The league of extraordinary women

A photo-tribute to women freedom fighters from Tamil Nadu revealed remarkable tales of valour

January 10, 2011 05:13 pm | Updated 05:13 pm IST

Photo: Special Arrangement

Photo: Special Arrangement

S.N. Sundarambal of Tirupur was pregnant when she was arrested for taking part in Individual Satyagraha in the early 1940s. Ammapon alias Leelavathi was 11 years old when she took part in Neil statue Satyagraha in 1927. She was later arrested and kept in a children's home. Saraswathi Pandurangan lost her two-year-old daughter and son of 19 months while she was in prison for taking part in the Quit India Movement, Civil Disobedience movement, Salt Satyagraha and Individual Satyagraha. The list of ordinary women who pitched in their support for the freedom struggle is long, but regrettably, is little known.

These women freedom fighters from Tamilnadu took centre stage in the photo exhibition ogranised by the Mahatma Gandhi Study Centre of Kumaraguru College of technology and Mahatma Gandhi museum of the Mahalingam Mariammal Manivizha charitable trust as part of Coimbatore Vizha.

That Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga battled bravely against the British forces after the death of her husband and that Rani Lakshmi Bai took on many a battle with her son strapped to her back is well-known. But how many of us know that Pappammal from Karur took active part in Individual Satyagraha? C. S. Ramakrishnan from Mahatma Gandhi Study Centre said, "According to the book ‘Kongu naattil Indhiya sudhandhira porattam', the Coimbatore region alone had about 21 women taking part in the freedom struggle." The exhibition had photographs along with short descriptions on the lives of women such as Akilandammal, Engammal, S. Kamalam and Alamelu Mangai who were imprisoned for opposing the British rule.

For a lot of these women, stepping out of their homes to fight for a cause required monumental effort and grit. Kaliammal, for example was from an oppressed section of the society. Inspired by Kasturba Gandhi, she came forward to fight for the cause of her people.

Madurai-born Sornathammal, is yet another unsung heroine. Along with Lakshmi Bai Ammal, she organised a women's march in 1943, raising the quit India slogan. The women were arrested by the police, beaten and humiliated. It was only after midnight that they were cast off near Alagarkoil. Undaunted, they continued their fight for freedom. Photographs of D.K. Pattammal, M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.R. Kamalaveni, who used music to instigate nationalistic fervour, were displayed. In fact, Kamalaveni was jailed with a one-year-old infant.

Other women freedom fighters from the South included Dr. Lakshmi Swaminathan who was the commandant of Rani Lakshmibai's regiment, S. Manjubashini who was in charge of prayer and food when Gandhiji visited Chennai in 1946, Vijayalakshmi who provided shelter for freedom fighters, Kannavaram Ammaiyar who worked for the welfare of Harijan children in Sivaganga and Sakuntala who entered the freedom struggle as a college student.

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