India’s Unsung Women Freedom Fighters – Sudhatai Joshi

M Venkaiah Naidu

Sudhatai Joshi: The veerangana of Goa Liberation movement

Sudhatai Joshi: The veerangana of Goa Liberation movement

Sudhatai Joshi: The veerangana of Goa Liberation movement

“ There is nothing like making Goa a part of India…it is an integral part of India since centuries. It is you who has made its separation. Once you are removed from this land, it will automatically become part of India.”
This was the terse reply #SudhataiJoshi to a judge’s query on why she wanted #Goa to be a part of India.
As the country approaches 75th anniversary of its freedom from British rule, we must remember that for the previous four centuries India was ruled not only by the Britishers but also by the Portuguese in Goa. And Goa remained under Portuguese occupation till 19th December 1961, when Indian armed forces launched 36-hour Operation Vijay to secure instrument of surrender from the last Governor-General of Goa, General Manuel Antonio Vassalo de Silva.

Parallel to our freedom struggle against British rule, the Goa liberation movement was being spearheaded by Goan National Congress. In my Facebook series on unsung #veeranganas of our freedom movement, today I will be offering my tribute to the brave daughter of Goa, Sudhatai Joshi, for her courage and sacrifices she and her family made for the cause of liberating Goa from the foreign rule and integrating it with rest of India.
She was born in 1918 in Priyol village of Goa in a traditional family and did not get any formal education. At an early age of 13 years, she was married to a widower Shri Mahadev Shastri Joshi of Pune. Mahadev Joshi was himself an eminent scholar and compiled the magnum opus, Bhartiya Sanskriti Kosh. After her marriage, Sudhatai Joshi had to take care of her mother-in-law along with two stepdaughters. She involved herself in self-education through scriptures and epics and works of Maharashtrian saints and poets. This helped to expand her outlook.

Mahadev Shastri Joshi, was closely involved with the Goa liberation movement as the head of Pune chapter of Goan National Congress. Once, when he had to travel to Goa to participate in movement, his wife Sudhatai stopped him as he had not fully recovered from surgery, instead, she offered to participate in the movement herself, on behalf of her husband, “ So I am ready to leap into the fire. I don’t even seek your permission. My decision is final.” Her decision was persuasive and determined. Mahadev Shastri Joshi himself has narrated this incident in his autobiography ‘Atmpuran’.

In April, 1955 Sudhatai for the first time organized a session of Goa Congress at Mapusa. As she began to deliver her speech, suddenly a policeman came and pointed a gun at her. Unfazed she continued her speech even as some campaigners hoisted Tricolour and raised the slogan #JaiHind. Sudhatai was arrested and lodged in a jail in filthy conditions. In fact, her entire family was involved in the movement to free her motherland from foreign rule. After some time, her sister Ashatai and her brother Ghanshyam Phadke too were arrested by Portuguese authorities for their involvement in #freedommovement.

After six months of jail, when the trial started, the Judge asked Sudhatai “ Why do you want Goa to be a part of India?” To which she gave a resounding reply, “ There is nothing like making Goa a part of India…it is an integral part of India since centuries. It is you who has made its separation. Once you are removed from this land, it will automatically become part of India.”

The Judge tried to pressurize her to apologise and wanted to extern he so that she does not to return to Goa, to which she replied “ It is my #motherland, I can come here and go anytime. You don’t need to worry about my family. At this moment, my nation is more important than my family… You can give me whatever punishment you want. I will never apologise or ask for mercy. “. She was awarded 12 years of imprisonment.
In jail, she was kept in subhuman conditions for a year. She went on hunger strike against ill-treatment by the Portuguese authorities. As the news of her ill-treatment and her hunger strike spread, pressure mounted on the Portuguese. Even #VinobaBhave wrote her a letter appreciating her courage.

Her imprisonment was raised in the Indian Parliament and Prime Minister Pt Nehru had assured to intervene. In those days, there were no direct diplomatic links between India and Portugal. Rather Portugal communicated with India through Brazil and India communicated with Portugal through Egypt. The Government of India sent an Egyptian official to Goa to meet her. Finally, after four years of Jail and following massive diplomatic pressure from India, #Sudhatai was released. It is said that after her release the Government offered her a honorary seat in the Lok Sabha, but she withdrew from public life and spent time with her family. One can only bow in humility and respect before her courage and selfless commitment to her motherland.

In this Facebook series, we have repeatedly seen such episodes of uncommon courage and sacrifices by the common women in almost every part of country, including small villages and towns. However, they are absent from our history books. We must pay our grateful tributes to these veeranganas by including their stories of valour and sacrifices in our History books.

Jai Hind.