One cannot turn a blind eye to the role women played in the Indian freedom struggle. Despite the various forces, internal and external, that set out to hold them back, many women set an example for many generations to come.
Rani Laxmibai, Uda Devi, Sarojni Naidu, and many more freedom fighters fought against British soldiers and played a crucial role in the struggle for freedom to make India Independent.
These women’s tenacity and fortitude in the face of difficulty, their bravery in facing death, and their intense love and devotion to their motherland all serve the same purpose: to pique our curiosity and inspire us to work toward a better world.
Tragically, these names are seldom remembered today. They have vanished from history. These courageous women leaders have long since passed away and have been forgotten. They provided selfless sacrifices and even laid down their lives for the freedom and prosperity of their country. As responsible and aware citizens, it is our duty to know and read about them. This article will take you through the detail of these unknown female freedom fighters of India who inspired and contributed to the creation of Independent India.
- 15 Unknown Female Freedom Fighters Of India
- Some More Unsung Women Freedom Fighters
15 Unknown Female Freedom Fighters Of India
Kittur Rani Chennamma
The story of Rani Chennamma’s struggle for the independence of India is inspiring. She fought against the Britisher’s policy of Doctrine of Lapse by starting an armed rebellion. Her loyal army, led by General Sangolli Rayanna, fought against the British. Rani Chennamma had a dream of appointing Shivalingappa as the heir to Kittur and Sangolli Rayanna fought to make her dreams come true. Sadly, the British captured Rani Chennamma. While the first rebellion she led was a huge success, the second rebellion saw her death as a prisoner of war.
Born in Kakati, Chennamma married Raja Mallasarja, of the Desai family. She was then the Rani of Kittur, a princely state in Karnataka. After their son died at birth, she adopted Shivalingappa. However, the British East India Company refused to recognize Shivalingappa as her heir. Thus began her war against the unjust means perpetrated through the Doctrine of Lapse.
Her courage made her a national hero. Her actions against the British Empire created a revolution and paved the way for future women. As a result, she has been named the first female freedom fighter in India. She was immortalized in folk songs and song stories and later on, her statue was placed on the grounds of the Parliament building in New Delhi. She continues to be honored during Kittur Utsava every year. It is an occasion to remember this Indian war heroine and her bravery!
Matangini Hazra was a prominent leader and an activist during the early years of India’s independence movement. Hazra was also known as ‘Gandhi Buri’ which denotes herself as an old and female version of Gandhi. Matangini Hazra’s participation in the freedom movement inspired many women in the region to come forth.
In 1905, Matangini began following Mahatma Gandhi’s lead. She joined the Indian National Congress and participated actively in the Salt Satyagraha movement. She was arrested for breaking the Salt Act in 1932 and later walked several miles in khadi to protest against the Chowkidari tax. She was released after six months. She was instrumental in the creation of the All India Women’s Conference.
After the Indian independence movement, Hazra continued to fight for her rights. She became a famous theatre actor and participated in many important events in the country’s struggle for independence. She was the first Indian woman to be arrested by the British government. Hazra was fearless and determined to change the socio-economic conditions of women in India.
The statue of Matangini Hazra, a freedom fighter of India, stands tall with a flag draped over one shoulder and her right hand in a tight fist. The statue captures her determination, which is more apparent than her aging skin and wrinkles. It is a fitting reminder of her life’s work.
A great freedom fighter of India, Kanaklata Barua joined the Indian National Congress in 1942. In 1942, she led a revolutionary group to hoist the national flag. The police warned them not to proceed and shot at them. Kanaklata Barua died on the spot. Mukund Kakoti, another member of the group, took the tricolour from her and was also shot dead.
Born in 1924 in Borangabari village in the Darrang district, Kanaklata’s life was a turbulent one. Her mother died when she was five, leaving her father to care for two younger sisters. Her grandfather was a celebrated hunter in Darrang. She grew up under the guardianship of her stepmother and dropped out of school at the age of fifteen. Her father, however, was her mentor and taught his daughters to fight for their country.
