(Last Updated on : 16/01/2009)
Mridula Sarabhai was a woman activist to the core. She was the sister of India's top scientist Vikram Sarabhai. She was totally dedicated to the causes she took up: the country's freedom, Hindu-Muslim unity, rehabilitation of refugees, recovery of abducted women and women's equality. Apart from her parents, the two prime influences in her life were Gandhiji
. She wanted women to be free and independent. From childhood, she could not tolerate the injustice shown towards women. She claimed for the equality of women.
Mridula Sarabhai was born on 6 May 1911 in Ahmedabad
. She was the daughter of Ambalal and Saraladevi. Her father was a millionaire and was unorthodox in the upbringing of his children. Mridula was brought up as independent person with views of her own. After her schooling, she joined the Gujarat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad, an institution started by Mahatma Gandhi during the Non-Cooperation movement for students who left Government colleges. The medium of instruction here was Gujarati
and the curriculum had a nationalist orientation.
Mridula Sarabhai worked in the Bal Sena of the Congress and the Shishu Vibhag of the Akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh. During the political agitation of India, Gandhiji asked women to come out of their homes. Mridula Sarabhai was one among the thousands of women who responded to Gandhiji's call. Then she was a student of Gujarat Vidyapith. In spite of Gandhiji's initial unwillingness to involve women in the Dandi March, Mridula insisted on joining the Satyagraha. Gandhiji gave women the tasks of picketing shops selling foreign cloth and liquor and popularizing the sale of Swadeshi goods and khadi. Mridula took the lead in organizing the picketing of shops selling liquor and imported cloth.
Mridula Sarabhai was one of the first women to organize a vanar sena of children and prabhat pheris, which moved round the city at dawn singing patriotic songs. For these activities, she was put in Sabarmati jail for three weeks. This was her first experience of jail life. Though she was released, she was again sentenced to six months imprisonment which she had to spent in the jails of Sabarmati, Yeravda and Belgau When the Quit India Movement was launched, Mridula once again plunged into action and was arrested and taken to Arthur Road Jail in Bombay.
Mridula Sarabhai joined the Indian National Congress
in 1930. She was appointed as the captain of the swayam sevikas by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
and was in charge of the recruitment and training of Women volunteers. Nehru appointed her as the General Secretary of Indian National Congress. This was the first time in the history of the Congress that a woman occupied this post. Though she was a dedicated member of the Congress, she expressed her disapproval in the attitudes of the Congressmen. When Nehru was against appointing a woman to the Working Committee Mridula wrote that she was deeply disappointed and pained by this. Mridula never married.
Mridula Sarabhai established the Jyoti Sangh in Ahmedabad in 1934, an organization run by women for women. It provided adult education classes, vocational training and carried on a campaign against obsolete customs and superstition and its members rescued women who were victims of child marriage, bigamous as well as incompatible marriages and prostitution. Mridula set up Vikas Griha to give shelter to child widows, battered wives and old women.
Mridula Sarabhai worked all her life for communal harmony and for the protection of minorities during riots. When Sheikh Abdullah, then Prime Minister of Kashmir
was arrested. Mridula protested against the Government saying that he was the only real, popular leader of Kashmir and it would be both politically practical and morally correct for the Government of India to support him rather than put him in jail. Mridula devoted herself to Kashmir and stood by Sheikh Abdullah and his supporters even when they were accused of treason. As a result, she was detained in Tihar Jail under Preventive Detention Act. Later, she was put under house arrest in her home In Ahmedabad.
Mridula was a living saga who made a unique contribution for the development of the country. She was a freedom fighter to the core. Of all the women who took part in the freedom struggle, Mridula was among the very few who did not hold any high office after Independence. She breathed her last on October 1974.