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Mahatma Gandhi


Zohra Ansari, the Freedom Fighter who taught Urdu to Mahatma Gandhi and sold her house to fund Congress

- By Syed Naseer Ahamed

Mahatma Gandhi and Zohra Ansari

Photo Credit: Heritage Times

Begum Zohra Ansari, an activist of the Indian National Movement whom Mahatma Gandhi addressed as ‘Vasthad Bi’, was born in Delhi. She was the adopted daughter of freedom fighters, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari and Begum Shamsunnisa Ansari.

Besides playing an important role in the National Movement, her parents provided hospitality to leaders and a cadre of the Indian National Movement and scholars and people of repute in different walks of life in their residence ‘Dar-us-Salam’, which was very spacious like a royal palace.

While Begum Shamshunnisa Ansari was busy in these responsibilities, Zohra helped her. Thus she had an opportunity to see from close-quarters leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Motilal Nehru, and the Ali Brothers and to serve them. Right from childhood she evinced interest in literature, history, and social sciences and gained proficiency in Urdu, Arabic, Persian, and Hindi.

Zohra Ansari and Mahatma Gandhi

Zohra Ansari rendered her services in Wardha Ashram for a long time. Mahatma Gandhi came to know about her command over Urdu and started learning the language from her. He used to address her in his letters as ‘Vastad Bi’ and ‘Beti.

Zohra Ansari and Mahatma Gandhi used to have regular correspondence on various issues. In his letter dated 22 December 1932 to Dr Ansari, Gandhiji remarked that he used to look forward to Zohra’s letter every week. When Zohra expressed her desire to go to jail as a part of the National Movement, like her parents, Gandhiji asked her to wait and promised to allow her to go to jail.

Begum Zohra Ansari married Dr Shaukatulla Shah Ansari (1908-1972) who was her relative and leader of the Indian National Movement. Begum Zohra Ansari lost her father in 1936 and mother in 1938. She took an active part in the Freedom Struggle along with her husband. Both wife and husband opposed the partition of India.

She sold away ‘Dar-us-Salam’ to raise party funds and worked for the victory of the candidates of the Indian National Congress and for the defeat of the candidates of the Muslim League, who wanted partition. Post-Independence, Begum Zohra Ansari led a simple life and passed away on 28 July 1988 in England.

Courtesy: Heritage Times, dt. 12.12.2023

Syed Naseer Ahamad is a Telugu writer and journalist who has written several books on the role of Muslims in the struggle for the freedom of India. Email: