Umabai Kundapur: The fearless leader who sheltered freedom fighters from the British

Umabai Kundapur was the founder of 'Bhagini Mandal' and the leader of women's wing of Hindustani Seva Dal. She was also the head of the Karnataka branch of Kasturba Trust

She was the leader of women’s wing of Seva Dal. She was the founder of ‘Bhagini Mandal‘. She was the fearless leader who educated young girls at the ‘Tilak Kanya Shala‘. She was the iron-willed lady who sheltered the freedom fighters from the British. Mahatma Gandhi appointed her as the head of the Karnataka branch of the Kasturba Trust. Umabai Kundapur was the down-to-earth freedom campaigner who served her country fearlessly till her last breath.

Early Life
Umabai Kundapur was born as Bhavani Golikeri to Golikeri Krishna Rao and Jungabai in Mangalore in 1892. She was married to Sanjiv Rao Kundapur at a young age of 13. Her father-in-law Anandarao Kundapur was a progressive thinker and believed in uplifting the condition of women. Under his guidance, Umbai continued her education and passed her matriculation examination.


Life as a teacher
After completing her education, Umabai helped her father-in-law in educating women through Gaundevi Mahila Samaj in Mumbai. Umabai was just 25 when she lost her husband. After his death, Ananda Rao and Umabai came to Hubli, where he started the Karnataka Press. He also started a school for girls ‘Tilak Kanya Shala’, which was led by Umabai.

Umabai Kundapur

Umabai Kundapur (Photo: Kamat)

Life as a freedom fighter
In 1921, Dr. NS Hardikar started Hindustani Seva Dal to organize Youth and Hubli became the hub of its activities. Umabai became the leader of the women’s wing of the Hindustani Seva Dal.

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In 1924, she helped Dr. Hardikar recruit over 150 women to help in Belgaum session of the All India Congress. In 1932, she was arrested and kept in Yerwada jail for four months. While she was in jail, the British confiscated Karnataka Press, sealed her school and declared her NGO ‘Bhagini Mandal’ as unlawful. Undeterred by the happenings, Umabai decided to keep fighting. Her small house became a shelter for women freedom fighters. She not only housed them in her home but also gave them money for their return journey.

ALSO READ: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the feminist freedom fighter who revived art in Modern India

In 1946, Mahatma Gandhi appointed her the head of the Karnataka branch of Kasturba Trust. Umbai along with other women took to begging bowl to collect funds for uplifting the condition of the villages by training Grama Sevikas in child-welfare, health programs, and education.

After Independence, she lived in a small home called ‘Ananda Smriti’ built in the memory of her father-in-law.

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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