Role of women in the freedom struggle for Independence

Role of Women in Freedom Struggle

"Amidst the struggle for independence, the women of India were the silent architects of change, laying the foundation of a liberated nation with their resilience, sacrifice, and indomitable spirit."

In the annals of our freedom movement, countless stories of bravery, sacrifice, and political acumen by women unfold. Their courage went beyond the ordinary, as they became active revolutionaries, establishing covert groups, publishing anti-British literature, and enduring harsh imprisonment and torture. These women weren't mere followers but key players in their own right.

The 19th century saw Indian women break free from societal norms and challenge discriminatory practices. Early reformers and activists emerged, advocating for women's education, widow remarriage, an end to child marriage, and elevation of women's social status. Visionaries like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Jyotirao Phule led the charge, understanding that empowering women was fundamental for both societal progress and national growth.

Women in the Mainstream Independence Movements

As India's nationalist movement surged in strength during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women emerged as pivotal figures in advancing the cause of independence. Their active participation in various nationalist campaigns and movements played a vital role in shaping the trajectory of the struggle.

The Swadeshi Movement and Challenging British Domination: One remarkable instance of women's involvement was the Swadeshi Movement of 1905–1908. During this time, women passionately rallied behind the promotion of indigenous goods and the boycott of British products. They became staunch advocates of independence and the consumption of domestically made items, aiming to challenge the dominance of the British economy.

Formation of Women's Organizations and Leaders: Parallel to the early nationalist movements, women's organisations began to take shape. The All India Women's Conference (AIWC) in 1927 stood out as a significant milestone, addressing women's concerns and advocating for social reforms. The emergence of visionary leaders like Kamala Nehru, Annie Besant, and Sarojini Naidu added vigour to the nationalist movement. These leaders fervently championed India's cause, inspiring women across the nation to join the struggle for independence.

Participation in Protests and Civil Disobedience: Women's involvement expanded beyond organisations and speeches to active participation in large-scale protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience movements. Collaborating with their male counterparts, they orchestrated marches, protested outside bars, and engaged in satyagrahas (nonviolent protests). Despite facing detainment, imprisonment, and violence from colonial authorities, these women showcased remarkable courage and resilience.

Breaking Norms and Paving the Way: During the early phases of the struggle, women's contributions were characterised by their commitment to social reform, enthusiastic participation in nationalist movements, and their defiance against societal norms and patriarchal barriers. These initial contributions laid the foundation for their escalating involvement and leadership in subsequent stages of India's journey towards independence.

Role of Women in Non-Cooperation Movement

To better understand the important role of women, let's take a closer look at how they played a vital part in the non-cooperation movement and how this greatly influenced India's fight for freedom.

The Non-Cooperation Movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi from 1920 to 1922, aimed to peacefully challenge British rule through boycotting British institutions and goods. It fostered unity and nationalism among Indians through civil disobedience and mass participation.Women played a crucial role in the Non-Cooperation Movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920. They actively joined the protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience campaigns against British rule.

  • Boycott of British Goods: Women led the way in boycotting British-made goods and promoting the use of indigenous products. They encouraged the spinning of khadi (handspun cloth) as a symbol of self-reliance and resistance to British economic exploitation.

  • Picketing Foreign Cloth Shops: Women organised picketing of foreign cloth shops to dissuade people from purchasing British textiles. This act of civil resistance significantly impacted British trade and brought attention to the movement.

  • Establishment of Women's Organisations: During the Non-Cooperation Movement, women established various women's organisations, such as the All India Women's Conference (AIWC) and the Women's Indian Association (WIA), to address women's issues and advocate for their rights.

  • Promotion of Khadi: Women took on the responsibility of promoting khadi spinning and weaving in villages. They organised spinning circles (charkha sabhas) to encourage rural women to participate in the movement and earn a livelihood.

  • Role in Public Demonstrations: Women actively participated in public demonstrations, picketing, and marches, often risking arrest and imprisonment by the colonial authorities. They displayed remarkable courage and determination.

  • Support to Political Leaders: Women provided support to male political leaders and activists by engaging in activities like fundraising, distributing pamphlets, and mobilising local communities.

  • Empowerment and Social Upliftment: The Non-Cooperation Movement provided a platform for women to come forward, gain confidence, and assert their rights. It also led to significant social reforms, such as the abolition of purdah and child marriage in some regions.

