(Last Updated on : 15/01/2009)
Jayashri Raiji was a freedom fighter who dedicated her life for Indians. She was mainly concerned of the poor and downtrodden masses of India. Her doors were always open to anyone who came to her for help. She was born to help and serve and she did not expect for any reward or recognition. She lived according to the precepts of the Gita
. According to her, serving mankind was the best offering a person can make to God.
Jayashri was born on 26 October 1895 as the daughter of Sir Manubhai Mehta, the Dewan of Baroda. She was a student of the Baroda College and graduated with philosophy. She married N.M. Raiji, a Chartered Accountant, and moved to Bombay. After settling in Bombay she engaged herself into social work. She considered that her mission in life was to uplift women through education and employment. She was deeply concerned about the welfare of children and of Harijans. She was elected as the cooperator of the Bombay Municipal Corporation. She was also a member of the Bombay University Senate.
Jayashri was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi
's call to women, inviting them to join in India's struggle for freedom. Ever since she came under the influence of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, simplicity became her way of life and she discarded all ornaments and took a pledge to wear only Khadi. She went picketing shops selling foreign cloth and liquor. She took part in the freedom marches actively. As a result, she was arrested and produced before the Commissioner of Police. At that time, her youngest daughter was just three months and she had to take the baby with her. The Commissioner told her that she would be released if she swears that she would not take part in the freedom movement again and if not she would be moved to the prison and would not be permitted to take the baby with her. So she handed over the baby to her sister and sternly informed him that she would not apologize.
During the freedom struggle, she actively devoted her time for social work. She was elected as the head of the Women's Wing of the Bombay Congress, she organized a mass parade of women for arresting the leaders and as a result she was arrested and imprisoned for six months. She was interested in social work and she never aspired to be a politician. Seeing her dedication the Congress High Command offered her a ticket in the first Lok Sabha
elections. She was to contest against a socialist candidate, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. As Kamladevi was her friend and colleague she was not interested to oppose her. But the Congress Committee was not ready to accept any excuses from her and against her wishes she was dragged into politics. Once she came into politics, she worked with enthusiasm. She visited every nook and corner for election campaign and she defeated Kamaladevi by 12800 votes.
In the Parliament
she took keen interest in matters relating to the welfare of women and children. The bills she actively supported were the Anti-Dowry Bill, the Indian Adoption of Children Bill, bills for suppression of immoral traffic in women and women's right to divorce. She strongly opposed the bill to punish unfaithful wives by jail sentences saying that "in a society where we have such evil customs as child marriages prmitting a girl of 10 or 12 to be married to a man of 40 or 50 - old enough to be her grand father how can we expect her to be loyal? In a society where girls are at times sold as slaves by their own parents, how can they be expected to be faithful to their husbands?" She ceased to be the Member of Parliament when the bill for codification of the Hindu law was being debated. She actively participated in the discussions pertaining to women's right to divorce and legacy.
After her term in the Lok Sabha was over, she did not contest again and reverted to social work. She developed the Adivasi Welfare Centre where over 600 girls were educated and trained. At the age of 85, she started a new project adopting nine villages, which was a programme approved by UNICEF. She was offered the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation's Janki Devi award for her outstanding contribution to the upliftment of women and children. On receiving the prestigious award, she donated the entire amount to her Udwada project for the welfare of the Adivasis.
Jayashri dedicated her entire life for the upliftment of the poor and oppressed. She never hated anyone and was friendly and compassionate to God's entire creations. She was balanced in pain and pleasure and forgiving. She breathed her last on 28 August 1985. She would ever remain in the heart of all Indians.