India’s Unsung Women Freedom Fighters – Durgawati Devi

M Venkaiah Naidu

Durgawati Devi

Durgawati Devi

Durgawati Devi: Durga Bhabhi of revolutionary freedom fightersIt is rightly said that India’s freedom movement was a mass movement. People from towns and villages responded in thousands to the call for freeing the motherland from foreign yoke. But many of the valiant warriors of our freedom struggle have remained unsung with hardly any mention in our history books.

It is true that history is essentially a record of events. But what is important is to chronicle the feats of its actors, the common men and women, who shaped the course of history in very adverse circumstances with their humble might and meagre means. The conspicuous absence of innumerable unknown heroes and veeranganas from our history books has always puzzled me. The courage and conviction displayed by the common people during the freedom struggle must not be forgotten.

As the country approaches the 75th anniversary of our independence, through my Facebook posts, I am celebrating and sharing the stories of unknown heroes and veeranganas.

Today, we will pay our tributes to Smt. Durgawati Devi, the Durga Bhabhi of Indian revolutionaries, who not only gave up all her money but also ignored the social taboo to help the revolutionary cause.

Born in October 1907, in a well-to-do family of modern-day district of Kaushambi near Prayagraj in UP, she was married to Shri Bhagwati Charan Vohra of Lahore. Her husband’s family too was equally well off. Yet, Bhagwati Charan Vohra ji chose the revolutionary path to oust colonial rule. He, along with Bhagat Singh and others, was instrumental in setting up Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).

It is said that Durgawati Devi was given a sizable amount of cash by her father and her father-in-law as a gift. She used all that money for the activities of HSRA, to purchase arms and ammunition for the revolutionaries. It was a close-knit group of revolutionaries and she became their Durga Bhabhi. Her main task was to clandestinely deliver weapons and ammunition to revolutionaries. Being a woman, the police too did not suspect her activities.

Revolutionaries had decided to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. In December 1928, Bhagwati Charan Vohra had gone to Calcutta to attend the Congress Session. In the meanwhile in his absence, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdeo shot dead John Sanders in Lahore, the police officer responsible for Lala ji’s death. Immediately, the police began hunting for them. They took refuge at Durgawati ji’s place.

To escape the prying eyes of local police, they decided to leave Lahore immediately by train. They boarded Calcutta Mail. To evade any suspicion, they posed as a family. To pass as a respectable man with a family, Bhagat Singh changed his attire into an elegant western dress, while Durgawati Devi posed as his wife and her three-year-old son, as their child. Rajguru became their servant.

Later, they reached Calcutta and joined Bhagwati Charan Vohra ji, who praised and appreciated the courage and conviction shown by his wife in going against the accepted social norms to save the freedom fighters.

After Bhagat Singh was arrested, Bhagvati Charan Vohra planned his escape and wanted to set off a bomb in Lahore prison. However, he died while testing the bomb. Durga Bhabhi bravely endured the bereavement and continued her fight against the unjust British rule with greater vigour and passion. She was instrumental in organizing rallies and processions to secure the release of Bhagat Singh. She is believed to have sold her ornaments as part of raising money for securing Bhagat Singh’s release. Such was her commitment for achieving India’s freedom.

Following the arrest of most of her contemporary revolutionaries, she took upon herself to continue revolutionary activities and attempted to assassinate Punjab Governor Hailey. Though he escaped unhurt, Durga Bhabhi was arrested. Later upon release, she once again attempted to assassinate a senior police officer of Bombay. She was again arrested and imprisoned for three years.

Around 1935, she left Lahore and established a school for poor children in Lucknow. After independence, she lived a quiet life till her death on 15th October 1999 in Ghaziabad.

The nation will be ever grateful to her invaluable sacrifice, valour, and unwavering commitment for freeing the motherland from British rule.

History cannot be complete without reverential references to such valiant heroes and veeranganas. Every generation of free India owes its freedom to the sacrifices made by freedom fighters like Durgavati Devi. Their stories of struggle, bravery and sacrifice must be part of our history books.

Jai Hind!