Renuka Ray was born on 4 January 1904 as the daughter of Satish Chandra Mukherjee and Charulata Mukherjee. Her father served in the Indian Civil Service. Her mother was dedicated social worker and was a member of AIWC. She was the founder of All-Bengal Women's Union. Renuka spent her early child hood at Bengal. She did her schooling at Kensington High School in London. Later she did her honors degree at the LSE under the leading intellectuals as Harold Laski, Beveridge, Clement Atlee, Eileen Power and others. She married Satyendranath Roy at a very early age without establishing in her career.
The turning point in her life was her meeting with Gandhiji at the age of 16. She was a life long Gandhian. Eager to follow the cause of Non- Cooperation Movement, she was even ready to leave her studies at Diocesan College but Gandhiji dissuaded her, advising her that the movement needed educated workers. She became the member of Congress Party. Besides, Gandhiji Tagore also greatly influenced her. She was convinced that the way to rural development laid in Gandhian programmes that were infused with Tagore's experiments at Santiniketan.
Renuka Ray was nominated as the representative of the AIWC to discuss possible legal changes in the laws pertaining to women. She fought for Hindu Women's Rights of Succession Bill. Her struggle for the daughter's right of inheritance from her paternal family failed. She was nominated by the Congress to represent Bengal. She fought for a more radical universal civil code that would benefit all women. She took a radical stand on the zamindari abolition bill. She became one of the member of the Indian Delegation to the United Nations (the other two were Eleanor Roosevelt of the USA and Anna Figuerason of Chile) which dealt with matters concerning the Economic and Social Council. Later she became the Indian delegate to the Inter Parliamentary Union.
Renuka became the Minister for Relief and Rehabilitation. As a minister, she had to face many problems. In her memoirs My Reminiscences (1982), she discusses the enormity of the task. There were 4.7 million refugees from West Punjab and 3.3 million refugees from East Pakistan. In the midst of continuous frustrations she was proud that the schools in the refugee camps succeeded in imparting total literacy. She believed that without education a nation has to tread in the darkness of ignorance. She was appointed as the leader of the Study Team on Social Welfare and Welfare of Backward Classes under the Committee or Plan Projects of the National Development Council based on the Planning Commission. The frequent changes in the Congress party troubled her and the party leaders in West Bengal, removed her name from the list of nominations for party seats.
Nehru asked ask her to accept a nomination to the Rajya Sabha. But right from her term in the Central Legislature she opposed the establishment of an Upper House as it and expensive for a poor country. She refused to bend her principles and said she would work for women and social reform. She established the Women's Coordination Council that coordinated the social work and relief agencies. She was aware that changing times meant that women needed reservation of seats in politics and dropped her opposition to reservations for women. Renuka Ray was never afraid of taking agonizing decisions. She opposed the Emergency in 1975 despite being close to the Nehru family and to Indira Gandhi. She expressed her views freely to Indira Gandhi. She established the Consumer Action Forum and became its president.
She was a very active leader who worked sincerely for her country till her last breath. She died on April 1997.
(Last Updated on : 12-03-2014)
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