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Lasting Impact: Women in the Indian National Movement

I am a patriot at heart and love my country. The festivities and fervor with which the national festivals are celebrated in India bring joy.

Women freedom fighters of India

Women freedom fighters of India

Women in the National Movement

Women’s independence today in India is largely due to three factors.

  • The involvement of women in the National Movement with the encouragement of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, who believed that women were the better half, not the weaker half, of society and so more capable of handling the responsibilities in the freedom work
  • The valuable work done by women’s organizations like the Women’s Indian Association, headed by Annie Besant, and the All-India Women’s Conference, led by eminent patriots and national workers like Margaret Cousin, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Muthulakshmi Reddy, Rani Lakshmi Bai Rajwade, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Rustomji Faridoonji, and Begum Hamid Ali
  • The movement saw a host of other women who gave direction and strength to the liberation of women by participating in the freedom movement of our country.

These women had neither external assistance nor support from organizations when they started the agitation. Their perseverance and single-minded devotion made it possible to make great strides in the freedom movement.

Early Pioneers and Significant Incidents in the National Movement

It has been recorded that Bhima Bai Holkar was the earliest woman participant in the freedom struggle. She fought bravely against British colonel Malcolm and defeated him in a guerilla war.

There are accounts of many women like Rani Chennamma of Kittur and Rani Begam Hazrat Mahal of Avadh, who fought against the British East India Company in the 19th century. Then there are records of Rani of Ramgarh, Rani Jindan Kaur, Rani Tace Bai, Baiza Bai, Chauhan Rani, and Tapasvini Maharani, who led their troops with courage in the Great Rebellion of 1857.

Rani Laxmibai is an example of outstanding courage and genuine patriotism. She is the hero of the First War of Indian freedom. Though she ruled over a small state, she was an embodiment of patriotism, self-respect and valor.

The Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy: Innocents Massacred

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre was the worst tragedy that occurred during the fight for freedom in India. On the 13th of April, some 10 thousand unarmed men, women and children were gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, an open space in the city of Amritsar. Many peasants from neighboring villages had also come to celebrate the Baisakhi festival, as was done every year during the spring season. Without warning, Colonel Dyer ordered fifty soldiers to fire into the gathering.

During this assault, thousands of rounds were fired for ten to fifteen minutes into the terrified, screaming crowd, who trampled on each other in a desperate attempt to escape. It is estimated that almost 400 innocent civilians were killed and thousands were wounded. Later, Dyer also admitted that the firing would have continued had the ammunition been available. Innocent men, women and children died in this massacre.

India can never forget the sacrifice of these valiant people who gave up their lives trying to free the country. This incident marked a turning point for many congress supporters, from a moderate stance with the Raj and its promised reforms to revolutionary non-cooperation.

Women in the Non-Cooperation movement

Women in the Non-Cooperation movement

If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Non-Cooperation Movement

A year later, Mahatma Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement, his first "satyagraha" ("holding firmly to truth") campaign all over the country as India’s revolutionary response. He chose "truth" and "non-violence" as the pillars of the nationalist movement. Some of the eminent personalities who participated in the Non-Violent movement were Sarla Devi, Muthulaxmi Reddy, Susheela Nair, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Sucheta Kripalani and Aruna Asaf Ali.

Other well-known people who participated in the movement were Kasturba Gandhi, Kamla Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Swarup Rani. Lado Rani Zutshi and her daughters Manmohini, Shyama and Janak played their part and led the contingent from Lahore.

Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March

Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March

Civil Disobedience Movement and the Dandi Salt March

The famous Dandi Salt March marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement. It was done to protest against salt laws imposed by the British Government. In this march, 79 inmates of Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram, along with Gandhiji, embarked on a march from Sabarmati Ashram to a remote village, Dandi, which was located on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It was a 200-mile walk. The Civil Disobedience Movement was an important landmark in the history of Indian Independence. It was during this movement that it was decided to celebrate January 26th as Independence Day all over the country. On 26 January 1930, meetings were held all over the country, and the tri-color flag was hoisted.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Women Suffered During the Agitation

The British Government tried to repress the movement by resorting to brutal firing, killing hundreds of people, arresting thousands of people. Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru were also arrested. The arrest of the major leaders enraged the people and the movement continued to spread to all the corners of the country. With the majority of the men being arrested, women took to the streets, raising slogans, holding public meetings, demonstrations, and some even helped in transporting explosives. And women were the worst sufferers during the rebellion.

Quit India Movement

Quit India Movement

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

— Mahatma Gandhi

The Quit India Movement

In 1942 when the Quit India Movement began, Usha Mehta, a committed patriot, set up a radio transmitter, called "Voice of Freedom" to broadcast the "mantra" of freedom. As the British resorted to brutal repression against the non-violent satyagrahis, Gandhiji’s famous message of "do or die" was circulated among the people. Usha Mehta and her brother continued with their task of broadcasting until they were arrested.

The most important consequence of the Quit India Movement was the realization of the British of its inability to rule India in the context of the bitter opposition of its people. By this time Britain was also reeling under the after effects of the Second World War and dealing with the country’s dwindling resources.

India's first Independence Day: 15 August 1947

India's first Independence Day: 15 August 1947

New Era for India

The conclusion of the Second World War heralded a new era for India. The cabinet mission that was sent to India by the British Crown studied the political scene in the country and recommended the creation of an interim government, which was formed and headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. Thus, India got her independence on August 14th at the stroke of midnight. Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of Independent India and Dr. Rajendra Prasad its first President.

The Lasting Impact

There is no doubt that Indian women have shown great courage, self-confidence and determination by joining the National Movement. The outstanding example shown by these women will go down in history and kindle the spirit of patriotism in young people all over the country.

Millions of women broke the fetters which normally would have taken generations to shake off. They broke them not only in rebellion against their own folks and from the restrictions imposed by society on them, but against the alien colonial authority. It instilled in all those who took part a new hope and pride in India’s greatness. Such a movement will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the people of this country.

References

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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