Hansa Mehta was an educationist and she was the first woman to be appointed Vice-Chancellor of a co-educational University in India. She was a prolific-writer and an orator. She was a freedom fighter who made it her mission to free India. She actively took part in the freedom struggle and had to suffer imprisonment many a times. She was known as the dictator of Bombay.
Hansa mehta was born on 3rd July 1897 at Surat
in a Nagar Grahasta family that was well known for their liberal views, scholarship and administrative capabilities. She was the daughter of Manubhai Mehta who started his career as Professor of Philosophy in Baroda College rose through ability and merit to be the Prime Minister
of Baroda State. Her paternal grandfather, Nandshankar Tuljashankar Mehta, was the first to write a novel in Gujarati
in prose. She was sent to school and college in Baroda. She graduated from the Baroda College, and then affiliated to the Bombay University, with B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy. She and her older sister, Jayashri Raiji was the third among Gujarati women to obtain a college degree. She sailed for England to study journalism.
In London she met Mrs. Sarojini Naidu
and it was Mrs. Naidu who initiated Hansaben into the women`s movement by taking her to meetings. Later she sailed to U.S.A alone. There she attended educational and social work conferences and met women active in suffragette movement. From San Francisco she sailed for Japan where she was caught in the great earthquake. The hotel where she was staying was one of the few buildings that were not damaged and miraculously she came out of the ordeal unharmed. She returned home via, Shanghai, Singapore and Colombo.
Hansaben married Dr. Jivraj N.Mehta, who was then the Chief Medical Officer of Baroda State. It was a Pratiloma marriage, which created uproar among the Nagar Grahasta community. They held meetings protesting against the marriage of a woman belonging to the highest caste to a Vaishya. She was ex-communicated from her community. But her father and other members of her family approved of the marriage, and the reformer Maharaja Sayajirao Gaikwad of Baroda was so pleased with this inter-caste marriage that he attended all the wedding festivities. The couples further moved to Bombay where Dr Jivraj started and developed the K.E.M. Hospital and G.S.Medical College of which he had been appointed the first Dean.
In Bombay, Hansaben found fertile ground to realize her full potential. She kept herself busy with educational and social welfare activities. She became the member of the Bombay Legislative Council, being elected from its general constituency. She had declined to seek election from women`s quota, as she was opposed to the quota policy. She became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education and Health.
Some of her literary contributions in Gujarathi are Balvaratvalli, Kishorevartavalli, Bavlana Parakrama , a translation of Pinnachio and Golibarni Musafari, a translation of Gulliver`s Travels. An account of her travels through various countries was published as Arun Nu Adhbhut Swapnu. Later, she published her works in English as Adventures of King Vikrama and Prince of Ayodhya.. Thus along with Gijubhai Badheka, Hansaben pioneered the writing of children`s books in Gujarati. She started publishing plays in Gujarati. She translated into Gujarati Shakespeare`s Hamlet and Merchant of Venice; Valmiki`s Ramayana
; two plays of Moliere from French- Le, Bourgeois Gentillehomme and Tartuff (1978). The Farbus Gujarati Sabha published a collection of her articles in Gujarati on various subjects. She published three tracts in English as Women Under the Hindu Law of Marriage and Succession, Post-war Educational Reconstruction and Civil Liberties. A collection of her articles in English entitled Indian Woman was published in 1981.
Hansaben came under the influence of Gandhiji and joined India`s national freedom movement. She organized picketing of shops selling foreign clothes as well as liquor shops, and participated in other freedom movement activities. As the `dictator` of Bombay she led a mammoth procession on which was joined by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
and some other Congress Working Committee members. The procession was dispersed by a lathi charge and Hansaben was arrested. In her Presidential address at the All-India Women`s Conference convention held in Hyderabad
, Hansaben proposed a Charter of Women`s Rights. The Charter proved useful in clarifying the woman`s status and for pressing for suitable legislation regarding the same. The first such legislation that was taken up was the codification of the Hindu Law.
Hansaben was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. On the historic occasion of the transfer of power, she had the privilege of presenting the` National Flag" to the nation on behalf of the women of India. On the International scene, Hansaben represented India on the Nuclear Sub-Commission on the Status of Women in the United Nations. She represented India on the United Nations Human Rights Commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO and led Indian delegations to several international conferences. In India, she was associated with many educational, social and cultural organizations. In recognition of her contribution to social service, Hansaben was awarded the Padma Bhushan. She was also conferred the Hon.D.Litt by the Allahabad University
and by the M.S. University of Baroda. The `Leeds University in U.K. conferred on her an Honorary Doctorate.
Unfortunately, she became a semi-invalid in the last few years of her life. Still her spirit remained undaunted and she took active interest in human affairs. Her quest for knowledge was unquenchable. To the very end she lived in pursuit of knowledge. At the age of 98, Hansaben passed away peacefully in Bombay on 4th April 1995.