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UPSC Essentials: Women Freedom Fighters of India

Dec 23, 2022

In the predominantly male-dominated world of freedom fighters, women freedom fighters have been fewer but their contributions have stood out among the greatest freedom fighters this country has produced. We shall look at a few of them important from the perspective of UPSC.

In this blog post, we shall discuss a few of the greatest female freedom fighters that India has seen. Learning about them is relevant for your UPSC-GS preparation and will help you be more confident about cracking the exam.

Let’s begin. 

10 Greatest Women Freedom Fighters of India

1. Aruna Asaf Ali

Aruna Asaf Ali is known as the heroine of the 1942 Quit India movement for the bravery she showed in the face of danger. She also came to be known as the ‘Grand Old Lady’ of the Independence movement in her later years. This is a detail that important to remember if you are preparing for history, polity and GS papers in general. 

She was a valiant women freedom fighter in the Indian Independence movement. She started the Quit India movement by hoisting the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay. The hoisting of the flag remains to this day one of the most enduring images of the Quit India movement and our Independence movement as a whole. 

Apart from being an Indian educator and political activist, she was also a publisher and one of her contributions was editing Inquilab, the monthly magazine of the Congress Party along with Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, a prominent freedom fighter and socialist political leader. 

Born into a liberal Bengali-Brahmin family, Aruna Ganguly married Asaf Ali a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress (INC) which introduced her to the world of politics and launched her into the forefront of India’s freedom struggle as one of the influential female freedom fighters. 

2. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

Among India’s women freedom fighters, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay is a little-known social activist, politician and feminist who has left a large footprint in Indian culture. While most of us know her as the lady who revived the Indian handicraft industry, she was a prominent figure in the national freedom struggle and in the international socialist feminist movement. 

She was a follower of Gandhi and by following his footsteps she enrolled herself in the Congress party by 1923. Three years later she achieved the unique distinction of being the first woman in the country to run for a political officer. She competed for a seat in the Madras Legislative Assembly and lost by a mere 55 votes. 

Her actions were noticed and in 1929, she was elected as the President of the Youth Congress and went on to appeal to the senior Congress leaders to set Poorna Swaraj or complete freedom as their goal. This female freedom fighter captured the heart of the entire nation when amidst a scuffle with the authorities, she refused to give up the tricolour flag and protected it while suffering multiple injuries. 

Beyond the country’s boundaries, she was also a key figure in transnational causes such as racism and political and economic equity between nations. She was a key participant in the International Alliance of Women in Berlin in 1929 thereby establishing herself as a women freedom fighter of international prominence. 

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3. Mira Behn or Madeleine Slade

Born as Madeleine Slade in 1892, she first heard of Gandhi after she read a book about him. After reading the book she was overcome with a desire to meet the Mahatma. She began an acquaintance with him while he was undergoing a fast to promote communal harmony. 

Soon after, she acquired his consent to join the Sabarmati Ashram and began preparing for an Ashram life by learning Hindi, weaving and spinning, becoming a vegetarian, and practised squatting and sleeping on the floor. 

After she landed in Bombay in 1925, Gandhi greeted her as his daughter and henceforth, she took on the name Mirabehn. She landed in the country during the heights of the Gandhian era of the liberation struggle and was a witness to all the landmark events such as the Simon Commission protest, Dandi March, Civil Disobedience Movement, the Gandhi-Irwin pact and the Round Table Conference in London. 

She travelled extensively to promote Khadi and wrote frequently for noted journals from the Young India and Harijan, to The Stateman, Calcutta, The Hindustan Times and The Times of India, Bombay. Her contributions have placed her on the front lines of the freedom movement and established her as prominent among women freedom fighters. 

4. Savitribhai Phule

Savitribhai Phule is hailed as one of India’s first modern feminists and a well-known among women freedom fighters. She was the first female teacher in India and a social reformer working for the upliftment of the lower castes in India. She was instrumental in raising her voice against the oppressive social system prevalent in Pune in the 19th century. 

Along with her husband Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule opened the first women’s school in Maharashtra in the year 1848. 

She realised the importance of education for women and she penned down her thoughts in the form of poems in her books titled Kavya Phule and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar. She also began Mahila Seva Mandal to create awareness about women’s rights in 1852, led a campaign against child marriage and supported widow remarriage.  

Savitribai is credited with pioneering the feminist movement in India and is hailed as one of the most influential female freedom fighters that India has ever seen.

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5. Pritilata Waddedar

Pritilata Waddedar was only 21 years old when she died fighting the British and was among the youngest women freedom fighters of India. She chose to end her own life rather than get captured. She spent her short life constantly fighting British rule. 

Pritilata was born in Chittagong, now in Bangladesh and was a promising student. The roots of her anti-British sentiment began to take root while she was a student at Eden college in Dhaka. During this time she developed connections with other women who were spearheading semi-revolutionary groups. 

Her real foray into activism began when she met the revolutionary Surya Sen while enrolled as a student of Philosophy at Bethune College, University of Calcutta. Inspired by Sen, Pratilata joined his underground group and this would establish her name forever among the heroic female freedom fighters. 

