Durgabai Deshmukh was a feminist, a Parlimentarian, an administrator and a great visionary. She considered that her mission in life was to uplift the socially oppressed and politically neglected mass of India. When she was the member of the Parliament
, she carried out programmes for educating, training and rehabilitating the needy women and children. She was the founder of AMS institutions and other important social welfare organizations. She was known as the Mother of Social Service in India.
Durgabai was born in 1909, at Rajahmundri, in a middle class family of Kakinada. At the age of eight years, she was married to the son of a prosperous Zamindar family. It was only when she attained puberty, she realized what marriage really meant. So she decided to break the bond and engage herself in "public life". She tried to convince her husband that she would not be a suitable wife for him and hence they could part. She at a very young age followed the ideals of Gandhiji
. She wore khadi and boycotted English medium schools.
Durgabai was fascinated by the teachings of Gandhiji and became a devoted Congress
sevika. She was imprisoned during the Salt Satyagraha and was sent to Vellore
Jail where she mingled with other women prisoners. To her shock, she found that many of them did not even know for what reason they were convicted. Touched by their ignorance and misery, she vowed that she would work for enlightening the women folk of India. She was arrested thrice during the Satyagraha movement. She spent her last term in Madurai Jail where she was kept next to the cell of murderers. Their agonized cries shattered her nerves. She considered that her mission in life was to live for the poor, oppressed and downtrodden.
Durgabai organized four regional conferences to enunciate a Population Policy for India and prepared comprehensive reports for the national leadership and the United Nations. She worked persistently for population control, which she considered as the backbone for the progress and prosperity of the nation. Durgabai established the Blind Relief Association.
Durgabai decided to resume her interrupted education, which she had stopped after her fifth vernacular education. So she took a crash course at Banaras Hindu University for Matriculation so as to qualify to enter the University. Later she introduced courses for school dropout girls under Social Welfare Board Programmes. Durgabai did her B.A. (Hons.) from Madras University and won a scholarship to the London School of Economics. Her journey to the U.K was prevented by the war and she joined Law College in Madras. She specialized in criminal law, a pursuit that was most unsuitable for women. She became one of the most successful criminal lawyers of her time. Her motto in life was to never send back a woman in need of legal aid.
Durgabai married C.D.Deshmukh who was the finance minister and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. It was the Governor who proposed to her. They led a very happy married life.
Durgabai contested the first election to Parliament and lost. So she planned to return to Madras and attend to her legal practice. But Nehru
persuaded her to stay in Delhi
and kept her occupied with various assignments. She had the chance to go to China with India`s goodwill delegation. It was she who first brought forth the idea of setting up Family Courts in India as she had seen such courts functioning China. In her report of the tour submitted to Pandit Nehru she strongly recommend the setting up of Family Courts in India. Durgabai became the member of the Planning Commission in charge of social welfare.
Durgabai became the member of the Constituent Assembly and worked closely with leaders like Jawaharlal `Nehru, Gopalaswamy Iyengar and B.N.Rau. She was a very active woman in the Constituent Assembly and Ambedkar once said of her "here is a woman with a bee in her bonnet". He classified women into three categories as females, women and ladies. According to him Durgabai, fell into the second category. Her colleagues considered her as a generous hearted woman. She established the Andhra Mahila Sabha, which consisted of a hospital, nursing home, nurses training centre, literacy and crafts centers. Durgabai along with her husband conceived the India International Centre and the Council of Social Development and Population Council of India in New Delhi. She breathed her last on 1981. She was a living saga who is a perfect example that all posterity can follow.