Parbati Giri: Dropped school to join freedom struggle, hailed as Mother Teresa of Odisha

Parbati Giri joined the Quit India Movement at a young age of 16. After independence, she worked for the upliftment of orphans and women

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik once hailed Parbati Giri as Mother Teresa of the state, who was one of the prominent freedom fighters and social activist. In fact, the Odisha government dedicated an irrigation scheme in her honour.


Early life

Parbati Giri was born on January 19, 1926 in Samlaipadar village of Odisha’s undivided Sambalpur district. As a teenager, she would often witness political discussions which involved her uncle Ramchandra Giri, who was a freedom fighter. The debates motivated her to take a keen interest in national issues. She pursued her education till third grade and dropped out to campaign for the Indian National Congress. She hardly stayed at home and chose to travel across Odisha to campaign for the party.

In her early years, Parbati was attracted to Ashrams wherein she learnt handicrafts. She travelled to nearby villages like Bargarh, Ghens, Panimora, Barpali, Sarandapali and Padampur and interacted with the people there and trained them to spin khadi.

During the Quit India Movement, Parbati dedicated herself to the freedom struggle. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, she would often take part in the protests against the British Raj. Like other freedom fighters, she was arrested and later released because she was a minor. Once, Parbati and boys of her age group went to the courtroom in Bargarh and started raising anti-government slogans. Those who did not vacate the court were presented with bangles, as a symbol of their cowardliness.

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In another incident, Parbati along with three boys barged into the Magistrate’s room in his absence. She occupied the magistrate’s chair, while one of the boys acted as a peon and other a lawyer. Parbati ordered her aides to bound the magistrate in ropes and present him before her. The police arrested her immediately and the fearless freedom fighter was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.

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Humanitarian work

After India attained freedom in 1947, Parbati took to social work for the betterment of poor. During the famine that hit Odisha, she ran from village to village and distributed relief to people who were struggling for food. Parbati set up an orphanage and a Mahila Niketan for sheltering orphans and children. Besides this, she also worked towards improving the conditions of jails and eradicating leprosy. For her kindness towards poor, she was hailed as Mother Teresa of Western Odisha. When offered an Assembly poll ticket and a Rajya Sabha seat, she humbly denied the offers and continued to work towards the upliftment of the poor. She breathed her last on August 17, 1995 after a prolonged illness.

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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