freedom fighters Revolutionary women from Calcutta and Bengal who shaped the struggle for freedom in India

Every time we read about India’s freedom struggle, as a child or as an adult, we are inundated with names of male freedom fighters. We, as a nation or individually, seldom stop to remember the women who resisted the traditional roles that society assigned to them and who fought alongside the men. Here we take a look back at some of the many Bengal women who revolted, rebelled and rose up against the Raj.

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

Begum Rokeya was a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement in South Asia

Among the first feminist icons of Bengal, Begum Rokeya was a thinker, writer, educator and political activist during the British Raj. She was a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement in South Asia. A fervent supporter of women’s equality, Begum Rokeya has spent her life educating girls to make them empowered and independent.

All of her works were based on feminist ideas and revolved around the struggles of women in society. Whether it is a collection of his essays on feminism (Motichur) or an exposition of the purdah system (The isolated), Begum has spent his life fighting against societal norms. So it’s no surprise that she is on the BBC Bangla Language Service’s Top 20 list.

To buy Motichur: Sultana’s Dream and Other Writings by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain here.

Pritilata Waddar

A bust of Pritilata Waddar in Chittagong

A bust of Pritilata Waddar in Chittagong

Swomitra

A philosophy student at Bethune College and a firm believer that men and women are equal in the struggle for independence, Pritilata became part of Surya Sen’s revolutionary group – although she was not initially welcome.

It didn’t take long for him to prove his dedication to the cause as well as his valor in the face of danger. Popularly described as “a beacon of light for women”, she led the shooting at the Pahartali European Club in Chittagong. Unable to escape after being injured, she swallowed a cyanide tablet to protect her fellow revolutionaries and avoid being captured. She was only 21 years old. The 2010 film by Ashutosh Gowariker, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, captured this moment.

Vina Mazumdar

Vina Mazumdar was one of the last generation of women who saw India move to a free country

Vina Mazumdar was one of the last generation of women who saw India move to a free country

Payasam (Mukul Dube)

Describing herself as “feminist, troublemaker, recorder and columnist of the Indian women’s movement” in her book, Memories of a Rolling Stone, Vina Mazumdar was the secretary of the first Committee on the Status of Women in India after independence. She was one of the last generation of women who witnessed India’s transition to a free country and the simultaneous rise of feminism in India.

She believed that educating women was the first and most important step to empower them. She helped bridge the gap between academics and the women’s movement and was a pioneer in changing Hindu inheritance rights so that women were included in the inheritance of property as well.

To buy Memories of a Rolling Stone here.

Nanibala Devi

Nanibala Devi was the first prisoner in Calcutta prison

Nanibala Devi was the first prisoner in Calcutta prison

Widowed at the age of 15, Nanibala Devi fled her home and took refuge in a Christian mission where she learned English. Her initiation into the freedom struggle came when she met her nephew Amarendranath Chatterjee, who was one of the main members of the revolutionary group Jugantar.

She became an active participant in the fight by helping to plan attacks. To escape arrest, she fled to Peshawar but was captured by the British. In an attempt to discourage female freedom fighters, the British captured and deported her to Calcutta, making her the first female prisoner in Calcutta Prison. They kept her in isolation in a small cell, where she fasted for 21 days. Unable to break her spirit, they freed her and she continued to be part of the struggle for freedom.

Basanti Devi

Basanti Devi was a revolutionary who encouraged grassroots unrest for freedom

Basanti Devi was a revolutionary who encouraged grassroots unrest for freedom

basantidevicollege.edu.in

In Kolkata, its name is familiar because one of the oldest colleges in the city is named after this brand. But what do we really remember from her? Editor of the weekly Banglar kathaBasanti Devi was a revolutionary who encouraged grassroots unrest for freedom. She believed that the struggle did not belong to just a few, but to people from all walks of life.

Known for his outspokenness and courage, Basanti Devi has traveled the country rallying to involve the “untouchables” or Dalits to be active participants in the resistance movement. She is remembered for raising her voice against caste prejudice and for never giving up the means to unite Indian society. She received the Padma Vibhushan Award for her services.


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Thelma J. Longworth