Women in Freedom Struggle

  • Women’s participation in freedom struggle remained an urban phenomenon, and here too emphasis on respectable image kept the lower class and marginal women like prostitutes out. As far as Muslim women were concerned, many of them participated in the Khilafat Non-cooperation movement.
  • During Swadeshi movement women boycotted British goods and used swadeshi, crushed their glass bangles and observed non-cooking days as a ritual of protest.
  • Sarala Debi Chaudhurani: She got involved in a physical culture movement for Bengali youth or a few women who participated in the revolutionary movement. She founded the Bharat Shree Mahamandal in Allahabad in 1910, first national-level women’s organisation in India. After her marriage, she moved to Lahore, where she participated in Non-Cooperation Movement.
  • Sarojini Naidu: In 1917, Naidu founded the Women’s India Association and led a delegation to London to meet Secretary of State Montagu to demand female franchise. The following year, she moved a resolution at the Congress session demanding equal eligibility for voting rights for both men and women. In 1925, she too was elected president of the Congress. She also led the attacks against Dharsana Salt Works during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.
  • Role of Gandhi in mobilising women in freedom movement: With advent of Gandhi, we see a major rupture in this story of women’s involvement in the nationalist movement. Gandhi, in conceptualizing the ideal Indian womanhood, shifted the focus from motherhood to sisterhood, by negating women’s sexuality. Gandhi’s appeal to women for agitation against the Rowlatt Act can be regarded as the formal entry of ordinary women in national movement. Gandhi projected women’s qualities of love and nurturance as their major strengths making them perfect satyagrahis.

Women During Non-Cooperation Movement

  • When the Non-Cooperation Movement started in 1920, Gandhi initially, prescribed a limited role to women that of boycott and swadeshi. But women claimed a greater role. In November 1921, a procession of 1000 women greeted the Prince of Wales in Bombay.
  • Women like Begum Hasrat Mohani (Wife of Hasrat Mohani), Basanti Devi (Wife of C. R.  Das), Sarala Devi Chaudharani and Sarojini Naidu, often addressed women-only gatherings and exhorted women to donate to Tilak Swaraj Fund.
  • Women participated in this movement in two groups. Firstly, those who worked for promotion of swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods from within their homes and secondly, those women who came out in public sphere to support the movement.
  • Basanti Devi: She was the wide of C. R. Das and actively took part in the freedom struggle, particularly in the Non-Cooperation Movement. During the NCM, she sold Khadi and hand-spun clothes. She was President of Bengal Congress during 1921-22. She along with Basant Devi, Urmila Devi and Sunita Devi (Sisters of C. R. Das) established the Nari Karma Mandir for training women freedom fighters.
  • Bi Amman:  She was the mother of Ali Brothers (Mohammad Ali & Shaukat Ali) and led the Khilafat Movement in UP. She was Muslim women to actively take part in politics. She termed Hindus and Muslims as two eyes of India and called for communal harmony. She addressed 6000 women at Ahmedabad conference of All Indian Ladies Conference.
  • Rashtriya Stree Sangh: This was independent women’s organisation formed to connect women to the cause of nation. The members of this organization were required to be members of Congress and worked for promotion of Khadi in Bombay and organised strikes against during the visit of Prince of Wales in 1921.

Women During Civil Disobedience Movement:

  • During the Civil Disobedience movement as well, women participated in enormous number, however Gandhi did not intend to involve them initially. During this period, struggle against British rule intensified and Nationalism became the pre-eminent cause. Gandhi legitimised and expanded Indian women’s political activities by initiating them into NCM and CDM.
  • This phase saw the birth of three major organisations:
    • Women’s India Association (WIA): First purely feminist organisation in India in 1917 in Adyar, Madras. Annie Besant was its first president. WIA inserted a clause in its constitution to work for social reform through newly constituted legislative councils established by Government of India Act, 1919.  The Association later developed into a potent force to fight against illiteracy, child marriage, the Devadasi system and other, social ills. Women’s India Association published a journal named ‘Stri Dharma’.
    • National Council of Women in India (NCWI): Women of Bombay, Calcutta & Madras made use of networks developed for war work to forge their different clubs and associations into a new council. NCWI came to be accepted as national branch of International Council of Women and was the first all-India women’s organisation associated with an international organisation. This provided an opportunity to voice Indian opinion in international forums.
    • All India Women’s Conference (AIWC): Established in 1927. This association was formed at the initiative of Ms. Margaret Cousins in 1927. She invited women’s associations from all over the country as Fergusson College, Pune. AIWC focused on improving educational efforts for women & children and later expanded its scope to tackle other women’s issues. AIWC raised money for Lady Irwin College of Domestic Science and published a journal known as Roshni. It’s first president was Maharani of Baroda. Sarojini Naidu became its president in 1930.

Women in Quit India Movement

  • Women leaders like Usha Mehta, Aruna Asaf Ali, Matangini Hazra, Sucheta Kripalani and Sarojini Naidu led campaigns led the movements in various parts of the country.
  • Usha Mehta established the radio network for freedom fighters named ‘Voice of Freedom’ to broadcast news of protests and arrests which became a major medium of patriotic feeling.
  • Women Self Defence Committees were established to impart training in self-defence in parts of Bengal. To coordinate these self-defence committees Mahila Atmaraksha Samiti was formed.
  • Thus, during the Quit India Movement women participated with new vigour as self-disciplined soldiers who could take their own stands in absence of leaders. Unlike previous movements, there was no demarcation between the role of men and women in the struggle for freedom.
  • Women in Azad Hind Fauz: Subhash Chandra Bose involved Indian women in actual military action had been initiated. He had been instrumental in raising under the leadership of “Colonel” Latika Ghosh a Congress women’s volunteer corps that had marched on the streets of Calcutta in full uniform. When in 1943 he raised an expatriate army in Southeast Asia, known as the Indian National Army (INA) he decided to add a women’s regiment, which he called the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, named after Rani Lakshmi Bai. 
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