(Last Updated on : 23/06/2012)
Rama Devi was a women activist who made it her concern to enlighten the women of Orissa. Her motto in life was to help others in distress and misery. She infused in the Harijans the light of patriotism. Everyone came to her for help and consolation.
She revived the confidence and self-respect in women and advised them to develop their individuality and dignity. She enlightened them to raise their voice against oppression, exploitation and injustice. She proved that, with self-confidence and determination, womanpower could become an indomitable force in nation-building. She was a living legend who had sown the seeds of revolution in the minds of the women of Orrisa and enlightened them. Utkal University honored her with a doctorate for her hard work. At Bhubaneswar a wom-en's college was established in her name. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister named one ship on the Eastern Coast after her.
She was born on 1899, at the Satyabhamapur village near Cuttack town. She was the daughter of Gopal Ballav Das and Basanta Kumari Devi. She belonged to a rich, sophisticated, Kayastha family. Her loving parents named her as Rama. Her father served as Deputy Collec-tor under the British Government. Rama did not have any formal school education. She was taught privately at home. She was influenced by the teachings of her father's elder brother, Govind Ballav Das who was a Bar-at-Law. His strong patriot-ism, feelings for the oppressed and positive action to establish cottage industries in Orissa as a means of enlightening the poor and socially oppressed people inspired Rama Devi. At the age of 15, Rama Devi was married to Gopa-bandhu Chowdhury, son of Gokulananda Chowdhury, a famous lawyer of Cuttack. Rama Devi gave birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. The youngest son died at the age of two and a half years. She herself had to manage the financial requirements of the family and the education of her children as her husband resigned from Gov-ernment service and joined the national movement for independence. After the death of her younger son she lost interest in worldly affairs and actively joined the Independence movement. At this phase of her life, she met Mahatma Gandhi when he was addressing a gathering of women at Cut-tack. She presented Gandhiji a bundle of her hand-spun thread.
When Gandhiji started his famous Salt Satyagraha Rama Devi took an active part in this movement, mobilizing women. Further she persuaded the Queen of Kujang to join the Satyagraha. Hearing the news that the Queen was going to join the movement with Rama Devi, thousands of women joined them in the Independence Movement.
Rama Devi became the Joint Secretary of the Orissa Branch of the Harijan Sevak Sangha. She started various social services in the Harijan basties of Cuttack. These included slum cleaning, caring for the sick and educating the Harijan women. Gandhiji started his famous Harijan Padayat-ra from Madhya Pradesh through Sambalpur. In spite of Government restrictions, thousands of men and women thronged to hear Gandhiji. As the Secretary of the Orissa branch of the Sangha, Rama Devi had to shoulder all responsibilities of this programme. When Gandhiji was at Patna, Rama Devi's mother and her uncle expired in quick succession. Knowing that she was overwhelmed with grief, Gandhiji had sent for her to stay with him. During this period Rama Devi got the chance to come closer to Gandhiji and she became fully devoted to him. Rama Devi donated her gold ornaments (about one-and-half kilograms) to the Harijan Fund of Gandhiji. When Gandhiji advised her to keep five to seven women workers, in the category of daughter, sister and mother, as her companions Rama Devi readily obeyed him. Women from all sects came to her to study on Gandhian principles. She dedicated this period of her life for the women of Orissa and she became their friend, philosopher and guide.
Rama Dev'i was arrested and jailed for taking part in the Quit India movement. Rama Devi was the first woman representative on the Kasturba Memorial Trust. Gandhiji's assassination was a personal loss for Rama Devi and it took time for her to overcome from grief. After Gandhiji, Vinoba Bhave took up village recon-struction. He formed the Sarvodaya Samaj, a Sangh formed to establish a society based on truth and non-violence, free from exploitation and oppression. Rama Devi assumed the leadership for spreading Vinobaji's message of Bhoodan and she undertook padayatra throughout Orissa. When Vinobaji came to Orissa he saw that along with Bhoodan, Gramadan work had also been started by Rama Devi and her husband. He was moved by her initiative and sacrifice. Rama Devi started Shanti Sena Sangathana to bring about peace and communal harmony among the people.
When Vinobaji undertook his second padayatra in Orissa, Rama Devi was his constant companion. When communal riots broke out in Orissa, Rama Devi immediate-ly went with her Shanti Sena women volunteers and worked there till peace was established. She also established an orphanage at Satyabhamapur called Kasturba Memorial Trust Centre.
The years that followed were a sad period of sadness for her. She lost many of her old co-workers like Acharya Harihar Dash, Gunanidhi Mohanty, Iswarlal Vyas, Pandit Kru-pasindhu Hota and Mangala Sen among others. Thousands of refugees poured into West Bengal due to political disturbances in East Pakistan. The sudden arrival of so many people made it a difficult task for the Government to make proper arrangements in the refugee rehabilitation camps. Epidemics like cholera and malaria created devastation in these camps. Rama Devi with her volunteers went to these camps and rendered invaluable service.She established a cancer detection centre at Cuttack.
Till the last moment of her life, she was associated with the Kasturba Trust. She was a devoted wife who completed all the work left incomplete by her husband. She considered all people equal. She did not differentiate anyone on the basis of caste, creed, reli-gion, sect or sex. She was like a loving mother to anyone who came to her. She was not affected by any praise or criticism. She passed away on 22 July, 1985.