Women’s Day Special: The Forgotten Revolutionaries of Bengal

In the 1930s revolutionary groups sprang up across the country, especially in undivided Bengal, including those led by women. Dhaka (now Dhaka), Comilla, Chittagong and Calcutta were the sites of activity of these groups headed by women and they were particularly associated with colleges. The young students were recruited by classmates and alumni drawn to the cause of the nation’s liberation from British rule. Student associations in educational institutions served as semi-revolutionary groups and collectively trained women in arms, combat and related activities. They also served as safe spaces where women could come together to openly discuss issues related to childbirth. Women’s rights, liberation and freedom from British rule.

The history of women’s movements in the Indian subcontinent has an interesting trajectory, and academics have differing views on exactly when they started. There is some consensus, however, among scholars on the subject that the origins of these movements can be traced back to the early 19th century, where the focus was on social reform and the liberation of women from sociocultural bondages in the subcontinent. . Therefore, although collectively the women’s movements in India are almost two centuries old, they have constantly changed and modified their form, structure and programs over the years, to meet the developing challenges and demands.

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Western liberal values ​​that impacted male social reformers in the Indian subcontinent during the 19th century have crept into women living in their social peripheries. Social movements during the British occupation of the subcontinent which led to the ban on sati, the burning of widows, the infanticide of women, the segregation of women, etc. paved the way for some of the earliest social reforms that took place in the interest of women, for example, widows and remarriages.

These reforms in turn inspired women to participate in conversations, especially about socio-economic and socio-cultural issues that impacted their daily lives, with men who had hitherto been at the forefront. , spearheading these changes. At the end of the 19th century, women’s participation in the freedom movement began in earnest with their involvement in the Indian National Congress.

The history of women’s movements in India, especially during the struggle for freedom, is unique in many ways as it served two purposes. One was to contribute to the cause of liberation from British rule, while the other was to convey to their compatriots and to the foreign government the urgent need for social, economic, legal and political reforms to improve the lives of the people. women in the subcontinent.

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While the discourse surrounding the struggle for freedom has not entirely ignored the role of women, it certainly has not given sufficient recognition to women in proportion to their integral role in the war against the British. Women were not mere passive workers following in the footsteps of famous men; they were active revolutionaries, taking up arms, launching underground organizations, publishing anti-British literature, subjected for years to torture and imprisonment. Many revolutionaries like Pritilata Waddar and Matangani Hazra were wounded in battle and chose to end their lives for the cause of freedom rather than being captured by the British. Others like Bina Das and Labanya Prabha Ghosh fought for their nation, to die in abject poverty, largely forgotten by the very homeland and the people they had liberated from centuries of occupation and oppression.

On Women’s Day, indianexpress.com brings you the stories of ten of Bengal’s most remarkable revolutionaries.

Thelma J. Longworth