MRIDULA SARABHAI (1911–1974)
Mridula Sarabhai was a freedom fighter. Born into the wealthy industrialist Sarabhai family of Ahmedabad, she was one of the eight children of Ambalal Sarabhai and Sarla Devi. A a child she was familiar with Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, though she went on to criticise them later. The family called her ‘Boss’, and the keepers of the liquor shops she picketed dubbed her ‘Pathan’. She helped organize the Youth Conference in Rajkot in 1927. In 1934, she was elected from Gujarat to the All India Congress Committee. Subsequently she contested as an independent and won handsomely.
During Partition she fought at great personal risk to save girls abducted by mobs, and to prevent refugees, both Hindu and Muslim, from being hurt or killed. After Independence Nehru gave her an office at Constitution House, and from 1946 to 1953 the task of rescuing abducted women on either side of the border, and returning them to their families, was taken up. She was the only person with stature enough to cross the border without a guarantee of personal safety. Her work in these areas gave her a deep acquaintance with border politics and the people in it, including Sheikh Abdullah and Abdul Ghaffar Khan. She headed the women’s wing of the Congress and advised the Constituent Assembly on women’s rights.
In 1953 Sheikh Abdullah was arrested and imprisoned by the Indian government. Mridula immediately protested. She felt Abdullah was the only popular leader who could bring democracy to Kashmir; that India was only alienating Kashmiris by doing this and moreover displaying hypocrisy since India had criticised Pakistan earlier for imprisoning Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Forbidden by Nehru to speak in public on Kashmir, between 1953 and 1972 she printed and distributed pamphlets, convinced that when people knew the true facts the situation would change. In 1958 she was dismissed from Congress membership and in 1958 imprisoned without trial in Tihar Jail. This was highly embarrassing for Nehru, but her activities had reached such a pitch that he could no longer ignore them. Though many criticized her stand, none doubted her integrity. As a reporter, she worked for Gujarat Samachar in Ahmedabad and for the National Herald.
During the year 1946. She became one of the secretaries of the Indian arm of Amnesty International from 1968-74.
A book has been released on her Mridula Sarabhai:Rebel with a Cause by Aparna Basu.