//Many faceless women contributed to India's freedom

Many faceless women contributed to India's freedom

New Delhi, PTI :

When it comes to the role of women in the Indian National Movement, it is the names of Sarojini Naidu, Vijaylakshmi Pandit, Sucheta Kriplani and Aruna Asaf Ali that come to the mind. But equally forceful was the participation of hundreds of women at the local level – out in the streets as well as inside their homes, according to a new book.

Raj Kumari Gupta of Kanpur played a key role in the Kakori dacoity case. On being arrested, she was disowned by her in-laws and thrown out of the house. Basanti Devi, wife of Congress leader C R Das involved women in picketing cloth shops and selling khadi on the streets in defiance of the government ban on political activities and demonstrations.

Latika Ghosh formed the Mahila Rashtriya Sangh, which looked as its goal, independence and women’s emancipation. In Madras, S Ambujammal and Krishna Rau formed the Desh Sevika Sangh, which preached the true value of Swadeshi. The list is ndless….

"Women used their traditional responsibilities to politic se their own domestic spaces. The domestic sphere, for these w men was to emerge as an important site of political activity a d women’s roles and activities facilitated its steady politici ation," says the book "Women in the Indian National Movement – Unseen Faces and Unheard Voices 1930 – 42" by Suruchi Thapar-B orkert.

"Women’s participation in the nationalist movement in the Hindi belt was initiated by the Nehru household who articulated a particular nationalist discourse to middle-class women, a discourse that facilitated the nationalist movement but sidelined the more pressing women’s issues," says the book.

Though the participation of thousands of women may not have led to an autonomous women’s movement in the Hindi-speaking heartland or bring immediate changes for purdah-bound women, it did generate an enhanced sense of evaluation among women of their own strength, it says.

They maintained traditional roles and virtues like purdah, but stepped out in the streets and carved a political space for themselves within the male dominated public domain, says Thapar-Bjorkert.

"Also, there were women, who broke the ‘new’ boundaries established by the feminised public politics and engaged in violence. Analysts have ambiguously referred to them as ‘revolutionaries’ or ‘terrorists’.

"They differed in the means and process of achieving thei political goals and challenged the effectiveness of non-viole ce as a strategy for political liberation," she says.

A significant aspect of women’s public participation was o court arrest and be imprisoned.

Women performed clandestine activities such as writing an smuggling literature in and out of prison, as they did within the domestic sphere.

Infact Thapar-Bjorkert says "the success of the nationalist activities was not only due to women’s political activities but also because of the politisation of domestic sphere. During the anti-colonial movement, home was not only only a site of nationalist reform but also a site of political resisitance." "Women used the discourse of the ‘familial’ to carve out a political niche inside the domestic domain," she says.

However, some women who took part in the nationalist movement later discontinued their activities and concentrated on their domestic responsibilities.

"For these women to bring up a new generation that was more articulate, more politically aware and more conscious of their rights as women – that was their biggest nationalist act," says the book.

About the book: "Women in the Indian National Movement – Unseen Faces and Unheard Voices 1930 – 42"; by Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert. Published by Sage publications; Price Rs 375