|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Mention the role played by women in freedom struggle.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Women’s participation in India’s freedom struggle began as early as in 1817. While women were involved in the political arena since the foundation of Indian national congress days (Annie Besant started Home Rule League) and especially during the Swadeshi movement but it was Gandhiji who initiated the mass participation of women in freedom struggle.
Role played by women in freedom struggle:
Before Gandhian phase:
- Bhima Bai Holkar fought bravely against the British colonel Malcolm and defeated him in guerrilla warfare.
- Maharani Velu Nachiyar (1730 – 1796) bravely fought with the British army decades before the 1857 Revolt. She probably remains the only queen to have defeated the British army successfully.
- Gauri Parvati Bai who was queen of Travancore carried out reforms and emphasized on the need for education of girls thus in many ways helping women elevate from social and educational stigma.
- The role of Rani of Ramgarh, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Tapasvini Maharani in the War of Independence (the Great Revolt) of 1857 was commendable.
- During Swadeshi campaign their activities were limited to boycott of foreign clothand picketing of liquor shops. A nationalistic cult around Bharat Mata (mother India) started to emerge which further necessitated the role of women.
- In the second phase of women participation, the idea of Home Rule and constitutionalism became dominant. Some western women played a significant role in this. Annie Besant, who became the first woman president of Indian National Congress, launched Home Rule movement.
During Gandhian phase:
- Role in Gandhi led mass movement: Many women played a proactive role in Gandhian movements. Kasturba Gandhi imprisoned for participating in Quit India Movement and consequently died in Poona Jail. Vijaya laxmi Pandit actively participated in all civil disobedience movement (1932,1941) and got arrested. Similarly, Indira Gandhi organized ‘Monkey army’ of youths.
- Social and Women Mobilisation: Women played an important role in mobilisation by leading from the front and through their writings. Prominent women like Aruna Asaf Ali was the leading figure of Quit India movement and edited journal ‘inquilab for mobilization. Similarly Raj Kumari Kaur was the founder of All India Women’s Conference.
- Revolutionary movements: Some Indian women also took revolutionary steps against imperial rule. Kalapana datta was the prominent revolutionary leader and was part of Chittagong armoury raid. Rani Gaidineliu led the naga nationalist movement against British and known as ‘Queen of Naga’.
- Raising voice of freedom at International level: Bhikaji Cama organized free India Society in UK and called as Mother India’s first cultural representative of USA. Vijay laxmi Pandit raised Indian voice at San Francisco UN meeting. Sarojni Naidu participated in round table conference along with Gandhi and Nehru.
- As Indian National Congress leaders: Anne Besant, Irish lady and Sarojini Naidu emerged as an important national leader who later became the President of INC.
- Women Organisations: In the third phase, women’s participation in Non Cooperation movement helped in incorporating women from all over India. Independent bodies of women such as Rashtriya Stree Sanghas were fused with District Congress Committees. It also saw inclusion of women from all sections – Hindu/ Muslim, widows, scheduled/marginalised sections.
- Through participation in various movements: During Civil Disobedience, women volunteers participated in marches boycotts and prabhat pheris. Desh Sevika Sangh, patriotic groups within their association, was formed for passive resistance. Sarojini Naidu, Muhtulaxmi Reddy, Margret Cousins were put in jail. Bi Amma, the mother of Ali brothers addressed 6000 women to join men in picketing. In Andhra Pradesh, a vibrant Durgabai collected over a thousand devadasi to hear Gandhi’s speech.
Hence Women played an indispensable role in Indian freedom struggle ranging from a figure of common person to lead the Mass movement and such contribution is non measurable and non-quantifiable. In a book called Mother India, the writer Katherine Mayo criticised the Hindu men and slave like condition of women within the family. Nationalists and reformers were compelled to focus on families and making the domestic space non violent. Also this criticism bound Indian men and women together to national honour.