The vision that confronts us when we attempt to visualize the Indian National Movement depicts a battalion of courageous intellectual men armed and ready to lay down their lives for the honor and dignity of Bharat Mata, who sits draped in her saree, both beautiful and sorrowful.
This imagery has been shaped by written literature authored by men who have effectively omitted women from history or marginalized them, using them either as tokens or to underscore the greatness of male leaders. In this narrative, women in history remain relegated to the background, resulting in the Indian National Movement, despite its combination of feminine and masculine elements, becoming a gendered tale.
Consequently, history books often open with dramatic scenes of "women and children" in peril, with men sacrificing their lives for the nation. As I emphasize the regrettable absence of women in the history of India's National Movement, I wish to take this moment to highlight a few remarkable women who have secured the nation's freedom:
1. Durga Devi Vohra, also known as Durga Bhabhi, aided Bhagat Singh's escape from Lahore following the Saunders murder in December 1928 by posing as his wife. She herself took up arms, firing at a police officer and his wife in Bombay in October 1930, an incident known as the Lamington Road Outrage, marking the first instance of a woman prominently participating in a terrorist act against imperialism in India.
2. In Bengal, Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Choudhury shot and killed a British magistrate on December 14, 1931.
3. Bina Das attempted to assassinate the governor of Bengal during a university convocation on February 6, 1932.
4. On September 24 of the same year, Pritilata Waddedar, implicated in the murder of Captain E Cameron, led an attack on a European club resulting in the death of Mrs. Sullivan and injuring eight others. In a final act of defiance, Waddedar took her own life, denying the British the satisfaction of her capture.
5. A young Manmohini Zutchi organized a separate procession of defiant mourners in Lahore, ignoring Gandhi's call for silence. The Tribune marveled at the crowds of 'lady mourners.'
6. The Nupi Lan, or Women’s War, emerged in Manipur in 1904 against the British order. Almost 5,000 women protested against the selection of the King by the British. The movement resurged in 1939-40 against Manipur's trade policy, with women resisting authorities and even losing their lives.
Despite these exemplary acts in the fight for freedom, their presence has been rendered invisible or reduced to mere "counterparts" of male freedom fighters. Their images have been shaped around hegemonic notions of femininity, constraining them as wives and mothers due to their role in producing soldiers, nurturing future warriors, and shaping political rhetoric aimed at involving women in the nationalist conflict.
In a patriarchal society like India, gendered notions of the national struggle have prevailed, erasing women's roles. Factors such as the absence of women in political institutions and scholarship have contributed to a history that overlooks the contributions of women in the Indian National Movement. Consequently, the historical narrative of the Indian National Movement has failed the women who fought valiantly for the rights of this nation, for its men, women, and children.
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