When Maa Rama Devi marched barefoot across Odisha to spread Gandhi's ideals

Rama Devi was a prominent freedom fighter and social reformer from Odisha

Rama Devi Choudhury was a prominent freedom fighter as well as a social reformer. She was known for her contributions to the Bhoodan and Gramdan movement led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Rama Devi was an active participant in the protest against the Indira Gandhi government during Emergency and was also arrested. The people of Odisha fondly remember her as Maa.


Early years

Rama Devi was born on December 3, 1899 in Cuttack district of Odisha. Her uncle Madhusudan Das was the first advocate of the state and revered to as Utkal Gourab. At a young age of 15, she got married to Gopabandhu Choudhury, who was then a deputy collector by profession. The couple joined the independence movement in 1921.

Role in the freedom struggle

Devi was highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and rigorously campaigned across villages in support of the Non-Cooperation movement against the British. On March 23, 1921, she met Gandhi and his wife Kasturba at a women’s meeting in Benod  Behari. She along with her husband joined the Indian National Congress and began to don the khadi. Rama Devi joined the Salt Satyagraha movement in 1930 in the state. In 1932, she was again imprisoned for taking a Solemn Oath for the total independence of the country. Following her release from the prison, she founded a Seva Ghar to rehabilitate villages affected by the floods. Devi was arrested several times and spent time in different jails. She attended the Karachi session of the Congress and urged the party high command to hold the next session in her state.

Also read: How Durgabai Deshmukh caught Mahatma Gandhi’s attention at age 12 by fighting for the devadasis

During the 1942 Quit India Movement, Rama Devi and her family members were sent behind bars. Following the death of Kasturba Gandhi, Gandhiji appointed her as the Odisha representative of the Kasturba’s Trust. She used it as an opportunity to launch several programmes for the welfare of women.

Post-Independence Era

Rama Devi did not rest after the country got its independence. She dedicated her life to the landless and poor, having participated in Bhoodan and Gramdan movement. She and her husband travelled around 4,000 kms on foot to propagate the message of gifting land to the poor people. She established the Utkal Khadi Ashram and a Teachers’ Training Institute in Ramchandrapur. Rama Devi also worked towards helping Indian soldiers who had been affected by the 1962 Sino-India war.

Also read: Savitribai Phule, the social reformer who founded India’s first girls’ school

Fight against Emergency

On the midnight of June 26, 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed proclaimed Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution. Press censorship was imposed and civil liberties were curtailed, leading to the Indira Gandhi government facing a lot of criticism. Devi brought her own newspaper that contained writings against the regime. Her Gram Sevak Press was banned and she was arrested along with other leaders.

Also read: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit: The first ever woman cabinet minister and first Asian president of UN General Assembly

Rama Devi died on July 22, 1985 in Cuttack.

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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