From childhood, we have learned about how these lines, ‘सरफरोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारेदि ल मेंहै, देखना हैजोर कि तना बाजुए काति ल मेंहै’ motivated hundreds of people for Kranti. The story of Ram Prasad Bismil is something I have always heard from my parents. But I always wanted to know if there were only men and no women who fought for national liberation and in movements. We did have the occasional poem on Rani of Jhansi and how heroic she was used as a refrain in the poem- ‘खूब लड़ी मर्दा नी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी’. While the word Mardani is definitely not justified, herein I would wish to ponder upon something else: Was there only one Jhansi ki Rani? If yes, why? If no, where are their stories? How is it that their histories have not been documented?
Mainstream textbooks, media, etc. excluded and invisibilised the contributions of many women. While it would have been logistically difficult to include every name in textbooks since there were hundreds of people who fought for us and this country, but excluding certain groups of people from the mainstream or maybe merely allotting some paragraphs and lines in text with a few handful names is nothing but a shameful and systematic exclusion and injustice towards our nationalist history.
Here is where I would like to highlight the name and the contributions of Rajkumari Gupta: the revolutionary woman who supplied pistols and guns for Kakori (in Uttar Pradesh) robbery. Though I knew about the Kakori case, never in my previous academic years have I heard about this woman. Should I be ashamed of myself? Or feel sad about how invisibilisation has been normalised?
The Kakori conspiracy was one of the most important events in the history of the national movement of India that took place on August 9, in the year 1925. The Kakori conspiracy was the mastermind plan of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, and others revolutionaries, to achieve independence against the British by securing money from the government through the loot. Swaran Singh, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Rajendra Lahiri, Durga Bhagavati Chandra Vohra, Roshan Singh, Sachindra Bakshi, Chandrasekhar Azad, Vishnu Sharan Dublish, Keshab Chakravarthy, Banwari Lal, Mukundi Lal, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, and Manmathnath were part of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) who got arrested for the conspiracy.
Now, this is something that we have all heard and learnt. Is there anything wrong with this story? The problem lies in the partial knowledge about the event and the male-centric historical records that barely considered the women fighters and warriors involved.
History as His-story and androcentric narratives have excluded women. ‘Her’-story, in this process, could never be a part of the past. According to Charu Gupta, “History writing in the 60s did not register the role of ordinary women in the freedom movement.” She added “Implicitly the history of that time projected only a select group and this gave rise to a distorted vision.” She highlights “how the entire portrayal of the freedom struggle tended to be male-centric, bourgeois and upper caste, with the participation of women being seen as an extension of their domestic roles of serving their families”.
Another prominent reason why ordinary women in historical work have been invisibilised is that historical writing is based upon official records. With the emergence of feminist discourses, new methodologies like oral narratives/testimonies began to be considered as important evidence, especially since these comprised of the lived experiences and stories of the most downtrodden too. In ‘The Indian National Movement Unseen Faces and Unheard Voices, 1930-42’, Suruchi Thapar-Bjorkert points out that “Reinterpreting Indian nationalist history required going beyond archival, official and unofficial sources. As a methodological tool, these narratives revealed the individual subjectivities of participants in the nationalist movement. Documenting these life histories opened a new world before me: a world more real than official records.”
For instance, Rajkumari Gupta’s name should not have been missed out in the historical account of the Kakori conspiracy case. Born in 1902 in Banda zilla of Kanpur, at the age of 13, Rajkumari Gupta was married to Madan Mohan Gupta, an active Congress member and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Drawing inspiration from the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, the couple joined the Independence movement.
With the abrupt stoppage of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1924, she was drawn more into revolutionary ideas and landed in the close circle of Chandrashekhar Azad. Having established close links with the revolutionaries, particularly Chandrashekhar Azad, she began delivering secret messages and materials to his comrades in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HRA) without the knowledge of her husband and in-laws. She was put in charge of supplying revolvers to those involved in the Kakori operation, and in the process, apparently hid the firearms in her undergarment, and set out in khadi clothes to deliver them, with her three-year-old son in tow.
She famously once said, “Hum upar se Gandhiwadi the, neeche se kranti vaadi the” (We were Gandhians from above; underneath we were revolutionaries).” On being arrested, she was disowned by her husband’s family and thrown out of her marital home. Such was the disdain of her in-laws that an article was published in a local daily Vir Bhagat, which claimed, among other things, that the family held no relationship with her. She served jail terms in 1930, 1932 and 1942.
This is just one among many women who were invisibilised from historical records, despite how they too valiantly took part in the national building process. As feminist thinkers and scholars, it is now upon us that important trajectories such as hers do not get invisibilised. As Carolyn See says “every word a woman writes changes the story of the world, revise the official version”. History is not rigid or something that can’t change; it always deconstructs and reconstructs, feminist standpoints try to reconstruct the very idea of history by emphasizing the fact that history is shared to us and should be seen and told from an intersectional perspective with full equality and liberty to share their own stories and stands.
It is heartening now to see more people raising their voices and histories about women and for women getting rewritten by women. There are so many stories that are untouched and uncovered that need to take out from the pits of ignorance towards enlightenment. I am trying to do that, we are trying to do that, and we will definitely make History of our story Her-story.
Rinku (She/Her) is a Dalit-Dusadh feminist, an artist of Godna Mithila Art and student of women’s studies at TISS, Mumbai campus. She is currently working with Nazariya a Queer Feminist group. You can find her on Instagram and follow her campaign here.