International Women's Day: 7 trailblazing women in Maharashtra who shaped India's history

International Women's Day: 7 trailblazing women in Maharashtra who shaped India's history

Women who made a significant mark in history.

From pioneering social reformers to valiant freedom fighters, Maharashtra boasts a wealth of lesser-known women, whose stories inspire and ignite change. So, on this International Women's Day, we bring to you a list of Maharashtra's 7 trailblazing women, who have changed the course of India's history. Read on to know their extraordinary tales, honour their legacy and acknowledge their invaluable role, in shaping society today.

1. Baiza Bai (1784 -1863)

Baiza Bai was born in Kagal in Maharashtra's Kolhapur and at 14 of years of age, she was married off to Daulat Rao Scindia, the ruler of Gwalior in 'Poona'. Known for her equestrian skills and combat training, she joined her husband in the Maratha wars against the British. Notably, she fought at the Battle of Assaye against Arthur Wellesley.

Baiza Bai also supported Peshwa Baji Rao II, during the British campaign against the Pindaris, even leaving her husband briefly due to his submission to British demands. She is also known for vehemently opposing the Scindia surrender of Ajmer to the British.

2. Savitribai Jyotirao Phule (3 January 1831 - 10 March 1897)

Savitribai had a pivotal role in advancing women's rights in Maharashtra and India, laying the groundwork for the feminist movement. She, along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule established one of India's earliest modern girls' schools in Pune in 1848, actively opposing caste and gender biases. Their educational trusts furthered inclusive education by founding numerous schools.

Additionally, Savitribai provided crucial maternal care for pregnant rape victims, through the Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha. She stood alongside notable figures like B. R. Ambedkar, championing social reform and fighting against caste and gender discrimination during the nineteenth century.

3. Ushabai Dange (1898 - unknown)

Born in the Kolaba district of 'Bombay', Shrimati Ushabai Dange (Tai) was married to CPI leader S A Dange and was a key figure in the Bombay textile workers' movement. Arrested for her involvement in workers' struggles, she fought for Women's Rights in the Trade Union Movement.

Dange's autobiography, 'Pan Aiktye kon' (Who is listening?), reveals her journey from a child widow to a labour leader. Further, Ushabai's fearless advocacy for women's participation, demonstrated in a 1931 meeting at Jinnah Hall, emphasised the movement's future. The meeting also urged men to involve women in their work setup and treat them equally.

4. Godavari Parulekar (August 1907 - October 1996)

Godavari Parulekar was Maharashtra's pioneer female law graduate. She actively participated in the student movement against British rule and joined individual satyagraha, resulting in her arrest in 1932. Further, influenced by Marxism, Parulekar led armed struggles for the liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli from Portuguese rule and the Warli Adivasi Revolt in 1945. She was also engaged in social work with the Servants of India Society in Mumbai and became its first female life member.

5. Sumati Morarjee (13 March 1909 – 27 June 1998)

Sumati Morarjee is hailed as the first lady of Indian shipping sector, who revolutionised the industry by infusing business values with Indian culture. Born into affluence, she married into the prestigious Morarjee family at a young age, becoming a pivotal figure in their shipping business.

Renowned for her intellect and multilingual skills, she steered the company to success, expanding its fleet and influence. Sumati's contributions extended beyond business, aiding India's trade relations and even assisting in the Partition's aftermath. Recognised with the Padma Vibhushan, she left a lasting legacy in Indian shipping and education.

6. Dagdabai Devrao Shelke (1915 - 2013) 

Born in Kolte Takli village in Marathwada, Dagdabai Devrao Shelke, married Devrao Shelke of Dhopateshwar village, at 13 years of age. Driven by a desire to combat the oppressive Nizam rule, she plunged into the freedom struggle, immediately after her marriage. Trained in weaponry by Sampat Bhil and Manohar Tandale, she actively participated in sabotage missions like uprooting railway tracks and burning government offices.

Despite facing opposition, she prioritised the freedom struggle over her familial duties. She even arranged her husband's remarriage, to focus entirely on the cause. Shelke's courageous actions, including bombarding Nizam camps, led to her imprisonment, earning her legendary status. She later served in various governmental roles and passed away in 2013, honoured with state cremation at Dhopateshwar.

7. Kaveribai Patil (unknown - 8 September 2014)

Kaveribai Patil, residing near Kalwa in Thana, bravely undertook a satyagraha for Freedom of Speech and was arrested on 17 October 1941. While her birth and parentage details remain unknown, her significant role in the independence movement cannot be overlooked.

Alongside men, Kaveribai and women like her, played a crucial part in shaping India's destiny. She became a symbol of courage and determination, paving the way for women's participation in satyagraha, particularly in 'Bombay'. Her fearless plea for the Right to Speech, marked a turning point in women's activism during the independence struggle, earning her a place among the pioneering women freedom fighters of India.

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