Nellie Sengupta: The British lady who went door-to-door to sell khadi

Nellie was one of the prominent English women who fought for the independent India. She later became the president of the Indian National Congress at the 47th annual session at Kolkata in 1933

Nellie Sengupta was one of the prominent English women who fought for India’s independence. She wasn’t born in India but settled in the country after her marriage. She later became the president of the Indian National Congress at the 47th annual session at Kolkata in 1933. Despite her contribution in India’s freedom struggle, her name is lost somewhere in the pages of the history.

Early Life: 

Nellie was born on January 12, 1886, to Frederick William Gray and Edith Henrietta Gray in Cambridge. During her college, she fell in love with Jatindra Mohan Sengupta, a Bengali and married him despite opposition from her family. After her marriage, she came to Calcutta with him and started living in a joint family. The couple had two sons: Sishir and Anil.

Role in Freedom Struggle:

When Mahatma Gandhi called for the Non- Cooperation Movement in 1921, she along with her husband participated in it. Jatin was believed to be a close aide of Gandhi. Supporting her husband in the movement, she went from door to door to sell Khadi products. She was sent to jail for disobeying the orders of the British. When Jatin was arrested during the Assam-Bengal Railwaymen’s strike, she protested against the order of the district authorities and called up a meeting against the ruling government. In 1931, Nellie was imprisoned for four months for speaking unlawfully in Delhi assembly. Two years later, her husband was jailed in Ranchi and died in 1933.

Nellie was appointed as the President of Congress when many senior leaders of the party were arrested during Salt Satyagraha. She became the third woman to be elected to the post. After India got freedom, she moved to her husband’s home in East Pakistan (now, Bangladesh). On the then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s insistence, she looked after the interests of the Hindu minority in East Pakistan. For a long time, she served as one of the members of the Minority Board.

Also Read: How Begum Hazrat Mahal built her army and recaptured Lucknow from the British


In 1972, she got injured in the hip and after Indira’s intervention, she was brought to India for treatment. She was given proper medical care and her expenses were borne by the Indian government but unfortunately could not recover. She breathed her last on October 23, 1973, in Kolkata.

Also Read: Rani Avanti Bai: The queen who raised an Army of over 4,000 and fought against the British

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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