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Mahatma Gandhi


International Women's Day: Remembering 10 unsung woman heroes of freedom struggle

- By Tanu Kapoor

unsung woman heroes of freedom struggle

“When woman, whom we call abala becomes sabala, all those who are helpless will become powerful.” Mahatma Gandhi said this while addressing the All India Women's Conference in Dec 1936. He believed that India's salvation depended on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women.

The history of the Indian Freedom Struggle would be incomplete without mentioning the contributions of women.

When most of the men freedom fighters were in prison the women came forward and took charge of the struggle.

While we often remember Rani Laxmi Bai as the one to raise the flag against British rule, the sacrifices of many women freedom fighters are still lesser known in the country.

Here is the information on 10 brave women who played an important role in the pre-independence struggle.

1. Tara Rani Srivastava

Tara Rani Srivastava was born into a very poor family in Saran, Bihar. She was married at the very young age of 13. She along with her husband Phulendu Babu actively participated in the Quit India movement. A young Tara and her husband were very passionate about the Independence struggle.

Once Mahatma Gandhi called the people for hoisting the flag in front of Siwan police station. On Gandhiji's call, Phulendu assembled a massive crowd of men and women in front of the police station to hoist the national flag on its roof.

Both Tara and Phulendu stood in front of the crowd and raised slogans. Soon police started firing and Phulendu fell to police bullets but Tara Rani was not discouraged.

In fact demonstrated exemplary courage, she bandaged her husband's wounds and marched with the national flag straight toward the police station. By the time she returned, her husband had died.

Tara despite seeing her husband dead, remained placid. She without losing her courage continued her struggle despite facing all the hurdles on her way.

2.Bhikaji Cama (1861 – 1936)

Bhikaiji Rusto Cama was a very prominent lady in the Indian independence movement. She was born as Bhikai Sorab Patel in Mumbai in a very well-to-do Parsi family. At the age of 23, she was married to Rustom Cama, who was the son of K.R. Cama.

Rusto Cama was a wealthy, pro-British lawyer who aspired to enter politics. Their marriage was not a happy one, so Bhikhaiji spent most of her time and energy in philanthropic activities and social work.

She had set up ‘Free India Society’ in London in order to rally Indian youths. She also went to Paris and founded a centre there. She was the one who planned the Indian national flag.

As an Indian representative to the International Socialist Congress held at Stuttgart in Germany, in 1907, she waved the flag before the crowd and appealed to the delegates to co-operate with the Indians so that they all could free themselves from British rule.

A number of Indian cities have streets and places named after Bhikhaiji Cama, or Madame Cama, as she is also known.

On India's 11th Republic Day, 26 January 1962, the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department issued a commemorative stamp in her honour.

Bikhaji was just not a part of the Indian Independence Movement, she was also a strong ally for gender equality. She donated most of her personal possessions to an orphanage for girls.

3. Begum Hazrat Mahal (1820 – 1879)

Begum Hazrat Mahal also known as Begum of Awadh, was one of the most pivotal rebellions during the 1857 Indian rebellion, against the rule of the British East India Company.

She was the first wife of the then Lucknow ruler Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. One of the strongest women, who rebelled against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She even took charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and seized control of Lucknow after Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had been ousted Calcutta.

She is famously known as the 'Lakshmi Bai' of Oudh. She was also a big supporter of fellow mutineers like Nana Saheb.

She greatly motivated the masses to rebel against the British Raj. Such was her devotion and pledge to her people that the Begum even went on to brace the city of Lucknow against the advancing British troops. After a long siege, Lucknow was again re-captured by the British, forcing Hazrat Mahal to retreat in 1858.

She spent the remaining years of her life in Nepal, passing away in 1879 in Kathmandu.

4. Moolmati

She was a fierce patriot. Hailing from an extremely humble background, Moolmati was the mother of freedom fighter Ram Prasad Bismil, who was hanged by the British Raj for his role in the Mainpuri Conspiracy case and the Kakori Conspiracy.

Moolmati, a simple woman, supported her son throughout his struggle for the freedom movement.

