Durgawati Devi: The untold story
I am not writing this because Durga Bhabi’s struggle & efforts as a freedom fighter inspired me or because of my congeniality with her.I am writing to unveil those corners of her personality which our generation is unaware of as well as our political class has forgotten. Durgawati Devi was born in a Bengali family on 7 October 1907 , the year in which she was born itself was one of the most significant time for struggle of Indian independence from British raj .On the ground Indian National Congress was divided into two groups one was radicals who believed in agitation & strikes against British raj led by the likes of Lokmanya Tilak ,Sir Aurbindo while the second group which was called moderates were led by the likes of Gopal Krishna Gokhale ,phersozeshah Mehta ,Surendranath Banerjee in the current era they are also referred as “Early Nationalist” , these were the people who believed in demanding reforms while adopting constitutional and peaceful means to achieve their aims.On the other side Japan after defeating Russia in 1905 war had established itself as a major dominant power in Asia, whole world not just India was going through the period of uncertainties and especially in India a political void had been created due to Surat split (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surat_Split)
Durgawati Devi’s childhood was just as same as the other girls of her age at that time , she was married at the very young age of 11 with the Bhagwati charan vohra,he belonged to a gujrati brahmin family, his father was a railway official & had made very good fortune . Bhagwati charan vohra was an avid learner,he left college to join satyagraha movement in 1921 and after the movement was called off he joined National college in Lahore where he met Bhagat Singh & Sukhdev .They together started study circle on russian revolution, they later formed Naujawan bharat Sabah in 1926 & later joined Hindustan Socialist Republican Association along with his friends under the leadership of Chandrasekhar Azad ,he was the main ideologue of the organization hence was appointed the propaganda secretary .He was not influenced by caste prejudices and believed in the uplifting of poor with the help of socialist principles,his broad and progressive thinking inspired durgawati to study they together went to same school & college where she along with his husband joined Naujawan bharat sabha where she met her husband’s revolutionary friends , this was a turning point in life of durgawati as now she was literate which was very significant at that time as the Indian society was obdurate in accepting the role of women in the nation building so it was a big thing that not just she was literate, she was also participating in the covert activities of her husband for the independence of India,she was empowered and independent unlike most of the women at that time in India , her husband lay the foundation for her revolutionary activities as well as played a pivotal role in empowering her. Her husband encouraged her to continue studies this resembles the need of male in our society for the welfare & uplifting of women ,her husband gave her a firm support that she needed for the self realization of her own capabilities, this shows how with the collective efforts of every section of our society can help & contribute productively for the betterment of the weaker section of the society .
From housewife to a formidable freedom fighter:-
While her husband was engaged in revolutionary activities with his friends, she herself had taken up a responsibility she had decided that she will teach children so that the knowledge & learning she had earned can benefit the future generation .She decided to open a school where she would teach her students,in starting she had only four students But the numbers increased with time as she was spending more and more time in her household activities , she was also getting close to Bhagat Singh and other members of HSRA but her role as a freedoms fighter evolved after the plot to kill Scott in order to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai , All the members of HSRA were quite busy those days ,every day whether it was day or night work was going on to formulate the plan to avenge the death of Lajpat Rai ,these were days when Durgawati Devi was getting involved in her husband activities,she was referred as “Durga Bhabi” by fellow members of HSRA ,but as the plan to kill Scott came near completion ,one night her gave her a gun that was something totally unusual for Durga Bhabi but very soon she realized the danger to their lives because of their involvement in the plot to kill Scott but she did not get afraid , she knew it that some day like this will come so she was mentally prepared enough to handle such situations but when JS Saunders was killed mistakenly things around Durga Bhabi had changed totally her husband was away in Calcutta , she was alone with her son but one day three unexpected guest came to her house she recognized two of them but was unable to recognize the third he was tall & handsome seems to be like a British but he wasn’t the very moment he called her Bhabi she recognized the voice it was bhagat singh who was in disguise to misguide the British police who were behind them they were all tense so she called off her classes for sometime and even sensed an application to headmaster for leave as she knew it that Bhagat Singh and others will need her in order to escape from lahore, Durga Devi was a good strategist something which she learned from her husband, within sometime she came up with a plan for the safe passage from Lahore to Calcutta , plan was accepted by everyone but it was risky they were in disguise if they get caught they knew it death will be the only punishment sentenced to them by British government but this was the when people saw the incarnation of Durga inside Bhabi they all knew it she is not afraid , she was ready to throw her life as well as the life of his son with whom she was traveling along bhagat singh pretending to be his wife , the journey was tough but they made it, after the journey everybody appreciated the valor & quick thinking of Durga Bhabi they knew it that the woman standing in front of them was no ordinary woman she was a true patriot none less than any male freedom fighter ,this journey changed her life’s course of action , by that she had been totally transformed into true revolutionary.
Contribution to Indian Independence Struggle:
Her contribution to the struggle for the Indian independence is incredible ,she was one of the few female revolutionary ‘s who rebelled against the atrocities of the British Raj , she led many campaign for the HSRA alone , even after her husband’s death she did not gave up fighting for independence .Durga Bhabi was determined that if her efforts can not benefit her society & her mother land than she will be wasting her life, she devoted herself to the service of the nation .
She bored her widowhood with her mute bravery,she didn’t shed a tear after her husband was gone instead of that she demanded her full share of revolutionary work from Chandrasekhar Azad , she opened some branches of her party in Calcutta & she even learned to make bomb then after she was involved in every single operation of her party , she worked along side the likes of Azad during bombing of viceroys train for which she got the respect from the leaders of stature like Azad.Her journey didn’t stop here she rose like a meteor on the horizon of India’s freedom struggle wielding tremendous influence over HSRA, during that time she emerged as a national symbol representing the distrust & resistance against the British Raj even from weaker sections of the Indian society.She set an example for the women whom people think at that time were weak & were so reluctant in accepting there significance in the society.
(Durgawati Devi in her later days )
During the 1930's there was a huge increase in politicization of women especially due to the civil disobedience,after the execution of bhagat Singh , sukhdev & rajguru she took an assertive role in shaping the new structure for functioning of HSRA . She also wanted to avenge the executions of bhagat singh for which she also tried to kill ex-governor of Punjab , she herself fired the convoy but missed as only several of his guards were injured . She was sentenced for 3 years but later was released due to lack of evidence, this incident in which a woman was incorporated in such kind of agitation shook the British government . The government had realized that there is uprising against them . The message was loud and clear “people of India wanted them out of there country”
Durgawati had become a prominent nationalist whose action were reflecting the will of India which was all united to stand against the government which was oppressing the people of India for last 2 centuries.After the independence of India she settled in Lucknow and opened a school there in order to fulfill her desire to educate children & build a strong foundation for modern India.She knew freeing India from poverty was as important as getting independence from the British.
Durga Devi was one of the most celebrated revolutionary women but yet one newspaper wrote in her obituary that “While her earlier life reads like a thriller , her later years were spent in exclusion”.Many of her surviving colleagues wrote & published their memories of Indian independence struggle but Durga Bhabi never did it . It becomes totally clear that her efforts & involvement as a revolutionary is widely under appreciated,her story is still unknown.This is a clear reminder that popular depictions of revolutionaries have become hegemonic.