(Last Updated on : 15/01/2009)
Maniben Kara was one of the women freedom fighters who stood up for the abolition of social and economic inequalities and for equal opportunity to every individual. She believed that concern for a human being should be at the centre of every human activity. She was concerned with the upliftment of the downtrodden and the oppressed. This led her to the formation of the labour organizations, as the workers were the most exploited lot. She believed that labour organizations were the life and breath of workers. She dreamt of a society that has its basis on equity and justice. Maniben was an eloquent speaker with command over Gujarati
. She worked not only for the Trade Union Movement but also for the welfare of women. To commemorate her work, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha set up the Maniben Kara Institute and the Western Railways Union established the Maniben Kara Foundation
She was born on1905 in Bombay into an upper middle class family. Her father was a social reformer. He was the member of Arya Samaj
and believed in progressive views. The free atmosphere at home helped her to grow up as an independent, confident and self-reliant person. She was educated at St Columba High School, Gamdevi. It was a missionary school famous for social service. She was attracted by the dedication of the Principal of the school towards the downtrodden masses. So, with the spirit of social service she began to work for the enlightenment of the poor people. As a result, she could not complete her Matriculation. So her father sent her to England for studies and she took up a Diploma in Social Science at the Brimingham University.
She returned to India, with the object of becoming economically independent and so she started a printing press. She came into contact with the Radical Democratic Party. She published 'Independent India' for the Royist Party and thus she entered into politic. But she was more interested in social work. She came into contact with Shri N M Joshi, who is known as the 'father of the trade union movement in India'. Working with him, she absorbed the lessons of the trade union movement.
Maniben started her social work in the slums of the Bombay Improvement Trust. The municipal sweeping, sanitary and drainage workers inhabited here. She started a social welfare centre for work, especially for women and children, to teach them hygiene and impart literacy. She formed a Mother's Club and started training volunteer workers. Volunteers of the Mother's Club enlightened mothers to get their children to attend school. Soon a Health Care Centre was started and the people were enlightened with the harms of drinking liquor, which ruined many households.
Maniben understood that, as long as workers remain unorganized, their demands would receive little attention. This led her to the formation of trade union movement, for which she worked to the end of her life. So she established the Seva Mandir which was later passed on to the Bhangini Samaj. She organized unions for Port and Dockworkers. Maniben's trade union work spread to textile workers and tailors. She led a series of strikes. She was already associated with the Bombay Municipal Workers Union and the Tailoring Workers Union. Hawkers were also drawn into the movement.
Maniben joined the All-India Trade Union and was soon recognized as a national leader in the trade union movement. As a trade union leader, she urged workers to fight for the freedom of the country as they fought for their demands She was arrested on May Day in 1932 and was virtually under solitary imprisonment as there were no female prisoners. Maniben was elected as the President of the Western Railway Employees Union. She also served as President of the All-India Railway Federation. She died on 1979.