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NANIBALA DEVI (1888–1967)


Nanibala Devi was a freedom fighter. She came from a lower middle class family; her father was Surya Kanta Banerjee of Howrah. She was married at eleven and widowed at fifteen. After her widowhood she tried to pursue her education, but circumstances were not favourable so she left home and took refuge in a Christian mission in Ariadaha. She acquired some knowledge of English, though the rules of the mission did not allow her to stay long. Having taken refuge with Amarendranath Chattopadhyay, a distant relative and a leader of the revolutionary Jugantar party, she came in contact with freedom fighters and found her avocation. She began to keep house for those who were plotting to help the Germans against the English. She would pose as the wife of a freedom fighter to smuggle letters to him in jail, or rent accommodation for him without attracting the attention of the police.

Once her cover was blown she had to go underground, fleeing from place to place in rural Bengal. Her flight took her to Peshawar, where she caught cholera, and there the police found her. She was subjected to inhuman tortures at their hands, which included the torture of putting chilli powder into the orifices of the body. Released under the General Amnesty of 1919, she continued to be hounded by the police. Her family rejected her, and she began living in Kolkata in great poverty. She contracted tuberculosis but was cured by a wandering holy man; this inspired her to renounce the world and don saffron. Finally, after Independence, she was granted a government pension.
 
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