  • Symbolic Protests: Women engaged in symbolic acts of resistance, such as burning British cloth and making bonfires of foreign-made goods, sending a powerful message of defiance against British rule.

  • Sacrifices and Endurance: Women endured various hardships during the Non-Cooperation Movement, including arrests, imprisonment, and police brutality. Despite these challenges, they remained steadfast in their commitment to the cause of independence.

The active participation and contributions of women in the Non-Cooperation Movement demonstrated their strong resolve to challenge colonial oppression and paved the way for their increased involvement in subsequent stages of the Indian freedom struggle.

Prominent Women Leaders

Before and during the revolt of 1857

  • Bhima Bai Holkar - The participation of women in the struggle began as early as 1817 when Bhima Bai Holkar fought against British Colonel Malcolm and defeated him in guerilla warfare.

  • Rani Laxmibai - The queen of the princely state of Jhansi, Rani Laxmibai is known for her role in the First War of India’s Independence in 1857. She was the second wife of the ruler of Jhansi Raja Gangadhar Rao who protested against the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. She refused to surrender to Jhansi and fought bravely as a male during the Revolt of 1857 and died on the battlefield fighting the British forces.

  • Hazrat Mahal Begum - She was the wife of the deposed ruler of Lucknow who actively took part in the revolt of 1857.

After the revolt of 1857

  1. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay: Prominent social reformer, freedom fighter, and advocate for women's rights, she worked to uplift rural artisans, promote indigenous industries, and empower women in pre-independence India.
  2. Kasturba Gandhi: Wife of Mahatma Gandhi, she actively participated in civil disobedience movements, advocated for women's education and empowerment, and supported his efforts for India's independence.
  3. Hansa Mehta: An educator, diplomat, and freedom fighter, she was part of international forums advocating for India's independence and women's rights, playing a significant role in shaping post-independence policies.
  4. Pritilata Wodeyar: A brave revolutionary, she led an attack on a British club, highlighting the spirit of resistance. Her sacrifice and determination inspire the fight against colonial oppression.
  5. Sarojini Naidu: Known as the "Nightingale of India," she was a poet, freedom fighter, and prominent member of the Indian National Congress. Her eloquence and leadership greatly contributed to the struggle for independence.
  6. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit: A diplomat and politician, she was the first woman to become President of the United Nations General Assembly. An active freedom fighter, she played a key role in internationalising India's independence movement.
  7. Usha Mehta: A broadcaster and Gandhian activist, she led the underground Congress Radio during the Quit India Movement, using airwaves to inspire and inform the masses.
  8. Durgabai Deshmukh: A social worker, lawyer, and politician, she worked for women's rights, labour rights, and upliftment of the marginalised. Her efforts paved the way for inclusive social change post-independence.
  9. Sarojini Naidu, holds pride of place among women freedom fighters of India. She was responsible for awakening the women of India. She was the first Indian woman President of the Indian National Congress in 1925 at the Kanpur Session.
  10. Aruna Asaf Ali, played a leading role during the Quit India Movement. She unfurled the National Flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan in Bombay to signify the commencement of the Quit India Movement.
  11. Rani Gaidineliu, was a prominent Naga nationalist woman leader from Manipur who took over the movement of Naga nationalists against the British.
  12. Kalpana Dutta, was another prominent woman revolutionary leader who was influenced by the revolutionary idea of Surya Sen.
  13. Madam Bhikaji Cama, was influenced by Dadabhai Naoroji and served as an inspiration to Indian youth in the United Kingdom. She raised the first National Flag at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany) in 1907, founded the Free India Society, and launched the periodical ‘Bande Mataram’ to propagate her revolutionary ideas.
  14. Sucheta Kriplani, was an ardent nationalist with a socialistic orientation. She was a close associate of Jai Prakash Narayany who actively participated in the Quit India Movement.
  15. Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, was a close follower of Gandhiji from 1919 onwards. She actively participated in the 1930 Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement. She became the first Health Minister in post-independent India.
  16. Annie Besant, who was born in Ireland, was a fervent supporter of India’s freedom struggle. In 1916, she launched the Madras Home Rule League. In addition, she formed the Theosophical Society of India. She served as the first woman president of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta in 1917.

The indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication of women in India's freedom struggle are an integral part of the nation's history. Their determination to challenge oppression, advocate for change, and contribute to the cause of independence have left an enduring legacy. As we reflect on their invaluable role, we are reminded of the pivotal role women have played in shaping India's destiny and the ongoing journey toward progress and equality.

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