It was during an attack on the Pahartali European Club in Chittagong after Sen’s arrest that Pratilata suffered a bullet wound that prevented her from escaping. She swallowed potassium cyanide to resist getting captured by the British.  

While we are on the topic of women freedom fighters, here is a related topic that you must know about. Watch Siddarth Singh sir talk about the various government schemes related to women’s empowerment in Sarkari Yojana, the latest PrepLadder YouTube series.

https://youtu.be/WC-65EyVEuo
Siddarth Singh sir on Sarkari Yojana around Women Empowerment

6. Basanti Devi

Basanti Devi is said to have been the first Indian lady to be imprisoned by the British for taking part in the Indian Freedom Struggle. She was the wife of the fiery nationalist Chittaranjan Das and she became involved in the freedom struggle after her husband was arrested for participating in the Non-cooperation movement. 

She was the founding member of the Nari Karma Mandira, an educational centre for women and was one of the prominent women freedom fighters that worked for the upliftment of women. 

She actively participated in politics and was the President of the Bengal Congress during 1921-22. She efficiently ran the weekly publication of the journal Bangaler Katha after the death of Chittaranjan Das. 

For her efforts as one of the notable female freedom fighters, she was honoured with the Padma Vibhushan in 1973. She passed away in 1974 at the age of 94 years after living a long life. 

7. Matangini Hazra

Here is the story of a female freedom fighter that rose from obscurity to prominence. 

Around 80 years ago, a poor peasant woman from the Midnapore district of West Bengal participated in the Indian freedom struggle in her own way. Although Matangini Hazra never made it to the limelight her contributions were invaluable and her name is forever etched as one of the most influential women freedom fighters of the country. 

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Matangini Hazra started actively participating in the political movement. She participated in noted events such as the Salt Satyagraha and the protest for the abolition of the Chowkidari Tax. She became an active member of the local unit of the Indian National Congress and started spinning Khadi on her own charkha. 

On 29th September 1942, she was shot by the British police when she led six thousand supporters to capture the Tamluk police station under the Quit India movement. Even as she fell to the ground, the tricolour in her hand remained held high. 

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8. Bina Das

This brave female freedom fighter came from a family of revolutionaries. Her mother ran a hostel dedicated to the freedom movement, her father was a well-known Brahmo teacher and even her sister was a freedom fighter. So it was no surprise that Bina inherited the same anger and the same determination to make sure the British leave India. 

It was 1932 and Bina Das was just 21 years old. She was about to receive her degree in the convocation hall at Calcutta University. However, she had other plans.  She entered the hall with six bullets in her revolver to assassinate Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson.  

She failed in her attempt and Governor Stanley Jackson only suffered a minor ear injury. However, she served nine years of hard labour for her actions and made the newspaper headlines the next day. She continued working for her country until Independence and she was honoured with the Padma Shri in 1960. 

9. Jhalkari Bai

We have all heard of the legendary tale of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi but there was another courageous female freedom fighter that history often forgets. Jhalkari Bai was an advisor to the Rani of Jhansi and one of the bravest women freedom fighters in history.  

Born into a humble background, Jhalkari bai’s childhood is full of tales of bravery. It is said she once fought off a tiger with just a stick and fought off a gang of thieves alone. One of the interesting things about her was that she bore an uncanny resemblance to the queen of Jhansi and that was why the queen took her in and inducted her into her women’s army. 

After the Battle of 1857, Field Marshal Hugh Henry Rose attacked Jhansi to put an end to the mutiny once and for all. The Rani of Jhansi went out with just 4000 soldiers to attack but unfortunately, was betrayed by one of her own. Close to defeat, she had to escape the battle.

During this time, Jhalkari bai disguised herself as the queen of Jhansi and led the attack allowing the Rani of Jhansi to escape unhurt. 

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10. Rani Gaidinliu

Rani Gaidinliu was born in 1915. She was not just a brave female freedom fighter but also a spiritual and political leader of the Rongmei tribe. She become involved in the fight against the British after she joined her cousin Haipou Jadonang’s Heraka movement. 

The Heraka movement was based on the ancestral Naga religion. This movement sought to resist the oppression of the Christian missionaries and also resisted the reforms of the British like heavy taxation. 

After her brother Jadonang was hanged for opposing colonial rule, she took up his mantle and inspired her people to rebel against the British. She became one of the most influential women freedom fighters at a very young age. 

She was captured at the age of 16 and was imprisoned for 14 years. She earned freedom only after India’s independence and when Jawaharlal Nehru personally ordered her to be released from prison. Pandit Nehru named her ‘daughter of the hills’ and bestowed upon her the title of ‘Rani’ or queen.   

And there you go! These are a few of the most influential women freedom fighters of India. We have tried to include as many lesser-known names as possible from the UPSC standpoint.  

All of these brave female freedom fighters have played an invaluable role in our country’s freedom struggle and it is essential that you know about their contribution.  

And even though direct questions may not be asked about these brave women freedom fighters, you can use them as examples or reference points in your answers. That is the kind of answer-writing that UPSC expects from its aspirants and it is exactly what the top UPSC faculty at PrepLadder will teach you. 

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