By Madhavi Pothukuchi
19 September, 2022
We all hear and read about India’s decades-long fight for freedom against the British. We learn the names of the great leaders and brave men who fought the good fight — but what about the women? Women were an integral part of the independence movement and were equally responsible for establishing India as a free nation. Today, let’s find out more about these pathbreaking women.
Rani Velu Nachiyar was the queen of the Sivaganga region (in today’s Tamil Nadu) during the late 1700s. She was an accomplished stateswoman and a skilled warrior. Nachiyar is widely regarded as the first queen to have fought the British and won. After her husband was killed by the Raj, she took to battle and won with the help of the army of Mysore’s Hyder Ali.
A teacher from Punjab, Aruna Asaf Ali was an integral part of the freedom movement. She was part of the Indian National Congress and took part in the Dandi March, where she was arrested. Her most prominent role was in the Quit India Movement, where she hoisted the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai despite open firing by the British. She went on to become the first mayor of Delhi in 1958.
Lakshmi Sahgal, more popularly known as Captain Lakshmi, was a doctor and an officer of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj. She was arrested and imprisoned in Burma by the British in 1945 for a year. She was one of the first few women leaders in the freedom movement and continued to do the same after independence, by entering politics.
Her name may not sound familiar but Umabai Kundapur was a very familiar name to the freedom struggle. Founder of ‘Bhagini Mandal’, a non-profit organisation that helped women freedom fighters, an educator, activist, the head of the women's wing of the Hindustani Seva Dal, and the Karnataka head of the Kasturba Trust – Umabai was an extraordinary person. Moreover, she refused any recognition and chose to keep working to help those in need.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was a social reformer and activist who fought for freedom slightly differently than others. She is known as the woman behind the Indian handicrafts and theatre industries and is responsible for institutions like the National School of Drama and the Crafts Council of India. She fought hard for women’s rights and was the first woman to run for a legislative assembly seat in India.
Begum Hazrat Mahal was another brave queen who fought the British and is most known for her leading role in the 1857 Rebellion. Mahal was the second wife of the King of Awadh, who was exiled by the British. She took over the reins of Awadh and led the 1857 uprising alongside Raja Jalal Singh.
Rani Gaidinliu was a Naga spiritual leader who led a revolt against the British in Manipur and surrounding areas. In 1932, when Rani was 16, she was arrested and given a life sentence for revolting against the British and their tax system. She was released in 1947 after 14 years in jail, throughout which she continued to inspire and help the local tribes and people.