Annapurna Maharana: When a jail term made Chuni Apa promise to serve the poor

Annapurna Maharana was the daughter of freedom fighters Rama Devi and Gopabandhu Choudhury. She was considered close to Mahatma Gandhi and participated in the Quit India Movement

Annapurna Maharana was a renowned freedom fighter and social reformer who is still revered at large in Odisha. She was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and also took part in various social programmes for the upliftment of the poor. Maharana was imprisoned several times including during the Quit India Movement.


Early Years:

Annapurna Maharana, also known as Chuni apa, joined the freedom struggle at an early age of 14 owning to her parents Rama Devi and Gopabandhu Choudhury, who both were active freedom fighters and participated in various struggles against the British. She joined the Banar Sena, a children’s brigade formed by Indira Gandhi that helped the Congress in its fight against the British rule. During this time, she spent six months in the jails of Cuttack and Jajpur. The stint in the jails instilled in her the resolve to work towards the upliftment of the poor.When Mahatma Gandhi undertook a Harijan Pada Yatra from Puri to Bhadrak in 1934, Maharana took an active part. She was arrested during the 1942 Quit India Movement. She got married to Sarat Maharana who died in 2007. He was considered as the pioneer of basic education in Odisha.  The children were taught how to spin charkha and undertook cleaning of the village on a daily basis. Annapurna married Sarat Chandra who did not belong to her caste, and the family did not object to their marriage.


After India became independent, Maharana continued to work towards the upliftment of women and children. Like her mother, she joined the Bhoodan movement led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. She worked as a peacekeeper during the communal riots of Rourkela in 1964.

Also read: When Maa Rama Devi marched barefoot across Odisha to spread Gandhi’s ideals

Maharana also worked extensively towards the betterment of tribal children of her state. She rendered her services for relief work during cyclones in Odisha and also during 1971 East Pakistan humanitarian crisis. She set up a school in Raigad district for the tribal children. During Emergency in 1975, she helped her mother Rama Devi in the publication of a newspaper by Gram Sewak Press. Maharana also worked to integrate dacoits from the Chambal Valley into the mainstream society. Maharana translated many works of Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave from Hindi to Oriya. During the super cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999, she along with her brother Manmohan extensively worked towards providing relief to the victims.

Besides this, the revered freedom fighter also arranged for conferences to promote Sarvodaya movement across the world. She got several awards including the Utkal Ratna award. She died on December 31, 2016 at the age of 96.

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:

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