Virginia Woolf had once said, “For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” But when it came to the Indian Independence Movement, women walked shoulder-to-shoulder with men to help India receive its Independence. Here are six women who played a pivotal role in shaping India as a republic:
1. Rani Lakshmibai
She was one of the key figures behind the First War of Independence of 1987 against the East India Company. Here was a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. When the British wanted to take over the Jhansi Fort in the absence of a legitimate male heir, she fought against them for two straight weeks, making herself heard loud and clear.
2. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
A diplomat and a politician, Vijaya Laksmi Pandit was the first woman to become the president of the UN General Assembly. Prior to that, she was the first woman to hold a cabinet position in British India. She had also served as an ambassador to the Soviet Union, United States and was the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
3. Sarojini Naidu
A freedom fighter and a poet, Sarojini Naidu was the first women governor of an Indian State and the first Indian woman president of the Indian National Congress. Having joined the independence movement soon after the partition of Bengal in 1905, she helped form of the Women’s Indian Association. She even joined Annie Besant to present the case for the women’s right to vote in London.
4. Aruna Asaf Ali
An Indian Independence activist, Aruna Asaf Ali became Delhi’s first mayor in 1958. She is also remembered for her role in the Quit India Movement of 1942, during which she hoisted the Indian National Congress flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan in Bombay. She was imprisoned in Tihar jail, from where she launched a hunger strike to protest against unfair and indifferent treatment of prisoners. In 1997, she was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.
5. Annie Beasant
A women’s right activist, socialist and orator, Annie Beasant was part of the Indian National Congress. She was elected as its president after World War I broke out in 1914. To campaign for democracy in India and dominion status within the British Empire, Beasant helped launch the Home Rule League. Annie Beasant continued to campaign for the Indian Independence movement until her death in 1933.
6. Begum Aizaz Rasul
Begum Aizaz Rasul was the only Muslim woman to be part of the be a member of the Constituent Assembly of India. She remained a member until 1952, and was one of very few women who was elected to be a part of the UP legislative assembly after contesting from a non-reserved seat. She also served as the Minister for Social Welfare and Minorities. Begum Rasul was awarded a Padma Bhushan in 2000 for her contribution to social work.