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Updated on March 26, 2016

Grand Lady of the Indian Independence Movement

March is Women's History Month. In April Navaratri will be celebrated to honor the Divine Mother. There were many great foremothers who were leaders in the Indian Independence Movement. In the 1940's these women gained positions all over India. Gandhi evolved from the young man who wanted his wife to stay home all the time to a great champion of women's rights and leadership roles all over India.

Aruna Asaf Ali was one of these great women of the movement. She was called the Grand Lady of the Indian Independence Movement. The personal was political for many of these great female leaders of the movement. They sacrificed a lot to bring independence to India.

On July 16, 1909, Aruna Asaf Ali was born in Kalka, Punjab, India. Today Kalka is known as Haryana. Her birth name was Aruna Ganguly. Her father Upendranath Ganguly was a restaurant proprietor. Her mother was the daughter of Tranilokyanath Sanyal, a prominent Brahmo leader who composed many Brahmo hymns. Her brother, Nagendranath, became a university professor and wed the daughter of Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, Mira Devi. Purnima Banerjee, Aruna's sister, became a Constituent Assembly of India Member. As you can see there was a lot of intelligence and brilliance in this family.

Aruna was educated in Christian schools--Catholic and Protestant. She became a teacher at the Gokhale Memorial School in Calcutta. Indian Congress Party Leader, Asaf Ali, met her and they married in 1928. Her parents and family objected to the marriage because he was a Muslim and 23 years older than Aruna. They disowned her because of her decision to marry him, but the decision was a good one. It was through the marriage that her destiny was carried out and fulfilled. Before the marriage she was not involved with politics at all, that this changed dramatically after they married.

She became one of the great women leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. She is very famous for hoisting the Indian National Congress flag at Gowalia Tank maidan in Bombay as part of the Quit India Movement. In 1958 she became New Delhi's first mayor, and in the 1960's she established a great media publishing house she ran with her beloved friend and journalist, Edatata Narayanan. The year after she died she received India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, in 1997.

Many people were involved with the Salt Satyagraha with Gandhi including Aruna. She was charged with vagrancy and not released in 1931. The public outcry was great and her fellow co-prisoners protested her imprisonment in the Tihar Jail where she was placed in solitary confinement. She was released following this public outcry. She went underground in 1942. She edited Inquilab, a Congress Party monthly magazine. The warrant for her arrest was withdrawn in 1946. She became a member of the Socialist Party. Her husband, Asaf Ali, died in 1953. In 1954 she established the National Federation of Indian Women. In 1964 she received the Lenin Peace Prize. In 1991 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding. In 1992 she received the Padma Vibhushan Award. In 1998 a commemorative stamp was issued celebrating her accomplishments.

The President of India from 2007 to 2012 was Shrimati Pratibha Devsigh Patil. She honored the 100 year celebration of Aruna's birth anniversary. Aruna promoted education as the way of increasing the power of women. President Patil said, "Educated women contribute to the development of a good family, a compassionate society, a progressive nation and a more tolerant world. Women constitute nearly half of the population of our country. Our full potential as a nation will only be fulfilled when women can fully realize their potential." Aruna would very much agree with this statement. It was through her education she achieved great things.

Our energy, Shakti, runs the Universe. We have been the leaders of all great social progress movements. Social change in society happens through women power. When women received the vote, many health, food and safety laws were passed. The health and longevity of humanity greatly increased when women won the vote. India had Indira Gandhi as a prime minister and many other great female leaders like President Shrimati Pratibha. The United States has an opportunity to elect their first female President. It will be interesting to see if the USA will accomplish this in 2016.

Aruna Asaf Ali, Indian Freedom Fighter, died at the age of 87 on July 29, 1996. As part of Women's History Month, it is great to honor this great and remarkable woman. Happy Holi and Happy Navratri!




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