On meeting Bismil before his hanging at the Gorakhpur jail, she was firm and told him that she was proud to have a son like him. Ram Prasad broke down on seeing his mother who remained unmoved.

He in turn told his mother that his tears were not for his upcoming death but that he would never get another mother like her.

Moolmati in a public gathering, after Ram Prasad Bismil's death, took a very bold step, she raised her other son's hand and offered him to the freedom movement.

It is true that without her philanthropic support and faith in the freedom struggle, Ram Prasad Bismil might not have had the determination to pursue the path he had chosen.

5. Bhogeshwari Phukanani (1885- 1942)

Bhogeshwari Phukanani is one of the prominent martyrs of the 1942 Independence movement. She is very well known as the "60-year-old martyr" in central Assam.

Bhogeshwari, a housewife, actively participated in the freedom struggle and instructed her six sons and two daughters to do the same.

The Berhampur Congress Office was under siege by the military and police during the freedom movement. Police and military atrocities had increased in the western part of Nagaon district.

The revolutionaries regained control of the office and celebrated their victory. But it was short-lived. To take revenge, the British army sent a military force under Capt Finish. This place turned into a battlefield all of a sudden.

The echo of ‘Vande Mataram' pervaded the place. People from nearby villages came out with national flags in their hands.

Bhogeswari Phukanani along with Ratnamala at that time led the mob. As soon as they came face to face with Capt Finish, he snatched the flag from Ratnamala's hand. Ratnamala stumbled and fell.

Noticing the insult inflicted on the national flag, Bhogeswari got upset and immediately hit the Captain on the head with the flagpole. A furious Captain Finish pulled out his revolver and fired at Bhogeswari. She succumbed to the injury.

6. Matangini Hazra (1870 – 1942)

Matangini Hazra was an Indian revolutionary who participated in the Indian independence movement until she was shot dead by the British Indian police in front of the Tamluk Police Station.

She was dearly known as Gandhi buri, Bengali for old lady Gandhi.

Matangini Hazra played a major role in the Quit India Movement. This unsung heroine had the courage to sprout more nationalism among fellow Indians.

She during a procession, even after being shot did not give up. She continued her march with the national flag, repeating the slogan, "Vande Mataram!" till her last breath.

7. Parbati Giri

Parbati Giri, is better known as the Mother Teresa of Western Odisha. A prominent brave heart from Odisha who played a significant role in the Indian Freedom Struggle.

She was born in Samlaipadar village near Bijepur of the present Bargarh district and undivided Sambalpur district.

Due to her anti-British government activities, she was put behind the bars for two years. Parbati Giri was just 16 when she was in the forefront of agitation following Mahatma Gandhi's “Quit India” call.

Her love for the nation made her serve the countrymen socially after independence. She opened an orphanage at Paikmal village and devoted the rest of her life for the welfare of orphans.

8. Velu Nachiyar

Rani Velu Nachiyar was an 18th-century Indian queen from Sivaganga. She was the first queen to fight against the British in India.

She became the first revolutionary who opposed the rule of the British in Tamil Nadu even before the Sepoy mutiny which is considered as the first war against British rule in India.

She acknowledged powers to Marudu brothers to rule the country in 1780. Velu Nachiar died a few years later. Marudu brothers are the sons of Udayar Servai.

9. Kanaklata Barua

Kanaklata Barua also known as 'Birbala' was an Indian freedom fighter from Assam. During the Quit India Movement Kanaklata joined the Mrityu Bahini, a death squad comprising groups of youth from the Gohpur sub-division of Assam.

Kanaklata was shot dead while leading a procession bearing the National Flag during the Quit India Movement.

10. Lakshmi Sahgal (1914-2012)

Lakshmi Sahgal born as Lakshmi Swaminathan was one of the brave hearts who served a sentence in a Burma prison for her role in World War II. After serving in the prison she returned to her motherland to enroll herself into the army formed by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Sahgal is fondly known in India as "Captain Lakshmi."

Sahgal was the revolutionary of the Indian independence movement, an officer of the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women's Affairs in the Azad Hind government.

She was in charge of establishing and leading the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, comprising women soldiers.