After joining the Mrityu Bahini (a youth death squad), Barua wanted to join the Azad Hind Fauj. The Mrityu Bahini was for men and women above the age of 18 and Barua had the age of 18 and was inducted. In later years, she would become the leader of the women’s cadre. The Quit India movement had made her a very prominent freedom fighter in India.
In honor of the legendary freedom fighter, the Indian Coast Guard has named a patrol vessel ICGS Kanaklata Barua. The vessel, commissioned in 1997, is named after her. The ship’s mission is to protect Indian coastlines and shores from pirates and piracy. In 2011, a life-size statue of Barua was unveiled in Gauripur.
Moolmati was the mother of the great Indian revolutionary Ram Prasad Bismil. In 1928, Ram Prasad Bismil formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association with Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad. His fate was such that the British hanged him after the infamous Manipuri Consiporacy Case and Kakori Conspiracy Case.
Ram Prasad Bismil was born in 1897 and was a poet. When he was young, he joined the Arya Samaj and learned Hindi and Urdu from his father. He later enrolled in an English Mission School and passed his eighth-grade exam with first division. After graduating from school, he joined the Arya Samaj in Shahjahanpur. He exhibited a talent for patriotic poetry and became a member of the Arya Samaj.
Ram Prasad was an inspiration to Moolmati. She supported his revolutionary ideas and had faith in his resolve. Meeting him when he was imprisoned did not entice an emotional response in her. Instead, she chose to take up his route. She continued his freedom struggle, even after his death.
As part of the Indian Independence movement, Moolmati was an active participant in the social reform movement. She was also the first Indian woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly. She also became the first woman to participate in the Salt Satyagraha. She was an inspiration for many women and was a major force in the fight for freedom in India. She was a fearless freedom fighter.
Begum Hazrat Mahal
In 1857, when dissent against British rule gained explosive momentum, the First Independence War broke out. Begum Hazrat Mahal proved to be indispensable in the struggle. Instead of staying in the palace and strategizing, she took to the battlefield to fight alongside her fellow freedom fighters. She worked closely with Nana Saheb and assisted the Maulavi of Faizabad during the attack on Shahjahanpur.
Begum Hazrat Mahal was born in Uttar Pradesh. Her actual name was Muhammadi Khanum. Her father, Gulam Hussain, was a prominent politician in her city. She showed early aptitude in literature and married Wajid Ali Shah, a wealthy businessman. As the only female member of the royal family, she had a strong sense of duty and determination to rule the region.
After the British annexation of her native city of Lucknow, Begum Hazrat Mahal ruled that region and her son has crowned the Nawab. She openly revolted against the British and criticized the lack of religious freedom in the Indian subcontinent. She also decried the East India Company for tearing down temples and building mosques and was critical of the new bullets made of tallow and lard, both of which were forbidden in Hinduism.
Her humble beginnings were bleak, but she eventually rose to prominence as a leader, uniting Muslims and Hindus and uniting women, courtesans, and landless peasants. She also had a powerful political presence, which has often been overlooked in mainstream histories of India’s independence.
During the Indian independence struggle, many women were not willing to join the ranks of the British. Lakshmi Sahgal, a freedom fighter who grew up in Madras, was one of these women. Sahgal recalled that she saw her mother tossing dresses onto a burning pile of family foreign goods, a protest against British colonialism.
She was born on October 24, 1914, in Madras. She was the daughter of S. Swaminathan, a successful lawyer, and A.V. Ammukutty, an activist in the social movement and a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly. After joining the Communist Party of India (Marxist), she was able to represent the Indian people in the Rajya Sabha. In 1971, she was elected to the upper house of the parliament and in 2002, she ran unsuccessfully for the presidency of India. Sahgal’s main concerns were women’s rights, education, ending child marriage, and allowing widows to remarry. In 1988, Lakshmi Sahgal, a woman of great courage, fought for the rights of women and a strong voice for Indian women.
