Indian Women Activist Rama Devi Chowdhury Biography
Rama Devi was a women activist who made it her concern to enlighten the women of Orissa. Her motto in life was to help others in distress and misery. Rama Devi infused in the Harijans the light of patriotism. Everyone came to her for help and consolation.
Rama Devi revived the confidence and self – respect in women and advised them to develop their individuality and dignity. Rama Devi enlightened them to raise their voice against oppression, exploitation and injustice. Rama Devi proved that, with self – confidence and determination, woman power could become an indomitable force in nation – building.
Rama Devi was a living legend who had sown the seeds of revolution in the minds of the women of Orissa and enlightened them. Utkal University honored her with a doctorate for her hard work. At Bhubaneswar a Women’s college was established in her name. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister named one ship on the Eastern Coast after her.
Rama Devi was born on 1899, at the Satyabhamapur Village near Cuttack town. Rama Devi was the daughter of Gopal Ballav Das and Basanta Kumari Devi. Rama Devi belonged to a rich, sophisticated, Kayastha Family. Her loving parents named her as Rama. Her father served as Deputy Collector under the British Government. Rama Devi did not have any formal school education. Rama Devi was taught privately at home. Rama Devi was influenced by the teachings of her father’s elder brother, Govind Ballav Das who was a Bar – at – Law. His strong patriotism, feelings for the oppressed and positive action to establish cottage industries in Orissa as a means of enlightening the poor and socially oppressed people inspired Rama Devi.
At the age of 15, Rama Devi was married to Gopa – bandhu Chowdhury, son of Gokulananda Chowdhury, a famous lawyer of Cuttack. Rama Devi gave birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. The youngest son died at the age of two and a half years.
Rama Devi herself had to manage the financial requirements of the family and the education of her children as her husband resigned from Government service and joined the national movement for independence. After the death of her younger son Rama Devi lost interest in worldly affairs and actively joined the Independence movement.
At this phase of her life, Rama Devi met Mahatma Gandhi when he was addressing a gathering of women at Cuttack. Rama Devi presented Gandhiji a bundle of her hand – spun thread.
When Gandhiji started his famous Salt Satyagraha Rama Devi took an active part in this movement, mobilizing women. Further Rama Devi persuaded the Queen of Kujang to join the Satyagraha. Hearing the news that the Queen was going to join the movement with Rama Devi, thousands of women joined them in the Independence Movement.
Rama Devi became the Joint Secretary of the Orissa Branch of the Harijan Sevak Sangha. Rama Devi started various social services in the Harijan basties of Cuttack. These included slum cleaning, caring for the sick and educating the Harijan Women.
Gandhiji started his Famous Harijan Padayatra from Madhya Pradesh through Sambalpur. In spite of Government Restrictions, thousands of men and women thronged to hear Gandhiji. As the Secretary of the Orissa branch of the Sangha, Rama Devi had to shoulder all responsibilities of this program.
When Gandhiji was at Patna, Rama Devi’s mother and her uncle expired in quick succession. Knowing that Rama Devi was overwhelmed with grief, Gandhiji had sent for her to stay with him. During this period Rama Devi got the chance to come closer to Gandhiji and Rama Devi became fully devoted to him.
Rama Devi donated her gold ornaments ( about one – and – half kilograms ) to the Harijan Fund of Gandhiji. When Gandhiji advised her to keep five to seven women workers, in the category of daughter, sister and mother, as her companions Rama Devi readily obeyed him.
Women from all sects came to her to study on Gandhian principles. Rama Devi dedicated this period of her life for the women of Orissa and Rama Devi became their friend, philosopher and guide.
Rama Devi was arrested and jailed for taking part in the Quit India movement. Rama Devi was the first woman representative on the Kasturba Memorial Trust. Gandhiji’s assassination was a personal loss for Rama Devi and it took time for her to overcome from grief.
After Gandhiji, Vinoba Bhave took up village reconstruction. He formed the Sarvodaya Samaj, a Sangh formed to establish a society based on truth and non – violence, free from exploitation and oppression.
Rama Devi assumed the leadership for spreading Vinobaji’s message of Bhoodan and Rama Devi undertook padayatra throughout Orissa. When Vinobaji came to Orissa he saw that along with Bhoodan, Gramadan work had also been started by Rama Devi and her husband. He was moved by her initiative and sacrifice. Rama Devi started Shanti Sena Sangathana to bring about peace and communal harmony among the people.
When Vinobaji undertook his second padayatra in Orissa, Rama Devi was his constant companion. When communal riots broke out in Orissa, Rama Devi immediately went with her Shanti Sena women volunteers and worked there till peace was established. Rama Devi also established an orphanage at Satyabhamapur called Kasturba Memorial Trust Centre.
The years that followed were a sad period of sadness for her. Rama Devi lost many of her old co – workers like Acharya Harihar Dash, Gunanidhi Mohanty, Iswarlal Vyas, Pandit Kru – pasindhu Hota and Mangala Sen among others. Thousands of refugees poured into West Bengal due to political disturbances in East Pakistan.
The sudden arrival of so many people made it a difficult task for the Government to make proper arrangements in the refugee rehabilitation camps. Epidemics like cholera and malaria created devastation in these camps. Rama Devi with her volunteers went to these camps and rendered invaluable service. Rama Devi established a cancer detection centre at Cuttack.
Till the last moment of her life, Rama Devi was associated with the Kasturba Trust. Rama Devi was a devoted wife who completed all the work left incomplete by her husband. Rama Devi considered all people equal. Rama Devi did not differentiate anyone on the basis of caste, creed, religion, sect or sex.
Rama Devi was like a loving mother to anyone who came to her. Rama Devi was not affected by any praise or criticism. Rama Devi passed away on 22 July, 1985.