History’s heroes Children

She blazed a trail

A HERO OF HER TIME: (From left) Pandit Nehru, Dr. A.C.Mukherjee Governor of West Bengal, Mrs. Durgabai Deshmukh, B.C. Ray Chief Minister of West Bengal and C.D. Deshmukh, Finance Minister.

A HERO OF HER TIME: (From left) Pandit Nehru, Dr. A.C.Mukherjee Governor of West Bengal, Mrs. Durgabai Deshmukh, B.C. Ray Chief Minister of West Bengal and C.D. Deshmukh, Finance Minister.   | Photo Credit: S_RAMACHANDRAN

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Durgabai Deshmukh was a trendsetter. From throwing off the chains of child marriage to becoming a pioneer in social service she created a mark.

A young volunteer at the Khadi exhibition refused to allow Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru entry as he did not have a ticket. For all her troubles, she got an earful from the exhibition authorities for denying the VIP entry. But, Panditji was all praise for her courage and adherence to rule.

A go-getter

Much later, she contested the Parliament election and lost. But Panditji would not let her leave Delhi. Instead, he sent her to China on a mission, and when she returned she was the first in the country to start the Family Court, having seen its usefulness in China. She is Durgabai Deshmukh, a 20th century Indian woman heroine.

Durga, fondly referred to as the Mother of Social Service, was born in Rajahmundry in 1909 and was a victim of child marriage. She soon broke free from it and became a follower of Gandhiji and boycotted English medium schools. Barely 12, and she was participating in the Freedom struggle and got jailed at least twice for it. She completed her B.A. Honours from Madras University and received a scholarship to study in the London School of Economics. Sadly enough, the War put paid to her plans to study in the UK. Not one to be deterred by setbacks, Durgabai chose to pursue a degree in Law.

C. D. Deshmukh, Governor of Reserve Bank of India, proposed to her and the two married and led a happy life together. After she became an MP, she also got to be on the board of the Planning Commission as member in charge of social welfare.

In 1936, Durgabai established the Andhra Mahila Sabha in Madras. If you live in Chennai now you are very likely to have passed by the premises in Adyar as the Sabha’s hospital which continues to serve society with great fervour.

The woman pioneer wanted to coach young Telugu girls to appear for the Matric examination of the Banaras Hindu University. Within a decade the Sabha became a great institution of education and social welfare and when the state of Andhra Pradesh was formed, a similar institution was started in Hyderabad.

Acclaim and accolades came after her — the UNESCO award for outstanding work in literacy. Nehru Literacy Award and the Padma Vibhushan. She penned the book The Stone that Speaketh. Her autobiography titled Chintaman and I was published a year after she died in 1981 at the age of 72.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 11:23:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/she-blazed-a-trail/article17892868.ece

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