India’s independence is hard-earned. From raging revolts to fearsome battles India fought to earn independence still reminds us of our lost freedom fighters and their unsung valor. One such defiant woman was Umabai Kundapur who led hundreds of women to fight for independence. This is her story.
In March 1919, the Imperial Legislative Council passed the Rowlatt Act, which gave constitutional legitimacy to wartime emergency measures. This one-act gave the government the power, to gag the press, make arrests without warrants and detain revolutionaries at will. Protests broke out all across the country against the new inhumane Rowlatt Act.
Amid all the struggle a 27 years old woman finds something stirring inside her. She was on her way to the matriculation examination hall in the wake of public transport disruptions. Gandhi called out for a protest against the unjust act but everything came still a year later when where protestors were shot down at Jallianwala Bagh. All these events motivate Umabai to rethink her independence, as her freedom was much more than colonial rule. For her independence meant very little without access to education, healthcare, and empowerment.
Umabai Kundapur was born as Mangalore as Bhavani Golikeri in 1892. The family soon migrated to Mumbai when the city was on its way to becoming a metropolis of international importance. Umabai had four brothers.
Umabai was married to Sanjiv Rao Kundapur at the age of nine and persuaded education at the request of her father Anandrao. Both her husband and father were heavily involved in India’s freedom struggle and Umabai felt the urge to do something. She worked closely with her father-in-law for women’s empowerment under Gaundevi Mahila Samaj. Her first contribution against the Raj was to give up foreign goods and soon her wardrobe was full of khadi sarees. Just when she understood her responsibility towards the nation, her life was shattered. In 1923, Umabai husband passed away due to tuberculosis.
By the time she reached the age of 31, her life was no longer colorful but she had her father beside her like always. Under Anandrao’s wish, Umabai started handling the family-owned Karnataka Press and a girl school called Tilak Kanya Shala. But what was provided to her as a distraction soon became her strength and Umabai started her ambitious journey of Satyagrah.
Umabai contribution to freedom struggle
She guided young girls on the meaning of true freedom and motivated their parents to join the freedom struggle. Her efforts were even appreciated by freedom fighter Dr. N S Hardika who made her the head of the women’s wing of Hindustani Seva Dal. Under her supervision, several people joined the Dal and participated in various protests and activities. She also taught them the art of spinning, weaving, camping, and drills. Along with this, she simultaneously worked for the upliftment of women in society and ran an NGO Bhagini Mandal.
She achieved a remarkable feat when she gathered more than 150 women to attend the historic Belgaum Congress Session in 1924. It was a time when women were still reserved and restricted to household chores, Umabai inspired them to find their own identity.
Umabai Kundapur was arrested in the early 1930s before salt Satyagrah and imprisoned for four months. By the time she returned from the prison, another tragedy awaits her. Her father-in-law died and their family-owned business of Karnataka Press was also confiscated by the British for printing anti-colonial articles. They shut down the girl’s school as well and announced Bhagini Mandal as unlawful.
But despite the harsh circumstances, Umabai’s spirit remained untouched, if more, she was motivated to fight harder for freedom. Her house soon became a hideout of revolutionaries on the runaway. She provided them shelter, food, and security at her place. She also provided shelter to freedom fighters amid the 1942 Quit India movement. When in the mid-1930s Bihar was struggling with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, Umabai rushed along with her volunteers and provided the locals with needed assistance.
However, her bravery didn’t go unnoticed and in 1946, she was appointed by Mahatma Gandi as the head of the Kasturba Trust. Under this trust, Umabai dedicated her time to training the destitute women of the society including widows, and taught them art and craft to become independent. She was also awarded many accolades but Umabai denied each of them as marking her contribution needed rather than motivated.