When a woman is empowered and independent, she becomes a strong mother of a free daughter. Such is the legend of Ammukutty Swaminathan, Lakshmi Sahgal and Subhashini Ali, a woman, mother and a daughter, written with the ink of women empowerment. These powerful women are connected not only with a familial bond but also with the desire to emancipate women from the cages of ‘patriarchy’. Belonging to different generations, they are the epitome of women leadership and freedom. They have led women’s struggle of different generations to a new dawn of self-expression and equality. The life stories of such phenomenal women demand to be heard and absorbed in the hazy generation we reside.

Ammukutty Swaminathan: The woman with a voice

Image result for ammu swaminathan images
Ammukutty Swaminathan. Image credit: Hindustan

Ammukutty Swaminathan is known as a confident, self-sustained and assertive woman of her own beliefs and idea of life. Her confident and independent character can be traced back to a 14-year old teenager who married on her own conditions in a society where women never had a voice of her own. After Swaminathan proposed a 20 years younger teenager for marriage, Ammu accepted it on certain conditions that, she will live in a city, which was Madras (now Chennai), she will be taught English by an English woman to master the language and that she will never be asked at what time she reached home because nobody asked her brothers that question. That was how a teenager unfolded her own pathway to become a woman leader, freedom fighter and an advocate of justice and equality against caste discrimination. Ammu was an important figure in the freedom struggle of India. She joined Swadeshi movement and Quit India Movement and actively contributed in drafting the constitution of India. She was an active protestor of caste discrimination and vehemently opposed the arrogance and discriminatory practices of Upper-class Brahmins. Being herself a victim of child marriage, she also strongly supported the Sarda Act or Child Marriage Restraint Act, Age of Consent act and other bills that reformed Hindu religious laws unfair to women. She strongly opposed the abnegation practices of widowhood that require a woman to shave her hair, break her bangles and so on as mourning for her husband. In 1917, she formed the Women’s India Association in Madras that addressed the economic issues and problems of women workers. It was one of the first associations to demand adult franchise and constitutional rights for women. As Subhashini Ali, her granddaughter recalls, she believed in “equal status, adult franchise and removal of untouchability.”

Apart from being a political activist, she is known for her contributions in the films as a designer and amateur actor. She designed period costumes for 1981 classic, Umrao Jaan, and showcased her skills in Asoka (2001), an English feature, The Guru (2002) and Amu (2005). Subhashini Ali and her political struggles was an inspiration for the movie Anjuman (1986).

Also Read: Memories of women who lived through Partition and Independence

Captain Lakshmi Sahgal: An empowered mother

Captain Lakshmi Sahgal

Ammu Swaminathan gave birth to two daughters and two sons and treated them equally, educating them and providing the freedom to choose their own careers. Her youngest daughter, Mrinalini Sarabhai went on to become a successful dancer, while her second-born Lakshmi Sahgal carried the political and social struggles of Ammu further. Captain Lakshmi Sahgal was an eminent freedom fighter, an officer of the Indian National Army and the Minister of Women’s Affair of Azad Hind Government.  She was a young medical student who was drawn to the freedom struggles of India and became the leader of all-woman Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Indian National Army. Immediately after independence, she restarted her medical practice and served the refugees and marginalised sections of society. Finally, in the post-independent India, she joined the Communist Party of India, while still a doctor, and became one of the founding members of All India Democratic Women Association, 1981. Like her mother, she opposed caste discrimination and always supported equality, freedom and justice. Lakshmi Sehgal herself spoke in an interview that, “Freedom comes in three forms. The first is political emancipation from the conqueror, the second is economic emancipation and the third is social…India has got only the first.” She worked hard and made unfathomable contributions in all the three freedoms of India. A brave captain who led the all-women army against the British, a doctor dedicated to social service and a veteran leader of women’s movement, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal defined a powerful woman.

Being herself a victim of child marriage, she also strongly supported the Sarda Act or Child Marriage Restraint Act, Age of Consent act and other bills that reformed Hindu religious laws unfair to women. She strongly opposed the abnegation practices of widowhood that require a woman to shave her hair, break her bangles and so on as mourning for her husband.

Subhashini Ali: A proud and free daughter

Subhashini Ali

Captain Lakshmi Sehgal has been survived by her daughter Subashini Ali, another woman who is a part of this continued legacy. She is a member of the Communist Party of India, former active Member of Parliament of Kanpur and the President of All India Democratic Women Association. Besides, she became the second woman member of the polity Bureau (PB) of the Communist Party. Apart from being a political activist, she is known for her contributions in the films as a designer and amateur actor. She designed period costumes for 1981 classic, Umrao Jaan, and showcased her skills in Asoka (2001), an English feature, The Guru (2002) and Amu (2005). Subhashini Ali and her political struggles was an inspiration for the movie Anjuman (1986).

She was a young medical student who was drawn to the freedom struggles of India and became the leader of all-woman Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Indian National Army. Immediately after independence, she restarted her medical practice and served the refugees and marginalised sections of society.

Revolution starts from within

Indeed the three women connected not only by blood line but also with the thread of women empowerment set up an important example of how women of today can have power. They represent a matrilineal legacy of power and an empathetic bond of aspiring and inspiring sisterhood. Their story pushes the edges of women expression and freedom by proving that the revolution starts from within. They show that a family with an empowered woman is the basis of a country with strong, outspoken and independent women. The empowered women who stirred the long silence of generations of women are the familial trio of  Ammukutty Swaminadhan, Lakshmi Sehgal and Subhashini Ali. Lest we forget.

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

Also Read: Indian women freedom fighters : Fearless, fierce and bold

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