, in Balasore. She became the first woman prisoner in Odisha, facing six months imprisonment at Chatrapur Jail for violating Salt laws. Sarala Devi was one of the first woman authors whose writings created a political, social and national awareness among the people of Odisha during freedom movement.She mostly wrote on Women’s Liberation like‘Utkala Nari Samasya’ (The Problems of the Women of Odisha) in 1934, ‘Naari ra Daabi’ (The Rights of Women) in 1934, ‘Bharatiya Mahila Prasanga’ (About the women of India) in 1935, ‘Beera Ramani’ (The Women of Valour) in 1949 and ‘Bishwa Biplabani’ (The Great Female Revolutionaries of the World) in 1930. When the Odisha province was formed on April 1, 1936, she was elected to the Assembly as the first woman member from Orissa.
Annapurna Maharana, popularly known as Chuni Apa was the second child of Rama Devi. From the age of 14, she campaigned for her country’s independence. At 17, she joined Mahatma Gandhi for the ‘Harijan Padayatra’ from Puri to Bhadrak. She was the member of ‘Banar Sena’, the children’s wing dedicated towards the freedom struggle. When Bari ashram was attacked and taken over by police, Mangala Devi along with other women activists made an attempt to release the ashram. Many women activists were arrested in the process. Chuni Apa along with a group of activists demanded immediate release of arrested activists and broke the police cordon. The police had to fire to bring the situation under control. It is said that the Kaipadar firing took place the moment people had gathered to hear the fiery speeches of Chuni Apa. Chuni Apa was arrested several times including during the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and the Quit India Movement in 1942.
There were numerous other women too like Nandini Devi, who actively participated in the independence movement in Ravenshaw College. At the age of 12, she led a procession and faced arrest. Sashibala Devi had been associated with the distribution of pamphlets issued by underground leadersThere were numerous other women too like Nandini Devi, who actively participated in the independence movement in Ravenshaw College. At the age of 12, she led a procession and faced arrest. Sashibala Devi had been associated with the distribution of pamphlets issued by underground leaders Pari Bewa(considered as the only lady martyr of Odisha), Mangala Devi, Parbati Giri, Sunamani Devi, Binapani Devi, Sarojini Choudhury, Kiranbala Sen, Janhavi Devi, Kokila Devi, Subhadra Mahatab, Jambubati Devi to name a few, also contributed towards the success of the Quit India Movement.
Women freedom fighters have fought during all the stages of nationalist movement to make the freedom movement in Odisha a success. From delivering fiery speeches to accepting imprisonment, the role of these women in freedom struggle would remain as an inspiration forever. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, “When the history of India’s fight for independence comes to be written, the sacrifice made by the women of India will occupy the foremost place.”