Lakshmi Sahgal, a doctor and a colonel in the Indian National Army served as an ally and a leader of the women’s regiment. After the war, Sahgal returned to India, where she practiced free medicine for the poor. In her life, Lakshmi Sahgal became a symbol of freedom for women, the poor, and the oppressed. She was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1998 for her contributions to India’s independence movement.
Bhikhaji Cama is also called the “Mother of Indian Revolution”. On 21 August 1907, she raised the first version of the independent Indian flag at the International Socialist Conference that was taking place in Stuttgart, Germany.
Born on 3 August 1855 in Gujarat, Bhikaiji Camawent married the wealthy pro-British lawyer Rustom Cama. He wanted to become a politician, but Bhikhaiji had other plans for her life. She wanted to contribute to the freedom struggle of India. She spent most of her time in social work and philanthropy.
She traveled throughout the United States and educated Americans on the Indian revolution. She was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and their role in nation-building. In the early days of the freedom struggle, Bhikaiji Cama was a prominent national leader. Her push for independence started even before she left the country. In London’s Hyde Park, she spoke at numerous public gatherings and met notable Indian nationalists including Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Har Dayal, and Shyamji Krishna Varma. Later, she moved to Paris, where she helped form the Paris Indian Society. In addition to her activism, she also helped cure patients during a Bubonic plague outbreak.
Even after achieving freedom, Cama continued to fight for her country. In fact, she worked to dissuade anyone from fighting for the British in World War One, 1914. The English and French governments opposed her work, but she maintained her relationship with other Indian revolutionaries. During her stay in London, she got a message from the British that her return to India would be prohibited unless she would sign a statement promising not to participate in nationalist activities. She refused to make such a promise and remained in exile in Europe. While living in exile, Bhikaiji Cama published various books based on the Indian independence movement.
Ashalata Sen is best known for her activism for women’s rights. Born to a Brahmo family in 1904, she was raised by a mother named Snehalata Sen. Her father passed away when she was two years old. Her mother and later her grandmother raised her.
From early childhood, she had an inkling of literature. She began writing poetry against the Bengal partition at the age of 10 and had them published in the Antahpur magazine. With the encouragement of her grandmother, Nabashashi Devi, she entered the political arena by joining the Swadeshi movement when she was 11 years old. At age twelve, she married Satya Ranjan Sen, a Government servant, and they had one son, Ashal. Despite his tragic early death, Ashalata overcame her grief within six years and continued to study Sanskrit, English, and Bengali.
In addition to her literary work, Ashalata Sen was also an anti-British activist and social worker. In 1930, Ashalata Sen was involved in the Gandhian ‘Satyagraha’ movement, breaking the law in her hometown. She organized pickets and defied the Indian Penal Code by demonstrating against the exploitation of women. After she was released from prison, she began relief work and was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. She also rescued hundreds of abducted women.
As part of her relief work during the famine in 1943, Ashalata Sen was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly. During the partition, she was elected to the East Pakistan Assembly. During this time, she actively participated in social activities. She also restarted the Gandaria Mahila Samiti, a social organization. She approached women who had migrated to Dhaka from India after the partition.
SUcheta Kripalani, like her contemporaries Aruna Asaf Ali and Usha Mehta, rose to prominence during the Quit India Movement and was arrested by the British. Later, during the Partition riots, she collaborated closely with Mahatma Gandhi. She was India’s first female Chief Minister, leading the government of Uttar Pradesh from 1963 to 1967.
Despite her modest upbringing, Sucheta Kripalani gained much fame as an activist during the independence movement in India. Though a shy child, she developed a love for equality and freedom, leading to a career as a professor of constitutional history at Banaras Hindu University. She later gained national prominence by joining the “Quit India” movement and worked with Mahatma Gandhi during the partition of India.
