“This is Congress Radio calling on 42.34 meters from somewhere in India“, these lines were uttered by Dr. Usha Mehta in 1942 when The Quit India Movement was just gaining momentum. Dr. Usha Mehta was a Gandhian and freedom fighter who is also known for her efforts in organising the Congress Radio, a clandestine radio station to spread nationalistic fervor at a time when the country was vehemently fighting the British.
Born on 25th March 1920, Usha Mehta hailed from the village of Saras, situated near Surat in the state of Gujrat. From a young age, she found herself to be an active participant in the fight against the British rule. In 1928, at the age of eight, she took part in her first protest against the Simon Commission.
In an interview she recalls, that during the Salt Satyagraha she would bring sea water to her home and produce salt out of that. Dr. Usha’s father was vehemently critical of her participation in such movements as he was a judge under the British Raj. However, after his retirement in 1930, she was allowed to do as she pleased.
Dr. Usha’s subsequent shift to Bombay, gave her the opportunity to fully participate in the freedom struggle. As a young child, she would protest in front of liquor shops, secretly distribute various publications and be a messenger for those who were imprisoned in jail. In 1939, Usha Mehta completed her graduation in philosophy from Wilson College, Bombay and began to prepare to study for law. However, with the announcement of The Quit India Movement, she decided to halt her studies and join the freedom struggle.
Organising the secret radio service: Fueling the Quit India Movement
In 1942, in an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session, Dr. Usha Mehta was privy to the powerful speeches given by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. This gave her the impetus to organise a secret radio station and help deliver news to the remotest corners of the world.
She ardently believed that the radio could be used as tool to help deliver facts and inform the people of the world about the events taking place in her country. This, she believed, would also give us the opportunity to put forth our side of the story, as against that of the coloniser’s.
On 14th August 1942, Dr. Usha, along with her associates launched the first announcement of “Congress Radio”. In this show, she would deliver the news bulletin in both English and Hindi. They would commence the show with the song “Hindustan Hamara” and close it with “Vande Matarm”. Despite the strict vigil maintained by the British authorities, her station fearlessly reported the atrocities committed by them.
To remain underground, they needed to frequently change their positions as to remain anonymous and hidden from the British radar. In the duration of the Quit India Movement, they changed around 7-8 stations. On 12th November 1942, as they were hosting a show from Girgaon, the police arrested Usha Mehta along with her associates. She was tried in a special court for five weeks and sentenced for four years of rigorous imprisonment. She was released in 1946, the first political prisoner to be released in Bombay.
During the imprisonment, Dr. Usha was kept in solitary confinement and enticed by the government with offers to study abroad in exchange for information about her fellow freedom fighters. However, she remained adamant and did not disclose any information. When she was released Dr. Usha said, ”I came back from the jail happy and proud because I had the satisfaction of carrying Bapu’s message, ‘Do or Die’ and having contributed my humble might to the cause of freedom.”
The Gandhian life
“They ordered us to stop playing the Vande Matram,we did not oblige them“, Dr Usha said. A true follower of the Gandhian ideology, she believed in standing up for herself and her countrymen in a non-violent manner. Throughout her life, she wore khadi clothes and used the bus as a means for transport.
She attained a PhD in Gandhian thought from the University of Bombay and went back to Wilson College to teach political science. Usha Mehta vocalised her thoughts regarding post independence India in a book called “Freedom Fighters Remember”, complied by Naveen Joshi.
In this book, she talks about the division of power between the rich and the poor that has caused divisions in society. She says, “This was not the freedom for which we sacrificed our all. Still, it is our duty to have faith in our nation.” In 1998, she was awarded the Padma Vibhushan from the government of India.
On 11th August 2000, Dr. Usha Mehta passed away peacefully at age of 80. Her zeal and enthusiasm to fight for her country is a true inspiration.