Recently, my 12-year-old niece, Anushka, who is in the VIII grade, came to visit me with her mother during her Diwali vacations. Once the festive brouhaha died down, her mother told me that she was having a lot of trouble getting Anushka interested in studying history. “Every time I ask her to sit down and study history, she tells me that she doesn’t see the point of it,” my sister said.
My niece and I have a very friendly relationship and she is often more open and honest with me than most other adults in her life. “Oh maasi, I love reading stories, but there is very little I find relatable in the history book we have. There are barely any women mentioned besides Rani Laxmi Bai or Sarojini Naidu. How is it that most of these freedom fighters were men?," Anushka asked me. While I was proud of her critical thinking skills, I didn’t know how to answer this question.
So, the day after Diwali, I got down to researching Indian women freedom fighters who could not only make the story of Indian freedom struggle more relatable to my niece, but also act as strong role models.
Armed with a list of goosebump-inducing stories of fearless Indian women freedom fighters, I managed to convince Anushka that our history was indeed littered with these oft-ignored women and their sacrifices for our freedom.
Inspirational Indian women freedom fighters
Here are a few of these awe-inspiring women, who demonstrated incredible valour and determination while laying down their lives for the love of their motherland. Their names need to be as revered and noted as their male counterparts.
- Matangini Hazra: The indomitable spirit of Matangini Hazra is an overwhelming example to any human being. Born in a small village in Bengal to a poor peasant, Hazra was uneducated, married and widowed at an early age, without any offspring. But, at 71 years of age, she led a procession of six thousand supporters of the Quit India movement. When she was asked to stop by the Crown police, she stepped forward to appeal to the police to not open fire at the crowd. Yet, the firing commenced, and as she was shot three times in her forehead and both hands, she continued marching with the tricolour held high, chanting Vande Mataram. Hazra’s was the first statue of a woman put up in Kolkata, in Independent India, in 1977. It stands at the spot where she was martyred in Tamluk. The Hazra Road in Kolkata is also named after her.
- Uda Devi: Born into a Dalit family in a village in Awadh, Uttar Pradesh, Uda Devi sensed the anger among people against the British administration. She joined Begum Hazrat Mahal and formed a women’s battalion which she led herself. During the 1857 rebellion, her husband was martyred. She vowed to avenge his death and climbed a banyan tree disguised as a man and killed 32 soldiers of the British army. It is believed that, in respect in recognition of her brave feat, British officers like Campbell had bowed their heads over her dead body.
- Rani Gaidinliu: Known as the Rani of Nagas, Rani Gaidinliu was born in Manipur. She was a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against the British rule in India. At the age of 13 years, she started to preach to the people in her tribe. She joined her cousin Haipou Jadonang, who had led the Heraka Movement. This movement was for the revival of the Naga Tribal religion. She led this movement against the British when she was 17, which resulted in her arrest. She was then sent for a 14-year long imprisonment. With many more sacrifices, Rani Gaidinliu was fondly acknowledged by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, for her indomitable spirit and for the freedom that she fought for valiantly.
- AV Kuttimalu Amma: AV Kuttimalu Amma was born in 1905 in the Anakkara Vadakkathu family in Malabar. She was married to the President of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee and Minister in the Madras State, Kozhipurathu Madhava Menon. Kuttimalu was a woman of rare courage. She joined the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1932 leading a group of women with her two-month-old daughter in her arms. She was arrested and imprisoned for two years and took her infant daughter along with her in the jail. She was actively associated with the Indian freedom struggle and was arrested twice in 1940 and in 1942.
- Tara Rani Srivastava: Born in Saran near Patna, at a very early age, Tara Rani got married to a freedom fighter named Phulendu Babu and actively participated in protest marches against the British regime. During one such march, the police asked the crowd to stop and shortly resorted to lathi-charge and firing at the crowd. Phulendu Babu was shot and fell to the ground. Tara Rani bandaged her husband wounds’ and continued to march towards the station. Her husband later succumbed to his injuries. She continued to lead the crowd while holding the tricolour high and did not let personal loss come in way of her duty toward the nation.
These brave women are a few among a long list of lionhearted women freedom fighters whose stories might not be a part of our history books or popular memory, but who played an incontestable role in giving us an Independent India.
Reading the stories of these brave women, born in a time when women didn’t have most of the privileges, we, as modern Indian women take for granted, I felt a surge of gratitude and motivation run through me. Love and sense of duty towards our country is not gender specific. We owe our freedom to these bravehearts, and it is up to us to make good use of the freedoms bestowed upon us to work for the greater good of our motherland.
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