While she is most remembered for her role in the Quit India Movement, Kripalani was also a prominent member of the Congress party’s women’s wing. As a result, she faced the British colonial government head-on. In addition to being a leader, Kripalani helped establish the women’s wing of the Congress party in 1940. Gandhi was her close friend. She later served as a Constituent Assembly member, which drafted the country’s constitution. On 14 August 1947, she sang Vande Mataram in the Constituent Assembly’s Independence Session, just minutes before Nehru delivered his famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech.
After independence, Acharya Kriplani broke away from the Congress party and formed the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP). Sucheta Kriplani joined this political party in 1952 and served as MP in the New Delhi constituency. However, she later left it because of ideological differences and returned to the Indian National Congress. She moved away from politics and lived in seclusion. In 1996, she wrote her autobiography, An Unfinished Autobiography.
Tara Rani Srivastava
Many women have been overlooked as freedom fighters. But, a little-known lady from Bihar who was married to a freedom fighter is Tara Rani Srivastava. Born in Saran, Bihar, she joined the Quit India Movement and supported its cause. She gathered like-minded women and led demonstrations against the British regime. In fact, she even led a march to the Siwan Police Station, where she led the protesters to hoist the Indian tricolor on the roof.
In 1942, Tara and her husband led a mass demonstration against the British regime. They chanted anti-British slogans and marched to the police station. However, police officers began firing after the crowd became unruly. Despite being wounded, Tara Rani bravely marched on to the police station only to return and find out that her husband succumbed to death.
Despite her husband’s death, Tara Rani continued to fight for freedom till the Partition of India. Mahatma Gandhi was particularly interested in involving the underrepresented sections of society. Women were especially prized by him, and he inspired women to join the National Movement. Women from all strata of society were employed in the movement, adding to the impetus of the fight for independence. Tara Rani Srivastava was one of the many examples of this. Today, India is proud of Tara Rani’s bravery and her legacy!
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was an Indian social reformer and freedom activist. She was best known for her commitments to the Indian independence movement, as the prime motivator behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, handlooms, and theatre in independent India, and for raising the socioeconomic status of Indian women by pioneering cooperation. She was the first lady in India to run for office from the Madras Constituency, and while she lost, she paved the way for women in India.
Born in Mangalore in 1903, Kamaladevi was a young girl when her father passed away. While the young Kamaladevi was not a born freedom fighter, she displayed traits of courage and determination at a very early age. She grew up with an educated mother and an elderly grandmother who studied ancient Indian texts During her teenage years, Kamaladevi was married off. She was only sixteen years old when she was widowed.
After her husband’s death, her father-in-law encouraged her to go to college. She went on to attend Queen Mary’s College in Madras, where she met Suhasini Chattopadhyay, a fellow student. After graduation, she joined Harindranath’s group of freedom fighters. While she was at college, she developed friendships with Suhasini and Harindranath Chattopadhyay, two of the most important leaders of the Indian freedom movement. She later went to London to get a degree in sociology from Bedford College.
In 1923, while still in London, Kamaladevi became aware of Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement, and she immediately returned to India to join the Seva Dal, a Gandhian organization dedicated to social upliftment. Soon after, she was put in charge of the Dal’s women’s section, where she was involved in recruiting, training, and organizing girls and women of all ages from across India to become voluntary workers or ‘sevikas.’ In 1926, she ran for the Madras Provincial Legislative Assembly. Although she lost by 55 seats, she became the first woman to run for a legislative seat.
She, later on, went on to become a founding member of the All India Women’s Conference. Post, independence, she ardently supported arts and crafts. She established the National Awards for Master Craftsmen, and, as the result of her entrepreneurial zeal, Central Cottage Industries Emporia was founded across the country to serve the needs of a country regaining its former grandeur. As a member of UNESCO and the founder of the National School of Drama, Chattopadhyay also headed the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
She also authored several books and wrote articles for the New India magazine. She received the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan from the Indian government, two of the most prestigious honours given to civilians in the country. She also received the highest fellowship from Sangeet Natak Akademi. She received a recognition award from UNESCO in 1977 for her work promoting handicrafts. On April 3, 2018, the day before she would have turned 115, Google honoured her with a Doodle on their home page.
