Charismatic leaders with high ethics and objective have the strength to inspire and transform the followers they lead. Mahatma Gandhi was one such leader who inspired millions of people to join him and fight for India’s freedom. Among his followers was Mirabehn, a lady who left the comfort of a life in Britain and came to India to join Gandhi’s freedom movement.

Initial life

Born Madeleine Slade (Mirabehn), she was the daughter of the British Rear-Admiral Sir Edmond Slade. Madeleine spent much of her childhood at her grandfather’s country home in Surrey.

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She developed a strong admiration for the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and eventually became a concert manager. After reaching India, she devoted her life to human development, the advancement of Gandhi’s principles.

India Years

Her life changed after she read French novelist and essayist Romain Rolland’s 1924 biography of Gandhi and became fascinated by Gandhi’s principles of non-violence. She contacted him and asked if she could become his disciple and live in his ashram.

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Despite Gandhi’s warning of the difficulties of such a life, she reached India in November 1925 and stayed here for 34 years. It was Gandhi who gave her the name of Mirabehn. She started wearing a white sari, cut her hair short, and took a vow of celibacy.

Role in freedom movement

After staying at the ashram, Mirabehn took part in the freedom movement and also accompanied Gandhi and others to the Round Table Conference in London in 1931.

The resumption of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1931 saw her getting imprisoned during 1932–33.

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She was arrested and detained with Gandhi in the Aga Khan Palace, Pune, from August 1942 to May 1944. She was also a witness to the Simla Conference and the Cabinet Mission, the Interim Government and the Constituent Assembly, the Partition of India and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

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Life after independence

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In 1947 she set up an ashram near Rishikesh. After Gandhi’s death in 1948, she decided to stay in India and for the next 11 years, she travelled to various Indian states, took on community projects and worked on environmental issues.

Mirabehn returned to England in 1959 and a year later moved to a house near Vienna, where she spent the remaining years of her life.

As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom. This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email: inuthsocial@indianexpress.com

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