Q. While the presence of women in Indian freedom struggle started in 19th century itself, Gandhi’s ideas revolutionised the role and participation of Indian women in the national struggle. Comment
Indian women despite the various social hindrances and struggles played a momentous role in the country’s freedom struggle. The valour of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Begum Hazrat Mahal during the 1857 revolt became tales of inspiration to numerous generations of freedom fighters.
In fact, even before that, in 1817 Bhima Bai Holkar through guerrilla warfare proved to be a challenge to the British colonisers. The Swadeshi movement saw numerous women out on the streets protesting against Curzon’s policies with many joining in with the extremists as well.
Over time as the Indian freedom movement became more structured and coherent it changed the form of women’s participation.
With the coming in of Mahatma Gandhi, both the role and participation of women was truly transformed. This could be noticed on numerous fronts.
Firstly, the Gandhian movement based on the ideas of truth and satyagraha changed the nature of the movement. By taking it away from violence and being inherently masculine, it invoked the feminine by differentiating the sin from sinner and progressing on the path of non-violence.
From individual acts of heroism, widespread participation of women in the movement became more usual.
Women were encouraged to relinquish foreign goods and spin Khadi, the latter being the most essential part of their work.
In setting up the first non- cooperative movement of 1921, Gandhi formed a program for women, whereby, they would contribute towards the movement from their homes in this manner. Over time, women grew out of passive, supportive roles to being active leaders of Gandhian movement.
Women under Gandhian movement were encouraged to embody the virtues of the mythological Sita-Draupadi and their participation was seen as a sacrifice required for the cause of the country. Dandi March in 1930, the start of the civil disobedience movement, by revolting against the salt laws, combined the public and private sphere wherein a cause closely associated with people’s daily lives also helped women feel more associated with the movement. Women like Khurshedben Naoroji, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Sarojini Naidu were closely associated with the struggle.
Quit India Movement saw women even with the Gandhian struggle enter a move revolutionary role. Women participated in the initial strikes and demonstrations in cities, were among the radical students who organized peasant movements, and, when protest was suppressed, joined the secret underground activities like Usha Mehta running underground radio in Bombay.
While the Gandhian movement increased the role and participation of women, women throughout various parts of the country contributed to India’s independence such as Rani Gaidinliu in Manipur and surrounding Naga areas, Annie Besant being one of the early women leaders or Madam Cama unfurling Indian flag of independence at the Stuttgart conference adding to the diversity and strength of the struggle.