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MALATI CHOUDHURY (1904-1997)


Malati Choudhury was a freedom fighter. She was born to a Brahmo couple, Kumud Nath Sen and Snehalata Sen. They were from Kamarakhanda in Bikrampur, Dhaka, but had settled in Simultala, Bihar. Her father, a barrister, died when she was only two and a half years old, and she was brought up by her mother, a writer and translator. Her mother’s father Beharilal Gupta had been an ICS officer, and her brothers and cousins later became important civil servants too. In 1921, at the age of 16, she was admitted to Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan. This opened up her horizons, and exposed her to teachers and students of international repute.

There she met Nabakrushna Choudhury, brother of Gopabandhu Choudhury, who came from Sabarmati Ashram to study at Shantiniketan. They were married in 1927, and settled in a small village in Orissa where they worked to help sugarcane farmers improve their lot. However, their involvement with the Congress grew until they began to work full time in 1933. That year they organized the Utkal Congress Samajvadi Karmi Sangh, which later became the Orissa branch of the All India Congress Socialist Party. They were arrested and imprisoned. In 1934, Malati joined Gandhiji in his famous padayatra in Orissa. In 1946 Malati Choudhury set up the Bajiraut Chhatravas (students’ hostel) for the children of freedom fighters and tribals at Angul in Orissa and the Utkal Navajeevan Mandal in 1948 at Angul in Orissa. She also founded the Post Basic School at Champatimunda. She accompanied Acharya Vinoba Bhave during his journeys through Orissa for the Bhoodan Movement, and went with Gandhiji during his Noakhali visit. She led the Krisaka Andolan to save poor farmers from abuse by landowners and moneylenders. In 1946 she was selected as a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, and became president of the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee.

After independence she continued to fight for the cause of backward classes. When her husband became the Chief Minister of Orissa in 1951 she launched various rural reconstruction schemes. She was imprisoned during the Emergency. She received the National Award for Child Welfare (1987, the Utkal Seva Sammaan (1994), the Tagore Literacy Award (1995), the Deshikottama (D.Litt. Honoris Causa) from Visva Bharati. She refused the Jamnalal Bajaj Award from the hands of Rajiv Gandhi, because she thought he did nothing to promote Gandhian values.
 
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