Picketing and open-air protests conducted by women, marked the uproar against the British in Bombay. Indeed from, 1930 to 1932 the role of women in nationalism, hit the headlines of newspapers.
While, the Parsee and Christian, residents of Bombay, advocated for female education, the large Gujarati section of Bombay were influenced by their fellow Gujrati Mahatma( great soul), Gandhi. Rashtriya Stree Sangha , working under the female stalwarts, Sarojini Naidu , Goshiben Naoroji Captain and Avantikabai Gokhale, set as its aim, "Swaraj" and women's freedom. The RSS expanded its wings to an association of females serving the nation, called the Desh Sevika Sangha . This association was ready to devote themselves in the name of the nation.
It was decided that on April 6, the anniversary of the Amritsar massacre in 1919, the salt laws would be officially violated, to reveal the pent-up vexation against the British colonizers. It was fantastic on the part of the two women, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Avantikabai Gokhale, to concertedly function as dissenters with the hoard of seven men, taking the initiative . Kamaladevi relived the phenomenal act down her memory lane :
"This was their [women's] first appearance in any modern militant political campaign and I could hardly suppress my excitement at the enormity of the occasion and my own good fortune to be amongst the first... It seemed such a stupendous moment in my life, in the life of the women of my country."
The boycott of foreign goods and purchase of indigenous products, continued simultaneously along with presence of women supporters, near the sea-beaches to boost up the act of disobedience.
Sarojini Naidu, with the courage of a fighter stormed the Darshana Salt Works. Her actions, considered illegal by the British masters, got her arrested on May 15, 1930. She remained indomitable, and on May 21, Sarojini plunged into a second raid. But this time, she got imprisoned for a year.
The Desh Sevikas propagated the message "swadeshi" celebration and independence. Gandhi's birthday and the release of three eminent women, namely, Lilavati Munshi, Perin Captain, and Mrs. Lukanji, from jail, turned out to be an occasion for revelry.
In Bengal, the nationalistic enthusiasm among women was in no way less than the Bombay females. Making and selling of salt, refusal of foreign cloth and acceptance of Khaddar, as a treasure were the norms of the times.
Moreover , Bengal being the nerve-center of female education in India, increased the women's inclination to nationalism.
The Oxford scholar, Latika Ghosh's , Mahila Rashtriya Sangha (MRS), flowered in 1928, to fulfill the born leader, Subash Chandra Bose's desire for swaraj through the active involvement of women. Theirs was the belief, that the female's access to education, will uplift their position, and hence make them capable to oust the British from India.
Latika entailed 300 women students from Bethune College and Victoria Institution, and teachers of the Calcutta Corporation academic centers in her mission, by 1928 . Nari Satyagraha Samiti (NSS) in 1929 came into being . Urmila Devi, the widowed sister of C.R.Das and a pioneer of women's politics, became its president. Jyotimoyee Ganguli held the rank of the vice-president. Santi Das and Bimal Protibha Devi were the joint secretaries. These elite Bengali women, joined processions, wearing their uniform of khaddar saris .
Kamala Das Gupta (b. 1907) , a Gandhian revolutionary mind, enlisted herself with the radical Jugantar Party.
Another, instance of female rebel was Bina Das, who had the bravery to shoot Governor Jackson.
Bina, her elder sister Kalyani, Surama Mitra, and Kamala Das Gupta together sculpted the Chattri Sangha (Association for Female Students) . This included activities like education-programs, sports, and building up a youth hostel.
Gandhi's Civil Disobedience, in 1930, found wonderful response from thse women, who rallied before the Bethune College, Calcutta. The British police thwarted them with arrests and even attempts of stranding them in unknown, remote places,. Nevertheless, the aid of their fellow associates ensured their security.
Santi and Suniti, two schoolgirls from Comilla, fired Magistrate Stevens to death on December 14, 1931. They were elated at the thought of becoming the first women martyrs and when they heard the news of their sentence of prison than death, they were dejected. It seemed that nationalism, was burning in the blood of Indian women.
The degree of political turmoil generated by women in Bombay or Bengal, happened to be mellowed down in Madras. The hankering for the "Swadeshi" cult, got its manifestation in the spinning and selling of khaddar. Durgabai gifted the dynamics of the movement in Maharashtra.
Women's nationalism was on the rising in North India. Open-air agitation, without the curtain of "Purdah", attached to aristrocrat ladies in Allahabad, Lucknow, Delhi, and Lahore took the ladies by astonishment.
Women from the Nehru families, presided the scenario. Swarup Rani Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru's mother, burdened with age and senile decay, could gather energy to vote for khaddar in the streets . Kamala, Jawaharlal's wife, was not lacking behind . She joined campaigns in Allahabad, delivered speeches in Lucknow, and went to Bombay, inspite of health problems.
Lado Rani Zutshi, the wife of Motilal Nehru's nephew, and three of her daughters, Manmohini, Shyama, and Janak, were the masterminds behind the uprising in Lahore. Manmohini (b. 1909) had come into the limelight in 1929, as the first woman president of the Lahore Student Union and entered as a core delegate of the Lahore Congress. Loud gestures and words of annoyance, came outrightedly from Manmohini, and her team, post the death-sentence of Bhagat Singh. The sites of turbulence were the three major colleges in Lahore: Government College, Law College, and Forman Christian College. Manmohini was jailed for six months, for her disobedience.
In Delhi, Satyavati Devi, the granddaughter of Swami Shraddhanand, directed the women-battalion. Her nationalistic fervour led to her arrest, . Unfortunately, in prison, she got contaminated with tuberculosis. Yet she maintained her anti-British struggle throughout the 1930's.
Meanwhile, feminst spokespersons like Kamala Nehru and Vijayalakshmi Pandit voiced their concern regarding the neglected issues of women's rights, and the crucial question of gender-equality. The police-oppression assaulting and tormenting the women nationalists during the Civil Disobedience movement, was indeed , quite alarming.
In January of 1931, the police beat "women of Borsad" senseless, during protests. Kasturbai Gandhi, a witness to such a loathsome sight of police-coercion, described the inhuman and depraved way of dragging women, while beating them relentlessly. In Benares, a cadre of women, engaged in picketing a cloth shop, alleged that they were indecently undressed and flogged.
An angry crowd resented the capture of women demonstrators, and marooning them in the outskirts. Lady Jagmohandas disqualified this offence as severe as rape: "No system of Government that insulted the womanhood of the country had ever succeeded and no people however meek and down-trodden would tolerate it for a long time."
In 1932 when the Indian League of London, investigated the complain lodged by the Indian National Congress about the miscreants of the British, in their treatment of female victims, the truth unfolded was grotesque. That women had been sexually threatened, sexually harassed , beaten, and raped , was discovered to be a veritable truth. By 1934 the civil disobedience movement ceased way.
It was simply undeniable, that unflinching dedication of women in the Civil Disobedience Movement, has remained eternally praised in the pages of history. Who can parallel these self-sacrificing women, who tolerated all pains and plight, for the nation they loved, and wanted to become independent?
(Last Updated on : 17-04-2012)
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Women In the Civil Disobedience Movement