A freedom fighter, Sarala Devi also contributed to the making of modern Odisha. She was the first woman to become a part of the Odisha legislative assembly. A feminist and social activist Sarala Devi was way ahead of her time. Even though she came from a modest educational background, she emerged as one of the prolific writers of Orissa. She played an active part in the freedom struggle, however, today her legacy seems to have been neglected.

Early Life:

Sarla Devi was born into an affluent Zamindar family, to Basudev Kanungo and Padmavati Devi on August 9, 1904. It was her father’s elder brother, Balamukunda Kanungo who adopted Sarala Devi and raised her. Since childhood, her uncle who worked as a Deputy Magistrate in the colonial govt inspired her to become a social worker. From a very young age, she rebelled against restrictions. In those days, girls were not allowed to pursue higher studies, however, her uncle hired a home tutor. It was her keen interest in education that she became fluent in Odia, Bengali, Hindi and English.

In 1917, at the age of 14, she was married to the Bhagirathi Mohapatra who was the son of a zamindar at Jagatsingpur in Cuttack district. Bhagirathi, who was an advocate, joined the Indian National Congress in 1918. Without caring about the restrictive social customs and tradition, Sarala Devi worked to uplift women from their downtrodden position.

Role in Freedom Struggle

Sarala Devi became a part of the ‘Mahila Samaj’. It was an organisation which motivated women to participate in India’s freedom struggle. In 1924,  a conference was organised in Cuttack for freedom struggle. Those days women used to sit behind curtains and listen to the speeches, but not only did Sarala Devi came out from behind the barriers, she also gave a fierce speech in that meeting. She participated in the Salt Satyagraha at Inchudi in Balasore and also travelled to various districts of Odisha. She was arrested by the British at the Chhatrapur jail, later she was transferred to Vellore jail from where she was released after six months. She was given a huge public reception on her return to Cuttack on December 8, 1930.

Also Read: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the feminist freedom fighter who revived art in Modern India

Death

Sarala Devi breathed her last on 4 October 1986 at the age of 82. In her lifetime she wrote as many as 30 books and 300 essays. She was the first Odia woman to join the Non-cooperation movement in 1921. 

Also Read: From Dandi March to Quit India Movement, here’s how princess Amrit Kaur fought for India’s independence

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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