Rukmini Lakshmipathi: a freedom fighter who donated her jewellery for the upliftment of Harijans
Soon the country will be celebrating the landmark 75th anniversary of its independence. Our independence was the culmination of a long-drawn popular struggle for freedom in which different sections of the people rose in protest against the oppressive colonial rule.
We rightly take pride in the unique diversity seen in our freedom struggle which remained largely non-violent. The participation of masses belonging to different socio-economic backgrounds from several regions not only created a nationwide impact but attracted worldwide attention.
In my Facebook posts on the unknown #veeranganas of our #freedommovement, I am writing about the invaluable role played by these unknown Indians.
In this series today, I will be paying my humble tributes to Smt Rukmini Lakshmipathi, who had participated in the Salt Satyagraha in Madras Presidency under the leadership of Raja ji and was the first woman to be imprisoned during SaltSatyagraha in Madras Presidency. According to some other accounts, she was the first woman in the country to serve a jail term for participating in the Salt Satyagraha.
She is said to have donated all her jewellery to Harijan Welfare Fund.
Born on 6th December 1892 in a family of landlords, #RukminiLakshmipathi was a person of independent views and opinions. Her guardian was Dewan of Cochin State. She was from the first batch of graduates from the famous Women’s Christian College of Madras. She was known to be liberal in her views and entered into an inter-caste marriage with Dr Achanta Laxmipathi, a widower and medical doctor who later turned towards Ayurveda and Indian systems of medicines.
In the 1920s, she was drawn towards the freedom struggle and the swadeshi movement and was deeply influenced by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari and Sarojini Naidu.
She not only inspired young women to spin #khadi but also promoted its use among them. She persuaded women to join the freedom struggle. She had worked tirelessly for women’s empowerment through their education and was associated with organizations like #BharatStreeMandal and Women’s India Association. She advocated social reforms and opposed child marriage.
As a member of Congress, she had organized the Youth League of Congress to mobilize youth to join the freedom movement. In 1926, Congress deputed her to attend the International Women’s Conference on Suffrage in Paris.
Smt. Rukmini was at the forefront in the protests against the Simon Commission. On 26th January 1930, she unfurled the national flag to mark Independence Day as announced by Pandit Nehru. The same year, she participated in the CivilDisobedienceMovement.
We all know that Mahatma #Gandhi launched the historic Salt Satyagraha to oppose salt taxes imposed by the British government. He undertook a 24-day Dandi March from Sabaramati Ashram to Dandi coast in Navsari district of south Gujarat, from 12th March 1930 to 6th April 1930. Similar protest marches were held at several places in coastal areas in the country.
In the Madras Presidency, Raja ji had led the march of 99 chosen satyagrahis, including four women, from Trichy to Vedaranyam. Smt. Rukmini Lakshmipathi was one of the protestors. It is worth remembering that while Gandhi ji’s Dandi March did not have women Satyagrahis, elsewhere women in large numbers joined the Salt Satyagraha.
The British administration was determined to thwart the march. The local Commissioner ordered lathi-charge on those participating in the march. Undeterred, Smt. Rukmini Lakshmipathi proceeded bravely and even is said to have taken blows to protect other women satyagrahis. The administration had also warned villagers that they would face penal actions if they fed Satyagrahis en route.
Smt. Rukmini Lakshmipathi along with other Satyagrahis was arrested at Vedaranyam. She was imprisoned for one year.
In 1937, she was elected the first woman Member of Madras Legislative Assembly and also served as the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.
Mahatma Gandhi also launched individual satyagraha in which a satyagrahi chosen by him was to stand at a prominent spot in the town and read out a single line protesting against the British rule. Upon arrest, the Satyagrahi was to plead guilty. Smt. Rukmini Laksmipathi was one of the chosen 21 satyagrahis for Madras and was arrested later.
In 1946, she became the first woman Minister under the Chief Ministership of Shri T Prakasam and as the Health Minister played a significant role in popularizing Ayurveda and Indian systems of medicine.
During our freedom struggle, thousands of protests took place in almost every city and town. Those protests were led by were common people from different strata of the society who came together to free the country from foreign yoke.
We need to remember these heroes and veeranganas in our history books with utmost reverence. Our books should pay homage to the sacrifices they made. I find that the information about these unknown warriors is sketchy and scattered. I would like the State governments, Universities and research institutions to make special effort to compile authentic information on these unknown freedom fighters and publish books. They must also include these stories in school textbooks.