The freedom struggle of India saw contributions in body, mind, soul, and blood by many. And yet the history texts seem to glorify only a few. Some names that have been misplaced or forgotten, deserve a mention. Not only did this formidable lady actively engage in the freedom struggle of India, she was instrumental in shaping the course for a free India. Sucheta Kriplani, admits that she was not a born leader, but she merely answered the call of duty at the hour of need. Her life, ideologies, and ethics serve as an inspiration to us all today.
Furthering the cause of humanity
Growing up in British India, Sucheta Kriplani dedicated her efforts and energy to further humanitarian causes, and national freedom. She was a strong advocate of the Free India movement. While teaching history at the Benaras Hindu University, she used her position to agitate the youth to join the movement of independence in the 1930’s. In 1934, she dedicated her services to aid those affected by the Earthquake in Bihar, which is said to be one of the worst earthquakes to be felt in the region. It claimed 12,000 casualties. She also worked with the refugees, and those who suffered at the partition riots in Noakhali (then in East Bengal) in 1946.
She dedicated her life to the service of man, whether in times of need, or through her political actions. Even at the end, the Kriplanis, donated their entire wealth and resources to the Lok Kalyan Samiti, which was established to aid the economically disadvantaged groups in the national capital.
A woman with her own mind
In 1930’s the Indian society was facing issues on its national and social fronts. The question of the national identity and individual identity were both at stake. Women were rarely consulted before decisions pertaining to their lives were made. Even then, Suchita Kriplani was a rare woman and she did not hesitate to form and express her own opinions on issues, whether personal or national.
When she was invited to join the Mahila Ashram in Wardha by Jamnalal Bajaj and Vinobha Bhave, she politely declined, citing ideological differences. At the time she met with Vinobha Bhave, he was fasting to make amends for the ‘sin’ committed by two members who had fallen in love. Sucheta found the suggestion off-putting and decided against joining the Mahila Ashram.
A few years later, when she decided to marry Acharya Kriplani, the couple received a lot of criticism, given that he was 20 years her senior, including from Mahatma Gandhi himself. Sucheta however, stood resolute with her decision and choice of life partner. On insistence from Gandhi to marry another, she said that would be both ‘dishonest and immoral’.
She was definitely influenced by her husband’s thinking, and his ideologies. She makes a note of how his style of thinking impacted her own development during the early years in her biography. However, the respect she held for her husband did not stop her from pursuing political ambitions independent of her husband’s political affiliations. Acharya Kriplani split from the AICC over differences with Nehru and formed his own party, Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party in 1950. Sucheta briefly joined her husband and even won the seat for New Delhi Constituency for the party in 1952. However, she later rejoined Congress and won the same seat in 1957, this time as a congress candidate. Both husband and wife had different political loyalties and never questioned each other, exemplifying democracy of a different kind.
Political Involvement and Contributions
Sucheta’s political career is one to be envious of. In 1942 she became an active part of the Quit India Movement and even served a one year prison stint. In 1946 she became an elected member of the constituent assembly and was appointed to the subcommittee which was tasked with drafting the charter for the Constitution of India. She was one of the 15 women in a 299 member committee who were involved with the drafting of the Constitution. She works in ranks with Vijayalaxmi Pandit and Sarojini Naidu. Her participation within the Parliament was exemplary, mostly because the female representation in those days was even more skewed with only 5% of members as females. Today the Indian Parliament has approximately 12% women members.
In 1949, she also acted as the delegate from India to the UN General Assembly. In 1952, she served as Minister of State for Small Scale Industries and in 1961 she led the delegation from India at the International Labour Organisation global conference. She also held the cabinet portfolio of Labour, Community Development and Industry from 1962 onwards.
In 1963, she became the Chief Minister of United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). Indira Gandhi is lauded as the first woman Prime Minister, however, few recollect that Sucheta Ji was the first female Chief Minister of Independent India, (serving from 1963-1967, before Ms. Gandhi’s time).
A well-known incident during her administration was when state employees called for a hunger strike for hike in wages. Kriplani stood her ground, refused to be extorted by worker’s union and remained calm during the crisis. 62 days later, the leaders of the agitation accepted a compromise proposed by her administration.
She championed for female participation in politics and since her time, we have seen several women leaders take the office of Chief Minister in India, including Mamta Banerjee, Jayalalitha, to Anandiben Patel.
She paved the way for a new female identity; where previously women were seen as domesticated and concerned with household issues, she proved an asset to the freedom struggle and left her mark during the movement and in free India. Her name is now forgotten, but her voice echoes through time.
On 14th August, moments before Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the iconic speech ‘A Tryst with Destiny’, ushering in an era of independent India, she regaled the crowd with her melody. Some consider it her crowning moment, when she was invited to sing the national song, national anthem and Saare Jahan Se Accha on the momentous occasion of our independence. The cry of Vande Mataram, which she had no doubt resounded several times before, to singing the harmony of Vande Mataram was a journey one is not likely to forget. Although our school curriculums may have omitted the names of these architects who helped shape our country in critical ways, we remember, and to her we dedicate the following lines:
“Tu hi Meera, Tu hi Radha, Tere Bin Itihas hai Aadha.”