The Indian freedom struggle is one of the most important events in Indian history. Our freedom fighters are said to have given a new life to India. In the staunch patriarchal society that India is and has always been, women have always occupied the margins. But the freedom struggle saw Indian women defy their traditional roles. For the first time the women of the country stepped out of their homes to join hands with men to oust the British from their homeland. Women freedom fighters like Rani Lakshmibai; the queen of Jhansi, Sarojini Naidu; the nightingale of India, Kasturba Ghandi, are ones all Indians know. But the freedom struggle saw a plethora of courageous women the names of whom got lost in the pages of history.
Bengali women among others, stood out for their intellect and bravery during the freedom movement. Kalpana Datta, born in July 1913, was a member of the armed Independence movement led by Surya Sen. Being born in small village called Siripur, she joined the Chhatri Sangh at Bethune College. Her dedication for the cause of liberty from the British regime was evident since her early days as a student activist. That her sacrifice is unmatchable is evident from the fact that during her second supplementary trial at a British court she was sentenced to transportation for life to be released only in 1939. At the age of 81, after having fought for Indian Independence and having lived in an Independent India unlike many other freedom fighters who died before India could gain Independence from British rule, Datta passed away in February 1995. With thirst for artistic satisfaction that can be seen in Bengali blood even today, Datta related her experiences and struggles in an autobiographical book called Chittagong Armoury Raiders’ Reminiscences, published in 1945 in English.
Bina Das, another revolutionary and nationalist from Bengal was the daughter of a Brahmo teacher; Beni Madhab Das and a social worker; Sarala Devi. Her nationalist streak shone bright when she joined the chhatri sangh in Kolkata, to later become a prominent member of the Congress Party in 1939. Her zeal to liberate India from the clutches of the British regime, pushed her to actively participate in the Quit India Movement. Being a member of free India she, very earnestly, wrote down her memoirs in Bengali before her death in December 1986.
Bengal as a state was ever ahead in promoting nationalism through its women. Ambika Chkrabarty, born in 1892, once an Independence movement activist and revolutionary went on to lead the Communist Party of India and became a member of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, in her career as a politician. Ambika’s training as a nationalist began early in her childhood, at home itself. Her father, Nanda Kumar Chakrabarty, member of Chittagong Jugantar Party, actively participated in the Chittagong Armoury Raid. The influence that Nanda Kumar had on his daughter gave us an unflickering nationalist in the form of Ambika, who having rejoiced the glory of freedom breathed her last in March 1962.
Fondly known as Durga Bhabhi, Durgawati Devi, another tigress from Bengal was married to Bhagwati Charan Vohra, member of HRSA. Durgawati Devi is often remembered for having accompanied Bhagat Singh on the train journey when he made en escape after the Saunders Killing. She was an active member of the armed revolution against the British. Defying patriarchy on various levels, Durga Bhabhi led the funeral procession of Jatindra Nath Das from Lahore to Calcutta. She is known to have attempted to assassinate Lord Hailey. She was a woman made of iron, which she proved when she sold her ornaments to rescue Bhagat Singh and his comrades under trial. Living in anonymity in Ghaziabad after India achieved independence, she opened a school for poor children in Lucknow. Being a true embodiment of Goddess Durga, she passed away in October 1999 at the age of 92.
We often feel a lack of women role models to inspire and motivate us towards success, but that sure is because the names of the roles models we need today are buried in history. India, known for its Goddess who have always personified bravery and intellect, has had women who embody these very Goddess in the truest form. Being alive in our hearts, with the footprints these women have left for us to follow, India is sure to reach the zenith of prosperity.