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Children of midnight Durgawati Devi: The fearless lady!

MAJOR KULBIR SINGH. Dated: 1/11/2018 11:15:28 AM

‘She is best known for having accompanied Bhagat Singh on the train journey in which he made his escape in disguise after the Saunders killing, Since she was the wife of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) member Bhagwati Charan Vohra, other members of HSRA referred to her as Bhabhi (elder brother’s wife) and became popular as “Durga Bhabhi” in Indian revolutionary circles. Durgavati Devi was a Bengali woman and her mother tongue was Bengali.’
By: Major Kulbir Singh
Durgavati Devi (Durga Bhabhi) (7 October 1907 – 15 October 1999) was an Indian revolutionary and a freedom fighter. She was one of the few women revolutionaries who actively participated in armed revolution against the ruling British Raj. She is best known for having accompanied Bhagat Singh on the train journey in which he made his escape in disguise after the Saunders killing, Since she was the wife of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) member Bhagwati Charan Vohra, other members of HSRA referred to her as Bhabhi (elder brother’s wife) and became popular as “Durga Bhabhi” in Indian revolutionary circles. Durgavati Devi was a Bengali woman and her mother tongue was Bengali.
An active member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Devi came into prominence when the Sabha decided to observe the 11th anniversary of Kartar Singh Sarabha’s martyrdom on 16 November 1926 in Lahore. Devi was instrumental in assisting Bhagat Singh and Shivaram Rajguru escape after the killing of J. P. Saunders. She led the funeral procession of Jatindra Nath Das from Lahore to Calcutta after his death in the 63-day jail hunger strike. All along the way, huge crowds joined the funeral procession.
After Bhagat Singh surrendered himself for the 1929 Assembly bomb throwing incident, Devi attempted to assassinate Lord Hailey; he escaped, but many of his associates died. She was caught by the police and imprisoned for three years.

She had also sold her ornaments worth Rs. 3,000 to rescue Bhagat Singh and his comrades under trial. Devi, along with her husband, helped Vimal Prasad Jain, a HSRA member, in running a bomb factory named ‘Himalayan Toilets’ (a smokescreen to hide the agenda of making bombs) at Qutub Road, Delhi. In this factory, they handled picric acid, nitroglycerine and fulminate of mercury. Two days after killing Saunders, on 19 December 1928, Sukhdev called on Devi for help, which she agreed to do. They decided to catch the train departing from Lahore for Bathinda en route to Howrah (Calcutta) early the next morning. She posed herself as the wife of Bhagat Singh and put her son Sachin in his lap while Rajguru carried their luggage as their servant. To avoid recognition, Singh had shaved off his beard and cut his hair short the previous day and dressed in a western attire. In fact, when Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev came to her house on the night of 19 December 1928, Sukhdev introduced Bhagat Singh as a new friend. Devi could not recognise Bhagat Singh at all. Then Sukhdev told Devi the truth and said that if Devi could not recognise Bhagat Singh in his changed clean-shaved appearance despite knowing him well, surely the police would not recognise him as they would be looking for a bearded Sikh. They left the house early the next morning. At the station, Bhagat Singh, with his concealed identity, bought three tickets to Cawnpore (Kanpur) — two first class tickets for Devi and himself and a third class one for Rajguru. Both men had loaded revolvers with them to deal with any unanticipated incident. They avoided raising the suspicions of the police and boarded the train. Breaking journey at Kanpur, they boarded a train for Lucknow since the CID at Howrah railway station usually scrutinised passengers on the direct train from Lahore. At Lucknow, Rajguru left separately for Benares while Bhagat Singh, Devi and the infant went to Howrah. Devi returned to Lahore a few days later with her infant child.
Unlike other freedom fighters, after Indian independence Durga started living as a common citizen in quiet anonymity and exclusion in Ghaziabad. She later opened a school for poor children in Lucknow. Durga died in Ghaziabad on 15 October 1999 at the age of 92.[1]Durgawati Devi once misguided British police to save Bhagat Singh on a local train journey. This revolutionary woman and spy introduced herself as Bhagat Singh’s wife to save him. That’s Durgawati for you. Better known as Durga Bhabhi, she rose like a meteor on the horizon of India’s freedom struggle wielding tremendous influence on revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah and Chandrashekhar Azad. One of the earliest female freedom fighters, Durgawati had a deep influence on the members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), of which all these revolutionaries were a part of.
1. Durga Bhabhi famously assisted in the escape of HSRA member Bhagat Singh from Lahore, following his involvement in the Saunders killing in 1928. On December 17, 1928, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev went to Durga Bhabhi’s house after killing British police officer John Saunders. Durga knew what had happened but was sorry that the real culprit J. A. Scot somehow escaped. The idea of going to Calcutta was given by her. To dupe over 500 policemen travelling in the same train, Bhagat Singh and Durga acted as a couple and Rajguru as their servant.
2. Durga met several Bengali revolutionaries along with Bhagat Singh, and even learned bomb-making. After reaching Calcutta, Bhagat Singh attended the Congress Session incognito, had a glimpse of Gandhiji, Nehru and Subhas Bose. He met his Bengali counterparts along with Durga Bhabhi, including Atul Ganguli, G.N. Das and Phinininder Gosh. He opened a branch of his party there and they even learnt the process of bomb-making.
3. When Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were awarded the death sentence, Durga came out openly in the field to oppose it. To rescue Bhagat Singh and his comrades under trial, Durga sold her ornaments worth Rs. 3,000. To save the fearless trio’s lives, she even pleaded with Gandhi, but all in vain.
4. Since she was the wife of another HSRA member, Professor Bhagwati Charan Vohra, all revolutionaries and members of HSRA referred to her her as ‘Bhabhi’. Durga was a Bengali. She was married to Vohra when she was barely eleven years old. Her husband was also a revolutionary, who, along with Chandra Shekhar Azad, planned to free Bhagat Singh by bombing the jail itself, before he was hanged. Sadly, while testing the bomb on the banks of river Ravi near Lahore, Prof Vohra died, and she was widowed at a very young age.
5. She was an active member of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and came into prominence when the Sabha decided to observe the 11th anniversary of Kartar Singh Sarabha’s martyrdom in November 1926 at Lahore. Kartar Singh was executed in Lahore Central Jail 11 years earlier. He was one of the youngest martyrs of the freedom struggle, who laid his life at the age of 19. Durga was at the forefront of the 11th anniversary of his martyrdom.
6. For her anti-British campaigning, she was arrested and imprisoned for three years. As revenge for the hanging of Bhagat Singh and others, Durga decided to kill Lord Hailey, an ex-Governor of Punjab, who was also a staunch enemy of the revolutionaries. Although the Governor escaped, his aides were injured. Durga was arrested and awarded three years imprisonment.
7. After Independence, Durga began to live an unknown life and became a virtually forgotten name. Durga started living as a common citizen in anonymity and exclusion in Ghaziabad. She went on to open a school for poor children in the Purana Kila area of Lucknow. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also visited her school in 1956, now known as the City Montessori School. She also donated her land for Shaheed Sodh Sansthan. She died in Ghaziabad on 15 October 1999 at the age of 92.
Durgawati Devi is still remembered as a terror to the British police, and referred to as “The Agni of India”. She remains a legend in the flashback of sacrifice and fearlessness shown by very few women against the British. The least this great freedom fighter and fearless lady deserves is a biographic film, to inspire the younger generation. A small reference to her character was seen in Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, where Soha Ali Khan played her part.

 

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