(Last Updated on : 23/06/2012)
Sarala Devi Chaudhurani was an exceptional woman of rare gifts. She was a prolific writer, an inspiring singer, a political activist and a wom-an leader. She was the first woman political leader of her time and she was the leader of the anti-British movement as well. She was a patriot who had a strong sense of pride in being a Bengali. She became involved with the Swadeshi movement in Bengal against the British Raj. Her mission was to encourage a military, heroic culture in Bengal that would serve the cause of nationalism. She was exceptionally gifted in music and she made her active entrance into politics through the medium of music. Her mission was not only to sing songs, but also to awake a nation from deep slumber of slavery from foreign masters. Though Rabindranath Tagore created the tune for the first two lines of 'Bande Mataram, it was Sarala Devi who put the rest to music. She sang this soul inspiring song in the Benaras session of the Congress and contributed widely to the nation-wide popularity of the song, which later became a national song. She also composed a good number of nationalistic songs. Sarala Devi belonged to the Hindu-Brahmo community, which played a leading role in the nineteenth century reform movement in Bengal.
She was born on 1872 into an illustrious family in Bengal. Her mother Sarala was the elder sister of Rabindranath Tagore. Sarala Devi married when she was 33 to Rambhuj Dutta Chowdhury who was a lawyer-cum-journalist. After marriage, she went with him to Punjab and carried on political activities there and helped her husband in editing the powerful nationalist Urdu weekly newspaper 'Hindustan'. When the Government decided to cancel the license of the paper if Rambhuj remained the proprietor, she registered her name as the proprietor and editor and carried on the policy of the paper as earlier. She brought out an English edition of the paper as well. When the Rowlatt Act was passed, a nation-wide agitation broke out against Government policy of repression leading to the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. Sarala and Rambhu through their paper criticized the British stand. Rambhuj was arrested. Though the arrest of Sarala Devi was planned, it was not carried out because the British very well knew that the arrest of a woman might have led to fresh political complications.
After the Jallianwalla massacre, Mahatma Gandhi went to Lahore, and was the guest of Sarala. Thus began a close friendship between them. Sarala Devi thus became the follower of Gandhi and supported the non-co-operation movement. This caused a political difference of opinion with her husband, who was against the principle of non-violence. Sarala Devi, however, devoted herself to Gandhiji's khadi movement.
Her only son, Dipak, got married to Gandhi's granddaughter Radha.
She edited the highly prestigious journal Bharati, which had been founded by her uncle, Rabindranath Tagore. In order to make it a journal representing intelligentsia of Bengal, she was careful not to confine to the Tagore family writers, and invited contributions from other authors as well.. She herself wrote numerous articles and songs and contributed to the excellence of the journal. She expressed her views through her journal Bharati. The three ideas she presented through her writings were. First, one must not be afraid to die as our life was meant for courage, adventure and service to others. Second, a person should have a strong and healthy body to lead a worthy life for regular exercise is a necessity. Third, if the British insults one, one should take immediate action oneself without waiting for legal justice. For it is the peculiarity of the British to respect only those who are able to beat them down in any fair competition. She formed clubs for the youth, which served as links with the revolutionaries.
She used make the youngsters swear that they would serve India with their body and mind. Sarala Devi also rendered valuable service to the cause Bengali literature.
Sarala Devi introduced Birash-tami Utsav (Festival of Heroes) on the second day of the Durga Puja, with a view to inspire the youngsters of Bengal with the ideals of heroism. They had to stand around a sword and chant a poem having the names of heroic men and when each name was pronounced, the participants were to throw flowers. The function attracted widespread attention. Happy with the success of her experiment, she introduced many such celebrations in the memory of the national heroes to inspire the youth of Bengal.
The Bengali educated middle class came to realize that their dreams would never be realized under the British. When anti-British sentiments were taking shape, Lord Curzon declared the scheme of partition, which ignited a widespread protest known as the Swadeshi movement. The motherland was believed to be the Mother Goddess. Thus Nationalism assumed a religious form.
Sarala Devi, during the first part of her political life was not a supporter of the Congress but was attracted with the revolutionary philosophy. She maintained a close link with the Suhrid Samiti, a secret revolutionary society. Her attempt was to infuse young men with physical competence and courage. With a view to popularize Indian goods she started an Indian store for ladies. She put forward the rule that women should start using swadeshi products.
In Punjab, Sarala Devi started working for the spread of education among women and for their upliftment. She established small centers for educating women, and often used to address them. While working among them, she developed the idea of a women's associ-ation and organized the Bharat Stree Mahamandal, an all- India organization of women. Sarala Devi was appointed the General Secretary with all power to take necessary steps for the establishment of the Society.. The chief purpose of the organization was the advancement of women by bringing together women of every race, creed, class and party in India. The organization worked with a spirit of mutual helpfulness for the progress of humanity.
The main objectives of the organization were:
(1) The branches should be set up in all important cities of India
(2) A system of home-educa-tion for married girls
(3) Literary commit-tees to be formed for the promotion of indigenous literature
(4) Centers to be organized to help indigent women in productive work and sell their handiwork,
(5) Help women to have greater access to medical knowledge and medical care
(6) Associa-tion with other women's organizations would be developed.
Thus in recognition of women's issues, the Mahamandal came close to modern times.
Its first branch was established in Calcutta, followed by branches in the Punjab and the United Provinces. Membership was open to any woman of any creed on the payment of an entrance fee of one rupee. The first thrust of the Mahamandal was on education. About three thousand women were taught at home.
Mahamandal marked the beginning of wom-en's movement in India under women's leadership. She said that her organization would include women of all creeds, "Indo-Aryan, Indo-Semitic, Indo-Mongolian and Anglo-Indian", and would adopt a liberal view towards all religions. She was one of the women pioneers who aimed at Indian unity of women. Her name shall forever remain in the hearts of all Indians.