Mahadevi Verma was an Indian poet, freedom fighter, educationist, and writer. She is often called the modern Meera. Verma was a leading poet of the Chhayavaad movement, a literary movement that emphasized romanticism in modern Hindi poetry, which lasted from 1914 to 1938. She also took part in Hindi Kavi sammelans and became a prominent writer during this period.
Born into an orthodox Hindu family, she was blessed with rather educated and scholarly parents. Her love for literature, Hindi, and education formed at home. Later, at age nine, she was married off by word and she continued to stay with her parents and studied further. She remained in Allahabad after her marriage. She continued her education in Allahabad, while her husband remained in Lucknow.
Her mother encouraged her to study literature and write poetry. She was able to win almost every major literary award in India. She also devoted herself to the cause of Indian independence and even sheltered freedom fighters in her home. Her revolution revolved around writing and teaching. Although not at the forefront, Mahadevi worked for the upliftment of women and taught them the importance of education and financial independence.
She had received several awards, including the Padma Bhushan and Sahitya Akademy Fellowship. She died of cancer on September 11, 1987. While her death saw the end of a powerful freedom fighter, her legacy lives on with her writings and teachings. Our country is grateful for all of her contributions.
Basanti Devi is a renowned Indian freedom fighter and environmentalist who received the Padma Shri Award in 1973. Born on 23 March 1880 in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, Basanti Devi was a student of Loreto House in Kolkata and married C R Das when she was only 17 years old. She and Das had three children.
She was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. After her marriage, she became the editor of Bangalar Katha, a Bengali weekly magazine. In 1921, she was also elected as president of the Bengal Provincial Congress and encouraged the grassroots agitation that culminated in the Chittagong conference in April. She also worked towards the development of culture in India and opposed colonialism. She was also active in the independence movement.
After independence, Basanti Devi continued her work in social activities. She founded the first women’s college in Kolkata which was later named after her. She also received the second highest civilian award in India, the Padma Vibhushan. After India’s independence, she continued working on social causes. She organized training centers for tribal women, organized protests against famine, and worked for the betterment of women in society. She received the Padma Vibhushan award in 1973.
A great freedom fighter, Rama Devi dedicated her life to helping landless people in India. She participated in the Bhoodan and Gramdan movements and traveled over 4,000 km on foot to spread the message of gifting land to the poor. She founded the Utkal Khadi Ashram and a Teachers’ Training Institute in Ramchandrapur. She also helped Indian soldiers who were displaced because of the 1962 Sino-India war.
Rama Devi’s most prominent acts of selfless service were when she presided over the All India Sarvodaya Convention in 1942. She also inspired other women to participate in the freedom struggle. She was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and went door to door convincing people to participate in the non-cooperation movement. She participated in the salt satyagraha and was imprisoned several times.
In addition to her activism in Odisha, Rama Devi was an active social activist. She also joined the Gramdaan Movement of Vinobaji and raised slogans against the Emergency. Her autobiography describes her role in the struggle against the British. In honour of her, the Rama Devi Women’s University in Bhubaneshwar was established. It was founded as a women’s university in 2015, making it the first of its kind in eastern India.
Maniben Patel was a strong activist in the Indian Independence movement and was also a Member of the Indian Parliament. As the daughter of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, she was inspired by teachings and writing of freedom from an early age. After completing her education, she went on to assist her father.
The British government imposed high taxes on the common people in 1923–1924, and to recoup those costs, they began seizing their cattle, land, and other assets. Maniben inspired women to support the No-Tax Movement and join Gandhi and Sardar Patel’s struggle against this tyranny. A similar movement was carried on in Bardoli where peasants were being tormented by the British.
She took part in the Salt Satyagraha and the Non-Cooperation Movement, and she spent a lot of time behind bars. She started helping her father in the 1930s and taking care of his personal needs as well. Maniben Patel was once more detained at Yerwada Central Jail from 1942 until 1945 due to her dedication to the Quit India movement and the independence of India, nonetheless.
