Malati Choudhury: A freedom fighter who Mahatma Gandhi called 'toophani'

Malati Choudhury was one of those freedom fighter whose fight for injustice did not end with Indian independence, in fact her struggle continued for the rights of tribal and socially underprivileged.

Malati Choudhury was one of those freedom fighters whose fight for injustice did not end with Indian independence. She continued her struggle for the rights of tribal and socially underprivileged till her last breath.

Early Life

She was born on July 26, 1904 to a Brahmo couple, Kumud Nath Sen and Snehalata Sen who hailed from Kamarakhanda in Bikrampur, Dhaka, but had settled in Simultala, Bihar. Tragedy struck early in her life as she lost her father at the age of two.



In 1921, at the age of 16, she was admitted to Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan founded by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. This opened up her horizons and she got to meet luminaries of international repute. As a young student there, she became famous for her active participation in Gurudev’s dance dramas and music sessions. Gurudev affectionately called her ‘Minu’. At Shantiniketan, she also came in contact with Nabakrushna Choudhuri who came from Sabarmati Ashram to study there. She married him in 1927.

Also Read: Sarala Devi Chaudhurani: The freedom fighter who invoked patriotism through music

Social activism

Together they moved to Orissa and began doing various types of social activities in the field of rural development. They helped poor farmers improve sugarcane cultivation. They also started adult education in the surrounding villages. In 1946 Malati Choudhury set up the Bajiraut Chhatravas at Angul in Orissa and the Utkal Navajeevan Mandal in 1948 at Angul in Orissa. Bajiraut Chhatravas was established with an aim to educate the children of the freedom fighters, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and underprivileged sections of society.

Participation in freedom struggle

Both Malati and her husband were influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals. They joined Congress party during Salt Satyagraha, plunging into Indian freedom struggle. She was arrested several times (in 1921, 1936, 1942) with other women independence activists like Sarala Devi, Ramadevi Choudhury, and others. Even in jail, she taught the fellow prisoners and propagated Gandhiji’s thoughts and views. In 1933 she formed Utkal Congress Samajvadi Karmi Sangh along with her husband which later became the Orissa Provincial Branch of the All India Congress Socialist Party. She led the ‘Krisaka Andolan’ to save the poor farmers from the wrath of landowners and moneylenders. She was also selected as the member of Constituent Assembly of India in 1946. Because of Malati Devi’s fiery activities, Gandhiji had nick named her ‘ Toophani ‘

Post independence

When her husband Nabakrushna Choudhuri became the Chief Minister of Orissa in 1951, she fought for the plight of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. She raised her voice against Emergency by Indira Gandhi and was eventually jailed. After an eventful life, Malati Choudhury breathed her last in 1997.

Also Read: Rani Laxmibai: The queen of Jhansi who strapped her son on her back and led the Army

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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