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 Smt. Rameshwari Nehru Fifteenth President of AIWC (1941-42

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by Smt. Shevata Rai Talwar, Assistant Secretary, AIWC.


Smt. Rameshwari Nehru was a patriot, a philanthropist, and a Gandhian, with immense personal magnetism and a lot of tolerance and tact in dealing with persons of different shades of opinion. She was born on 10th Dec 1886 to Raja Narendra Nath of Lahore. Though from an affluent background she had no formal education and studied with the governess who came to teach her brother. However, she blossomed into a versatile personality and eloquent speaker with strong Gandhian principles. She fought tirelessly for the rights of women, social dignity, and the economic and political rights of the so-called untouchables- Harijans. She was married to Brij Lal Nehru, nephew of Motilal Nehru and cousin of Jawaharlal Nehru. She had two sons, Braj Kumar Nehru and Balwant Kumar Nehru.

After her marriage she came to Allahabad and Anand Bhawan where she was allowed full freedom and discarded the purdah. She started a Mahila Samiti at a tender age, and a Hindi magazine called Stri Darpan in 1909 which she edited for 16 years. These were to awaken the Indian Women to the social needs of the hour. She was the founder and President of the Delhi Women’s League in 1926 and worked on the problems of child marriage and caste prejudice. She inspired many young women to take up social work, of whom Aruna Asaf Ali was one. Aruna was rather lonely and lost in Delhi where Asaf Ali brought her after marriage. Rameshwari ji befriended her and made her take interest in social reforms and politics. It came to her naturally to build up people’s self confidence. She was appointed to the Age of Consent Committee in 1928 to examine witnesses to ascertain the condition of married life and maternity, and the laws relating to the age of consent, child marriage and other such evils brought to the forefront by her. The report published by her was a plea on behalf of the victims of blind custom and usage. In 1930 she went to London and was a part of many committees there. As president of the Women’s Committee of the India League and Women’s Indian Association she propagated the cause of Indian women, the Indian National Congress and the freedom of the country. The League of Nations invited her to Geneva in 1931. She visited Russia and then Australia in 1937. In 1930s Gandhiji fasted and courted arrest in Yeravada jail against the British communal award which gave separate electorates to Muslims and the untouchables. He gave the untouchables the name of “Harijans”, children of God and worked towards giving them equality in education, social and economic upliftment. Because of his protests the British government decided to withdraw this award and he now formed the Harijan Sewak Sangh. Rameshwari went to Poona and offered her services to Gandhiji. She was made in charge of


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this work in Punjab. Later she travelled all over India, to Cochin, Travancore and British Malabar, examining the condition of 70 million socially untouchables, propagating the eradication of untouchability and the need to throw temples open to the Harijans. She became the Sangh’s President, living her last year at the Kingsway Camp Harijan Colony in Delhi where she mothered and helped educate Harijan students. Thus from 1934 onwards she dedicated herself to the service of the Harijans and according to Margaret E Cousins she was Gandhi’s “right hand woman” in the Harijan Sevak Sangh. In 1942 she was elected the President of the All India Women’s Conference and took on her responsibility whole-heartedly. She worked for equality and free education for women and the rights of women in different aspects of their lives. The world was full of gloom and under the threat of bombing during this time. Evil customs, unjust laws, early marriage, widow remarriage, abolishing of Dowry, Sati, Devadasi system and forced child prostitution were pressing issues. AIWC gave a definite shape and colour to the Women’s Movement, drawing them from varied backgrounds and different locations from across the country, linking them and awakening them to their rights. The participation of women in public work was rare. AIWC and other social and religious reforms agencies were constantly building the self esteem and confidence of women.

She did a lot of work for the affected victims of the Bengal famine and founded the Children’s Aid Society in Lahore, surveying juvenile institutions in Punjab with recommendations for the care and maintenance of orphan children. She urged upon the Punjab government through press and public meetings for the urgent need of the protection of neglected and delinquent children. Housing for the poor and raising a voice against exploitation from the landlords was advocated by her as was Khadi and Charkha (the spinning wheel). In 1945 she was elected unopposed to the Punjab legislative assembly from Lahore Division women’s constituency. Mahatma Gandhi nominated her the agent for Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust for Punjab and Kashmir where she organized village women workers training camps and centers. She also pressed for the rights of the detainees and other prisoners. During the Quit India movement she courted arrest intentionally to bring home to the Indian women the need for freedom. She also made a special effort to bring out Kashmiri Pandits and Muslim women in purdah from the restraints of the four walls of their homes. A group of women from the zenana led a demonstration on horseback.

After Partition she helped the refugees in relief and rehabilitation work. Lajpat Nagar in Delhi housed many such women who had lost their men folk and had to now fend for themselves. They were trained in sewing and orders were taken to sew uniforms for the police and embroidery of badges for the army to make them skilled and self-reliant. These women could now earn a salary of Rs 150- a very handsome sum at that time. After Independence she was offered many ministerial offices which she declined and humbly continued her grassroots work for the oppressed and downtrodden. As she was associated with the All India Peace Council, and Afro-Asian Solidarity movement she led the delegation for disarmament to Tokyo in 1957, and to Stockholm in 1958. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1955 in recognition of her services to the


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country and The Lenin International Peace Prize in 1961. Her writings were compiled in a book called “Gandhi Is My Star “which is a referral work on the women’s movement internationally. She spent the last year of her life with the Dalit communities and breathed her last on 8th Nov 1966.

I quote from her Presidential Address of AIWC in the year 1942 “We have no bitterness in our movement, none is likely to come in, all that we want is to establish equality and fair play between the relation of man and woman as well as man and man .That is the only foundation on which a stable structure of civilized society can be built .The extension of non violence from the individual to the group, and its application to National and international matters is a new experiment with a technique evolved by Gandhij in the laboratory of his life in which all through he has experimented with truth. The expansion of the scope of the conference (i.e. AIWC) is from merely women’s problems to wider questions of human relationships - a living organization needs growth and no narrow limits for its self-expression are possible”.

This holds so much truth today in a world battling unrest, greed, materialism, disease and degradation of its environment and natural resources and our fight against them.


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