Until her father passed away in 1950, Maniben Patel served him diligently. She spent the rest of her life working for the Sardar Patel Memorial Trust and other charity organizations after relocating to Mumbai. She then wrote a book about her father’s life in the years after Indian Independence that included a description of the freedom movement.
Some More Unsung Women Freedom Fighters
Though these unsung heroines are lost in the books of History, yet it is important to know about them. If you are preparing for UPSC Exam read further to know more about these unsung female freedom fighters of India who fought courageously to shape the future of our Independent nation.
Aruna Asaf Ali: Aruna Asaf Ali was an activist, educator, and publisher. She was an ardent member of the fight for Indian independence, and she is well known for raising the Indian National flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay in 1942, during the Quit India Movement. She continued involved in politics after independence and was elected as Delhi’s first Mayor.
To read more about Aruna Asaf Ali Freedom Fighter, visit the linked page.
- Raj Kumari Gupta: She was born in Kanpur district, India in 1902. She was associated with revolutionaries who were armed with firearms. She helped the HSRA by carrying materials and secret messages to the revolutionary movement. As a close ally of Chandrashekar Azad, she once proclaimed “Hum upar se Gandhivaadi the, neeche se krantivaadi.”
- Durgabai Deshmukh: A brilliant lawyer and a devoted freedom fighter, Durgabai Deshmukh participated in the national struggle from a young age. She worked with both the Indian Planning Commission and the Constituent Assembly of India. She established the Andhra Mahila Sabha (Andhra Women’s Conference) in 1937 and worked as a prominent champion for women’s empowerment. She also served as the Central Social Welfare Board’s first chair.
- Abadi Bano Begum: Abadi Bano Begum, a woman who played a major role in the Indian National Movement, is often called Bi Amma. She was one of the first Muslim women to actively participate in the Indian independence movement. Abadi Bano Begum was a member of the Khilafat Committee and actively participated in politics. Upon Gandhi’s request, she delivered a powerful speech in 1917 at the meetings of the All India Muslim League that had a lasting impact on the Muslims in British India.
- Parbati Giri: Parbati Giri is otherwise known as the Mother Theresa of Western Odisha. She bravely participated in the Quit India Movement even at the age of 16. She was a devoted freedom fighter. After Independence, she dedicated her life to social causes. In Paikmal village, she established an orphanage. She spent the remainder of her life assuring the welfare of the poor and the orphans.
Velu Nachiyar: The only daughter of King Chellamuthu Vijayaragunatha Sethupathi, Velu Nachiyar was raised as a boy, amidst her weapons training. As the Maharani of Sivaganga Estate, she became the first queen to launch a war against the British forces. Her bravery fetched her the name Veeramangai meaning “brave woman”.
To know more about Rani Vellu Nachiyar, visit the linked page.
- Bhogeswari Phukanani: Phukanani, who was a homemaker and a mother of eight, played a pivotal role in the Quit India Movement. In Assam, Phukanani was active in the Berhampur, Babajia, and Barpujia districts and assisted in opening offices for the Indian National Congress. In 1930, Phukanani participated in a peaceful protest march against the British government and was detained for picketing. While there are various accounts of her death, each pertains to the idea that she laid her life during and for the Indian independence.
- Kanaklata Barua: An Indian Coast Guard ship was named after a teenage freedom fighter from Assam who was killed during the Quit India Movement. Kanaklata Barua was only 17 years old when she was shot by the British during the Quit India Movement. She was killed while leading a group of 5,000 people in hoisting the Indian flag, a slightly different version of the Tricolour. Her story has gained legendary status in Assam.
It goes without saying that without women’s involvement in the Indian Freedom Movement, independence could only have been a distant possibility. While not celebrated in all pomp and glory, the efforts of these heroines of the Indian independence are etched forever in the lives of those whom they directly or indirectly impacted. As, responsible citizens of free and democratic India, it is upon us to read and celebrate these women freedom fighters who laid their lives for us and many others.