Mridula Sarabhai: Freedom Fighter, Feminist, Anti-National?

Rocket Boys introduced Mridula Sarabhai sister of Vikram Sarabhai, But there is so much more you should know about this legendary woman.
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mridula sarabhai with gandhiji walking
Mridula Sarabhai with Gandhiji Source: Unknown

What picture comes into your mind when I tell you to imagine a woman before independence, belonging to one of the most influential families of the country. 

Whatever you could imagine, I bet that is nothing like the character I am about to introduce you to.

Mridula Sarabhai, daughter of Ambalal Sarabhai, and sister of Vikram Sarabhai was one such personality which in a society like India (which is patriarchial to its core) came out of the shadows of her elite background and worked so much in so many fields that she was one of the most influential women of her time. 

Born in April of 1911 this girl from the young age of 10 joined the freedom struggle and worked for the nation and its people to her last breath. So much impressed by her Gandhiji was that he said

“If I had a hundred women like Mridula, I could launch a revolution in India”

So, if she was such a legend then how come we didn’t hear about us her before the series Rocket Boys, or at least most of us?

There are many such hidden gems in the Modern History of India which gave everything to the Indian National Movement. But, for now, let’s focus on one who is known by many tags associated with her, ranging from a revolutionary, freedom fighter, politician, social worker, feminist to even Anti-National.

Here are some facts about Mridula Sarabhai and her legendary contribution to the nation:

Pre-Independence

  • At age 10 she worked in the Vanar Sena which was organized by Indira Gandhi and was a group of child activists who helped freedom fighters by whatever small tasks they could do.
  • Schooled at home by private Indian and English teachers, her revolutionary side couldn’t hide in shadows for long and came out in open during the Salt Satyagraha. 
  • She was so much impressed by Gandhiji that she dropped out of Gujarat Vidyapeeth and joined the Satyagrah. She was even imprisoned for her role in the movement and certainly, it was not her last imprisonment.
Mridula Sarabhai with Gandhiji
Mridula Sarabhai with Gandhiji Source: Unknown
  • After meeting Jawaharlal Nehru and being influenced by his contribution to National Movement, both became lifelong friends. She helped Nehru in organizing the youth conference in Rajkot in 1927. The role of such conferences in Nehru’s rise to his legendary status is a story for another time.
  •  In 1934, she was elected by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) as a delegate from Gujarat. But her independent stance caused friction with the party. So, she chose to contest the election independently which she won with the highest margin.

During independence

  • She was appointed as secretary, sub-committee on women’s role in Planned Economy for the National Planning Board.
  • Nehru appointed her as the General Secretry of Congress Party and a member of Congress Working Committee(CWC). But, she resigned and followed Gandhi Ji to Noakhali, where the riots were happening. Iit shows how selfless her character was. Her only ambition was the welfare for her countrymen. 
  • During partition riots, her work in controlling the riots in Patna, Ahmedabad and parts of Punjab was significant.
  • She, along with Rameshwari Nehru, worked tirelessly to recover the abducted women during partition and helped them in rejoining their original families. This was a very hard job considering that finding those women and then persuading their original families to take them back (as they were they defiled according to them) at that time was a task which required special skills for conciliation & persuasion.

Post-independence

  • After independence she became disillusioned with Congress. therefore she left the party
  • She was also a vocal supporter of her longtime friend, Sheikh Abdullah and even supported his case in court for which he was imprisoned.
  • Later she herself was imprisoned without any trial over the same Kashmir Conspiracy Case though she was not charged with conspiracy. Therefore, the woman who sacrificed all her life in working for a nation, was branded as Anti-National by the same Nation.
  • She also helped in founding Shanti Sangh/Dal,l which was a group of workers, women and educated girls. Its main objective was to spread the message of peace and security by visiting campuses, ashrams, offices, schools etc.
  • She was an internationalist and maintained communication with Pakistan through Mountbatten, who himself was her friend. She even invited Madam Ang Sang, the wife of the first head of state of Myanmar, who was assassinated. 

In final words, she was a non-conformist and independent strong woman who knew how to stand tall in the world of men.

Her biography was written by Aparna Basu in 1996 titled Mridula Sarabhai: Rebel With A Cause. You can read it but the only copy I could find is on Amazon and only available in hardcover print, which will cost a fortune.

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Sources Used Wikipedia , Asian Voice

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