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SARALA DEVI CHAUDHURANI (1872-1945)


Sarala Devi an educationist and feminist, was daughter of Rabindranath Tagore’s older sister, Swarna Kumari Devi (qv) and Janakinath Ghoshal. Growing up in the Tagore household, she had the benefit of the cultural and political milieu of that environment. She was taught initially at home, and then went to Bethune school and college, where she met the poet Kamini Ray (q.v.) and Lady Abala Bose (q.v.). A talented singer and musician, she was involved with the Congress from her college days, and published a book of patriotic lyrics titled Shotogan (A Hundred Songs). In 1905 she married Rambhuj Chaudhuri, a Punjabi Brahmin of Lahore. He edited the nationalistic Urdu paper Hindustan, and was thus often under the scrutiny of the Raj. They had one son, Dipak.

Sarala Devi worked for women’s upliftment in the area around Lahore and proposed a scheme for the education of women in purdah. She also believed in the necessity of physical culture, and therefore instituted the Birastami Utsav, a sports and athletics festival. In 1904 she opened a swadeshi shop called Lakkhir Bhandar. For her efforts in promoting swadeshi trade, the Indian National Congress gave her a gold medal. In 1910 she convened the first meeting of the Bharat Stree Mahamandal, the first major Indian women’s organisation set up by a woman, and she did this because she felt that the men working for women’s emancipation lived ‘under the shade of Manu’. The Mahamandal identified purdah as the biggest stumbling block to women, and accordingly resolved to train teachers to go into the zenana and teach basic skills. In 1930 she opened a school, the Bharat Stree Shiksha Sadan, in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Her later years were taken up with spiritual search and meditation.

‘Sarala Debi Chaudhurani’s Jibaner Jhara Pata many fallen leaves remain a chiaroscuro of a life well experienced — very rare for most women of her times.’ She contributed in the family journal, Bharati.
 
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