Astounding Aruna Asaf Ali
India's highest Civilian awards for contribution to the country is the prestigious Bharat Ratna Award. It is a sad tale that not many of us are even aware completely about it's recipients and their life stories.
Instead of being proud of the Gems of the country we live in ignorance of their existence or their history. The tale is the same when it comes to the untold glory of our woman freedom fighters too.
Woven together both as the woman freedom fighter and also the revered recipient of Bharat Ratna is the tale of the Grand old lady of Indian Independence movement, Aruna Asaf Ali.
Aruna Asaf Ali was born in a Bengali Brahma Samaj family at Kalka in Haryana, 1909, into an orthodox Hindu Bengali family of the Gangulees. In times when, women were not really given either education or the liberty to work, Aruna was a graduate who even worked and was an independent woman with an independent mind.
She is also the third woman after Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa to be conferred with the Bharat Ratna
In Allahabad she met her future husband, M. Asaf Ali, a prominent Congressman, and they were married amidst parental opposition, both on the grounds of religion and age. Aruna had a maturity that went beyond her nubile 19-year age. She had chosen a man 23 years her senior for marriage. She went against her family and the entire society and all the communal beliefs to stand up for what she believed.
Her marriage bought her face to face with the freedom struggle and social service, which she pursued as a part of Gandhi's Satyagraha movement she was sent to prison on charge of sedition. When the Congress leaders were arrested on the day after this resolution was passed, Aruna presided over the flag-hoisting ceremony at Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay, where the enormous Assembly was tear gassed, lathi-charged and fired upon. She became a full-time activist in the Quit India movement, eventually going underground to evade arrest. Her property was seized by the Government and sold. She became the symbol of the spirit of youth in this country guiding and leading the National Movement from underground.
Aruna Asaf Ali came to be known as the 'Grand old Lady of the Independence Movement' and the Heroine of the 1942 Movement.' '. She was a fiery leader who plunged headlong into politics at a time when the freedom struggle was raging and the youth were laying down their lives for the country's Independence.
Aruna Asaf Ali's first major political involvement was during the salt Satyagraha, when she addressed public meetings and led processions. She was arrested more than once and put in the jail. Once when she was arrested, and put in the Delhi jail, she went on a hunger strike in protest against the callous treatment of political prisoners. The prisoners' demands were conceded, but Aruna was transferred to Ambala jail, where she was kept in solitary confinement.
She was a fiery leader who plunged headlong into politics at a time when the freedom struggle was raging...
She became editor of Inquilab, the monthly magazine of the congress, along with Ram Manohar Lohia and fought the British through the paper. The Government meanwhile announced a Rs. 5000 reward for her capture. Aruna surrendered herself only when the warrants against her were cancelled on 26th January 1946.
After she was married, she also worked in the local women's league, which was affiliated to the All India Women's Conference. In 1954 she helped to establish the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), the women's wing of the Communist Party of India. The NFIW was meant to be a radical alternative to existing women's organizations, and one that would reach beyond a middle class membership. In 1992 she was awarded the Nehru Award for International understanding.
After Independence she turned to social work, and served as the first mayor of Delhi. Aruna belonged to the heroic age of Freedom Movement. With this background, after Independence she could not adjust to the political realities and chose to live in retirement till her death.
The country honoured her with its highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously. She had died on July 29, 1996 at the ripe age of 87 marking the end to a dedicated life. She is also the third woman after Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa to be conferred with the Bharat Ratna.