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PHULRENU GUHA (1911-2006)


Phulrenu Guha was a freedom fighter and revolutionary. She was born on 13 August 1911 in Calcutta and was educated at Calcutta University, London University and the Sorbonne in Paris. She first joined the Jugantar Party at the age of fifteen in 1926. Jugantar belonged to the radical end of the spectrum of political groups working towards Independence. There she met her future husband Biresh Chandra Guha, who had joined the Jugantar Party even younger, and who had completed his M.Sc. in organic chemistry in 1925 and begun working under Prafulla Chandra Ray. In about 1928, Biresh Chandra left for England while Phulrenu joined the Sorbonne in Paris. Neither were to return to India till about 1932. Biresh Chandra was working with Sir Jack Drummond and Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins in London and Cambridge and helping to discover vitamins.

On their return to India, the Guhas were caught up in the Non-Cooperation Movement, and Biresh Chandra was jailed, leaving Phulrenu, undaunted, to fight alone. Phulrenu was part of the effort to relieve the distressed during the Bengal Famine in 1941-43 and she also strove to restore communal harmony at Noakhali. From 1943 to 1944 she was Secretary of the Women’s Section of the Azad Hind Relief Committee. Like Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (q.v.) she understood that the first priority after Partition had to be the rehabilitation and succour of the displaced, especially women and children. Phulrenu and Biresh Chandra Guha were married on 17 July 1945, many years after they had first met. After Independence Phulrenu threw herself into nation-building. She served various State and Central Government organisations in different capacities. She was Chairperson of the Task Force on Child Welfare Committee of Planning Commission, Government of India, from 1971 to 1972 and of the Committee on Status of Women in India from 1972 to 1975. She was also president of the Indian Council of Child Welfare from 1970 to 1973. In 1977 she was awarded the Padma Bhushan. She was a Member of the Lok Sabha from 1964 to 1970. She served as Minister of State for Social Welfare from March, 1967 to February, 1969 and Law from February, 1969 to June, 1970. She was a formidable debater and a person of very sharp intelligence and good sense. She died at the age of 95, in an old age home she had founded herself, and also publicly donated much of her wealth and possessions to Calcutta University to set up the B.C. Guha Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
 
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