INDIRA GANDHI: INDIAN FREEDOM FIGHTER
First Female Prime Minister to Govern Half a Billion Citizens
Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day in the USA. Krishna Nehru Hutheesing (Sister of Prime Minister Nehru) said that India's Constitution was based on the American Constitution. Both countries knew the oppression of the British Empire. People world wide joined the Indian Independence Movement. North and South Americans, Europeans and Asians joined to support their freedom.
American people from my generation experienced, much like the Indians, grief from having our leaders assassinated. President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr all were assassinated. Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi both were assassinated. The Mahatma was gunned down for his beliefs as was Indira Gandhi. They were not related, but they were dear friends. Her father, Jawahrlal Nehru, worked extensively with Mahatma in the Indian Independence Movement. In the book, Dear to Behold, written by Indira's aunt, Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, there is a picture of Indira sitting next to Gandhi laying in bed.
The Indian Independence Movement was revolutionary in many respects. Indira's aunt said that the movement fostered many great female leaders. In fact Mother Durga, the Divine Mother, was the symbol of the movement. On the night of November 19, 1917 a great female leader, Indira Nehru Gandhi was born. Jawaharlal Nehru, her father, was often in prison for his involvement in the movement. Her mother, Kamala Kaul Nehru, also went to prison for supporting the movement. Indira was often alone or with her aunts. All these people sacrificed so that India could be free of the British Empire. Indira was their only child. A son was born later on, but he only lived a short time after birth. Jawaharlal predicted at her birth that she would be greater than ten sons. This prophecy was fulfilled.
Indira was born for a very important reason, like Elizabeth I, to break stereotypes and bring change to her country. Elizabeth I made this bold statement, "Let the Catholics keep their crucifixes." Elizabeth I resided over England's greatest artistic achievements and was at the height of its military greatness. Henry was dismayed over not having a male heir, but he got a daughter who was ten times greater. Indira became the first female prime minister to govern half a billion people. She had to deal with many challenging issues, economic troubles and famine which her father never endured to the same degree. One of Indira's aunts, Lakshmi Pandit, became one of India's greatest diplomats and President of the General Assembly of the United Nations. She was the first woman to hold the role of President of the United Nations. Krishna Nehru Hutheesing was an author and was Lakshmi's sister. All of these great women fostered a revolutionary movement which defeated a great empire, much like the American Revolution.
Indira was revolutionary because she married a college friend who knew her mother, Kamala. Ferzone Gandhi, her husband, was a Parsi. Parsis are followers of Zoraster, the Persian prophet. Her parents had an arranged marriage, but she married Ferzone because she knew and loved him for many years. She was from a Brahmin family and he was more modest in his family upbringing. In March of 1942 she married him in a Vedic ceremony. They had a honeymoon in Kashmir. Soon afterwards both would be heavily involved in the Independence Movement again. Both went to prison for their beliefs and actions in the movement.
On August 14, 1947 India achieved its independence from the British. Jawaharlal Nehru became India's first prime minister. Indira had two sons by the time he became prime minister. Riots broke out when India was partitioned. Gandhi instituted a fast to stop the violence on both sides. Muslims attacked Hindus and Hindus attacked Muslims. These were turbulent times. On January 30, 1948 Gandhi was slain after he spoke to a crowd at a prayer meetings by a young Hindu. His dying word was, "Rama."
Indira took on the role of assisting her father in the Prime Minister Residence. Her mother had died on February 28, 1936 of complications tied to tuberculosis. Indira often did fact finding missions in other countries. Eventually she became President of the Indian National Congress in 1959. After her father's death in 1964, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister. Indira became a Cabinet Minister of Communications. Two years later Shastri died of a heart attack. Indira was elected Prime Minister of India in 1966 by the Indian National Congress. On January 25, 1966 she took the oath of office. According to her aunt, "No major country had ever before elected a woman to the most important office of the nation. She was chosen because of her progressive, modern outlook, her dedicated service, and her valuable experience in politics and government." American President Lyndon Johnson invited her to Washington, D.C. where she forged a relationship with the American president. Her father had met the Kennedys, but she worked to complete the diplomatic relationship he started.
Gandhi was a big supporter of women's rights. He said, "Good sense must govern the relations between the sexes. There should be no barrier erected between them." He favored women's equality and freedom. He spoke against the purdah in parts of India where women were hidden out of sight and were covered head to toe. He also opposed child marriages. Women achieved the right to vote and own property under the Indian Constitution. Fifty nine women became members of Parliament. The United States has yet to elected a female president. In 1967 Indira was elected by the people to continue the role of Prime Minister. She championed the rights of minorities and spoke against the War in Vietnam. She also helped India's development in agriculture and furthered diplomatic ties to other countries. She supported India's self reliance and the common good. She helped forge India into a modern democratic state.
In the coming years the United States will eventually elect its first female president like India did in 1966. Indira was a trail blazer and helped India become a modern democracy. She is a great fore mother and role model.
JAI SHRI INDIRA GANDHI! JAI SHRI MA! JAI SHRI INDEPENDENCE!